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MATCH REPORT

PUBLISHED
17:10 29th December 2013
By  Andrew Webb

Report: Robins 1-2 Stags

Mansfield Town ended their 92 day, 13-match winless streak in Sky Bet League Two, with a nail-biting 2-1 victory over Cheltenham Town at Whaddon Road.

The Stags established a commanding 2-0 lead by half-time, before soaking up a tidal wave of late pressure as the hosts attempted to maintain their own good form.

Defenders Ryan Tafazolli and Ritchie Sutton were both colossus figures at the back, whilst Martin Riley sported a head-bandage that was a mark of our fighting spirit.

Anthony Howell set the ball rolling for us in the 21st minute, when his 20-yard strike caught a deflection, which was enough to wrong-foot Robins’ keeper Scott Brown.

Matt Rhead doubled our lead with a bullet back-post header from James Jennings’ corner, in the second minute of added time at the end of the first half.

The hosts threw the proverbial kitchen sink at Mansfield after the re-start, and pulled a goal back through Sido Jombati’s 86th minute header.

But Paul Cox’s resilient men saw off even more pressure, during six tense minutes of stoppage-time to record a priceless and invaluable victory.

An overnight frost in Gloucestershire had left the Whaddon Road pitch in a soggy state, but despite this, bright sunshine greeted the two teams at kick-off.

The Stags, who attacked towards the end which housed the 166 travelling fans in the first half, made five changes to the side that lost 3-0 at Rochdale on Boxing Day.

Amongst those players returning to the starting xi was midfielder Jamie McGuire, who captained the team in the absence of usual skipper Adam Murray.

The Robins dictated play in the opening five minutes and came close when Jermaine McGlashan blazed over from the edge of the area, following Jombati’s low inside pass.

Harrison also headed horribly wide after more good work by Jombati on six minutes, as Mansfield took a while to get going.

However, the visitors eventually began to play some high-tempo, good attacking football, during which they had quite a few chances.

The Stags’ first opportunity came when Ollie Palmer’s flick on inside the area fell kindly for Howell, who scuffed a shot into the side-netting.

Darryl Westlake looked particularly bright on the right channel and his wonderfully floated cross almost reached burly frontman Rhead at the back-post, just a minute later.

Howell nearly broke through on two separate occasions, with McGlashan forced into some late defending, as the Robins started to ride their luck.

Nevertheless, Mark Yates’ team, who were on an 11-match unbeaten streak, looked lively on the counter-attack with Jombati an instrumental figure.

The Robins wasted a rare set-piece opportunity on 19 minutes, when Matt Richards hit a tame 25-yard free-kick straight at a four-man defensive wall.

Mansfield’s opener then arrived in fortuitous circumstances midway through the first half.

Howell received possession on the edge of the Cheltenham area and looked up, before unleashing a low left-foot, which beat a static keeper, thanks to a lucky deflection.

The Robins looked for an instant equaliser and almost found it when Jombati squared a low ball through a packed area, which somehow evaded everyone.

But the Stags continued to attack with real purpose, as Palmer, Howell and Rhead all linked up well together and caused numerous problems.

On the half-hour mark, Alan Marriott made a comfortable save from Richards’ 30-yard free-kick, after McGuire had tangled with the Robins’ playmaker, David Noble.

Noble went closer a few moments later, when he fended off two players and fizzed a low drive narrowly wide of the woodwork, via a deflection.

By now, Cheltenham were starting to enjoy their brightest spell since the opening few minutes, and looked very dangerous with their set-piece plays.

The Stags’ back-three of Riley, Sutton and Tafazolli were being made to defend solidly, but they looked at ease in dealing with everything the Robins had to throw at them.

When Jamie Cureton escaped their attention to reach a right-wing cross into the six-yard box on 34 minutes, his subsequent header was poor and Marriott wasn’t troubled.

There was soon a moment of promise at the other end when the Stags won a free-kick on the edge of the area, but Clements’ strike failed to beat the wall.

After a thoroughly absorbing opening 40 minutes, both teams then let slip gilt-edge chances before two minutes of stoppage-time at the end of the first period.

