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17:10 4th January 2014
By  Andrew Webb

Report: Exeter 0-1 Stags

Resilient Mansfield Town soaked up wave after wave of late pressure to record a priceless 1-0 victory at Exeter City.

Lee Stevenson's close-range finish on the stroke of half-time settled the contest as the hosts Exeter were left to rue a series of missed chances.

Paul Tisdale's men threw the proverbial kitchen sink at Mansfield during a nail-biting second half, but were denied by the woodwork on three separate occasions.

Tom Nichols had twice hit the post, before Alan Gow's thunder-strike in the fifth minute of stoppage-time, also ricocheted off the woodwork.

But the gritty Stags held on to record maximum points and move up two places in the Sky Bet League Two table.

Stags’ boss Paul Cox made two changes to his starting xi with Stevenson and John Dempster recalled, in favour of Adam Murray and the injured Martin Riley respectively.

The visitors made a bright start and could have easily taken an early lead.

Chris Clements threaded an inch-perfect pass through to Ollie Palmer, who took the ball round Artur Krysiak, but saw his shot cleared off the line by Scott Bennett.

Mansfield looked very lively early on, and Matt Rhead was soon narrowly off-target with a speculative 25-yard volley, following a flick on by Stevenson.

Sam Parkin should have done better in Exeter’s first opportunity, when his deft header from Danny Butterfield’s right-sided set-piece was comfortably saved by Alan Marriott.

The hosts thought they should have been awarded a penalty on 21 minutes, when Tom Nichols tumbled to the floor inside the area under a challenge by James Jennings.

Nevertheless, referee Darren Bond had a clear view of the incident and was quick to wave away appeals for a spot-kick, whilst the Stags cleared their lines.

But Exeter continued to look dangerous and after Alan Gow fired narrowly over, only a last-ditch interception by Ryan Tafazolli stopped David Wheeler from causing more danger.

Gow then spurned two chances in quick succession; firstly scuffing a shot wide having run at a back-peddling Ritchie Sutton, before he blazed over from Parkin’s knockdown. 

The former Rangers frontman did cause danger with a defence-splitting low ball that found Parkin, only for his team-mate to bundle it straight into the hands of Marriott.

Mansfield, who had been on the back foot for a lengthy spell, then had their own penalty appeal turned down when Stevenson was brought down by Pat Baldwin inside the area.

But The Stags ended the first period infront, by establishing a precious advantage on the stroke of half-time.

Dempster’s long ball forward was flicked on by Rhead, before Palmer’s cleverly cushioned header put Stevenson into a one-on-one with Krysiak.

Stevenson showed fabulous composure as he took a touch and slotted the ball calmly into the bottom-right corner, to put the visitors on course for a second straight away success.

Exeter had other ideas though, and constantly pressurised Mansfield in what proved to be a thoroughly absorbing, but equally nail-biting second half.

On 54 minutes, Nichols almost equalised for the Grecians, when his curling 25-yard free-kick clipped the right-hand post, after Darryl Westlake was penalised for shirt-pulling.

The momentum stayed with the hosts and when Matt Grimes’ ball pierced the Stags’ back-line moments later, an unmarked Nichols rattled the other post.

Mansfield’s only chance of any note before the hour mark came when Clements sliced a ball high and wide, following a good passing exchange between Westlake and Palmer.

However, Nichols soon forced a strong one-handed save out of Marriott, following a sharp, passing exchange, but fortunately the Exeter playmaker had strayed into an offside position.

The hosts’ next opening fell to Sercombe, who whistled a teasing ball through the six-yard box, but nobody was able to make a connection to turn the ball goalwards.

Exeter continued to apply intense pressure and only a minute later, Sercombe had a powerful dive parried away by Marriott, having run at Ritchie Sutton, with Tafazolli forced to make a vital clearance.

Gow and Nichols both had chances, whilst at the other end; Anthony Howell saw his bullet 20-yard strike easily gathered by a perfectly-positioned Grecians custodian.

With approximately 20 minutes remaining, the Stags opted to make a bold triple substitution.

Stevenson, Westlake and Palmer all made way, with Murray, Colin Daniel and Lindon Meikle being the three players that were introduced.

The Stags had sought to hold on to their slender advantage against a ferocious Exeter storm that showed no signs of easing, as the match entered its gripping finale.

In the closing stages, the Grecians enjoyed a series of corners and also had a penalty appeal waved away, but struggled to make their intense pressure pay dividends.

The outstanding Tafazolli had to make a goal-line clearance from Sercombe’s goalbound effort on 83 minutes, whilst Marriott was constantly at the thick of the action.

On the brink of injury-time, Mansfield endured a heart-stopping moment when Gow whistled an inviting ball across the face of goal, which nobody was able to convert.

The Stags’ hearts were beating ferociously. Exeter’s relentless tidal wave of pressure showed absolutely no signs of easing and the hosts were buoyed when six minutes of added time were indicated.

It seemed inevitable that Tisdale’s team would create more opportunities and they did so, as substitute Jimmy Keohane had a bouncing 25-yard shot saved by Marriott.

However, in the fifth minute of stoppage-time, whilst the Stags contingent chewed their nails frantically, Gow hit a lightning-strike towards goal that rattled the post.

A goalmouth scramble ensued, but yet again the resilient, brave and determined visitors cleared the danger.

Eventually, after over 98 minutes of action, the final whistle sounded and Mansfield’s players celebrated a hard-earned three points.