Mansfield Town suffered a heart-breaking last minute defeat at Fleetwood Town, as Antoni Sarcevic bagged a last-minute winner in a nine-goal thriller at Highbury.
In a pulsating clash, in which Sarcevic bagged a hat-trick, the hosts took an early lead when Gareth Evans opened the scoring after just 22 seconds.
But Mansfield quickly fought back and a Chris Clements free-kick, followed by a close-range finish by Anthony Howell, had the Stags 2-1 up by the quarter-hour mark.
Sarcevic grabbed the first of his three goals on 35 minutes, when he converted a spot-kick, having been brought down by Martin Riley.
Fleetwood went 3-2 up through Sarcevic shortly after the hour-mark, before Evans soon established a two-goal cushion for the hosts.
Sam Clucas reduced arrears with his 10th goal of the campaign on 74 minutes, before Ross Dyer’s dramatic last-minute leveller seemed to have earned the Stags a point.
However, deep into injury time, Fleetwood stole a dramatic win as Sarcevic converted his second spot-kick of the afternoon to send a Highbury crowd into jubilation.
The Stags made the worst possible start in the North-West as they went behind after just 22 seconds.
Straight from the hosts’ kick-off, Fleetwood debutant Nathan Tyson capitalised on a sloppy back-pass by Anthony Howell, and managed to carve his way to the edge of the area.
His scruffy shot was fumbled by Alan Marriott and with Martin Riley in front of him unable to clear the danger, Gareth Evans slotted the loose ball into the bottom corner.
The Stags’ backline were still conducting an inquiry into the hosts’ opener, when Tyson flashed an effort narrowly wide on five minutes, following a fine pass from Antoni Sarcevic.
However, Mansfield hit back against the run of play, to make it 1-1 after just minutes.
Steven Schumacher brought down Sam Clucas right on the edge of the area, with several Stags players appealing for a penalty rather than the free-kick which was awarded.
Nevertheless, Chris Clements, on his return to the side following a two-month injury lay-off, steered a low set-piece drive through the wall and into the bottom-left corner.
Paul Cox’s men then completed a remarkable turnaround to take a 2-1 lead before the quarter-hour mark, which left the hosts shell-shocked.
Junior Daniel’s left-wing cross into the six-yard box should have been cleared by Ryan Cresswell, but instead the centre-back made a poor connection with the ball.
Lurking just a few yards away was Anthony Howell, who reacted quickly to pounce on Cresswell’s error, and steer a low drive beyond a flat-footed Scott Davies.
Cresswell should have grabbed the fourth goal of a frantic opening on 17 minutes, when he headed wide from Schumacher’s left-sided corner, despite being unmarked.
A minute later, Schumacher had a ferocious 30-yard drive superbly tipped away by a full-stretch Marriott, before Riley hooked the ball away from danger.
In what was already by this point a gripping end-to-end tussle, Mansfield were next to go close, as Lee Stevenson blazed over, following Lee Beevers’ right-wing cross towards the back-post.
Just a few moments later, Riley nearly doubled the visitors’ advantage when his speculative 30-yard pot-shot was fumbled and then caught in mid-air by Davies.
The Cod Army custodian showed more nervousness on 26 minutes, as he spilled a routine cross by Daniel, which was almost pounced upon by Clucas.
Stevenson headed over from Beevers’ long throw on the half-hour mark, as Mansfield threatened to double their deserved advantage.
However, the hosts were rewarded with a chance to level on 35 minutes, when Riley brought down an advancing Sarcevic just inside the area.
After dusting himself down, the Fleetwood midfielder stepped up and drove a powerful spot-kick to the right of Marriott to make it 2-2.
With their tails up following the equaliser, the hosts almost swung the score-line in favour, when Sarcevic had a 25-yard drive beaten away by Marriott, just two minutes later.
Mansfield could have gone in ahead at the interval, however, as Davies produced a full-stretch fingertip save to deny Clements’ with a curling 30-yard free-kick.
Meanwhile, Fleetwood created two chances in first half injury time.
Firstly, Tyson had a close-range header deflected wide, before Charlie Taylor was off-target with a low 20-yard effort, after Schumacher’s subsequent flag-kick.
Graham Alexander’s side began the second period with real purpose, and looked exceptionally dangerous in and around the Mansfield area.
Stewart Murdoch almost made it 3-2, when he swung his right foot at a loose ball approximately 30 yards out, with a diving Marriott forced to tip the ball wide.
Schumacher swung another great set-piece cross into the six-yard box, this time towards the back-post, where Tyson saw his goal-bound effort blocked on the line by Beevers.
On 52 minutes, Evans broke away on the counter-attack and had a powerful angled strike saved by Marriott, before Taylor headed over from the resulting corner.
After a quiet period in play, Mansfield almost went ahead in sensational fashion on 63 minutes, when Daniel rattled the upright with a venomous 25-yard drive.
Davies was moving away from the ball when Daniel hit it, but the Fleetwood keeper raised a hand, which was just enough to turn it onto the woodwork.
Just a minute later, the pendulum of this topsy-turvy tussle then turned significantly in favour of Fleetwood.
Sarcevic brought the ball forward for over 40 yards, beating three men in the process, before his low strike found the net, having taken a slight, but significant, deflection off James Jennings.
The Highbury crowd again had reason to cheer less than two minutes later, when Evans grabbed his second of the match.
In a counter-attacking move, Sarcevic and Evans combined in the centre and Evans embarked on a driving run, which ended with him hitting a swerving 20-yard shot into the net.
The Stags’ confidence was shattered, with Fleetwood now seemingly holding an unassailable two-goal cushion, and in a very strong position.
But with a quarter of an hour remaining, Mansfield gained renewed hope of taking something from the match when Clucas made it 4-3.
Jennings’ left-wing delivery was flicked on by Palmer, and fell kindly for Clucas on the edge of the six-yard box, who managed to knock the ball beyond Davies.
The visitors bolstered their attacking options for the last 15 minutes, when Ross Dyer, having just returned to the club following a fruitful loan spell at Hereford United, replaced Howell.
On the brink of stoppage-time, the travelling contingent from Mansfield were in pure ecstasy, as Dyer claimed his first goal in the Football League, to remarkably make it 4-4.
Right infront of the travelling fans, the striker pounced at point-blank range after Davies couldn’t claim Palmer’s scruffy effort through the goalmouth.
Four minutes of added time were indicated, going into which Fleetwood substitute Emmanuel Dieseruvwe fired straight at Marriott from 30 yards.
But it was the hosts’ other substitute, Matty Blair, formerly of York City, who was the instigator of a dramatic, cruel and heart-breaking late twist for the Stags.
The winger capitalised when both Jennings and Godfrey Poku failed to hook the ball upfield and embarked on a mazy run towards Marriott’s goal.
Blair was just about to unleash a shot goalwards when a back-tracking Jennings inadvertently brought him down with a poor challenge, which resulted in a spot-kick.
With everyone inside Highbury holding their collective breath, Sarcevic stepped up and slammed the ball, just beyond the dive of Marriott, to earn the hosts maximum points.