Cheltenham should have equalised when Noble floated a sublime ball to Byron Harrison on the edge of the six-yard box, who planted a firm header woefully wide.

Jombati also went close a minute later with a powerful left-foot strike which went over from 12 yards, following a move that began with him winning the ball out wide.

On the stroke of added-time, Mansfield cursed their luck, as Clements picked out Palmer with a sublime low ball through the eye of a needle.

However, Palmer’s powerful drive was bundled away by a quickly-alert shot-stopper, which allowed the hosts to clear away the resulting loose ball.

Nevertheless, Palmer made a significant contribution to Mansfield’s second goal, which was scored in the second minute of stoppage-time.

Despite being surrounded by three Cheltenham players, his fantastic hold up work won the Stags a corner, which brought about the last chance of the first half.

Jennings’ resulting delivery towards the back-post found an advancing Rhead, who stole a yard on his marker and headed firmly into the net from just a few yards.

The Stags by now were in dreamland, whilst the prospect of a first league victory since September, seemed a very realistic one.

The interval brought about a surprise change by the visitors with combative midfielder McGuire replaced by the pace of winger Junior Daniel.

Roared on by the home faithful, Cheltenham were never going to concede the match without a fight.

The Robins flew out of the traps after the re-start and saw plenty of the ball in and around the Stags half, which was a real concern.

However, Mansfield continued to defend resolutely and wouldn’t allow their counterparts any clear route to goal – much to Cheltenham’s frustration.

Tafazolli towered head and shoulders above everyone else, as he cleared the danger on three separate occasions during one 30-second period before the hour mark.

The hosts’ first chance of any major significance was when Sutton was forced into a last-ditch headed clearance at the expense of a corner, following a good cross by Harrison.

From the resulting flag-kick a minute later, Richards’ teasing delivery warmed the hands of Marriott, but wasn’t too troubling for the evergreen shot-stopper.

Cureton constantly tried to use every last bit of his experience to carve out a chance and when he latched onto a long downfield punt by Connor Goldson, Tafazolli was lurking nearby to make a timely interception.

In a further effort to find a goal, the Robins made a double substitution with Terry Gornell and Kemar Roofe both introduced in favour of Craig Braham-Barrett and Harrison.

Mansfield could have wrapped up the points, however, when Daniel spurned two chances in as many minutes, shortly after the hour-mark.

The winger fired wide from 20 yards, following some excellent link-up play between Howell and Palmer on the left flank, before he slalomed his way past a defender and tested Brown with a stab-shot.

At the other end, Jombati and Richards in particular, continued to pump several balls into the mixer, but the hosts simply couldn’t find a way through.

When Yates’ men opted to try their luck from distance, neither Gornell or Roofe could trouble Marriott, as their attempts were high, wild and woeful.

However, with just four minutes remaining, Cheltenham pulled a goal back to set up a tense, grandstand finale to what was a thoroughly absorbing corner.

After enjoying three corners in as many minutes, Richards finally caught the Stags’ back-line napping with a ball towards the back-post that was knocked in by Jombati.

The hosts were now being roared forward at every opportunity, and almost completed a miraculous comeback in the dying minutes of normal-time.

Substitute Sam Deering caught sight of the target and hit a bullet 20-yard drive straight at Marriott, which would have found the net if a sliding Gornell had made any miniscule connection.

The Stags’ nerves were frayed, nails were being chewed frantically and blood pressure levels weren’t helped as a minimum of five minutes of stoppage-time were indicated.

Cheltenham’s relentless pressure continued and with just 70 seconds remaining, they were awarded a free-kick right on the edge of the area.

Noble, Richards and Jombati all eyed up the set-piece opening, but when the free-kick was taken, Roofe struck it woefully against the defensive wall.

The Stags were clinging onto their precious one-goal advantage with the travelling faithful desperate for the final whistle, which finally came in the seventh-minute of added time.

The relief on our players’ faces was evident, knowing they had rode a ferocious late storm to finally bring an end to our long, winless run.