Matt Rhead’s header earned Mansfield Town an important victory over Fleetwood Town in a closely-fought contest at One Call Stadium.
Rhead ghosted in to meet Chris Clements’ corner and his header carried just enough power to beat the dive of Cod Army ‘keeper Chris Maxwell.
The Stags jump to 17th position in the table – nine points clear of Torquay United and Northampton Town, who remained locked in the relegation zone.
After a minutes silence for the late Sir Tom Finney was impeccably observed, the Stags got proceedings underway and attacked towards the North Stand in the first half.
However, it was the visitors who enjoyed the better of the early openings as veteran frontman Jon Parkin had an effort blocked by Junior Daniel at the expense of a corner.
Daniel tested the reflexes of Cod Army custodian Chris Maxwell at the other end on seven minutes, when Sam Clucas’ played a clever low ball through to the winger on the edge of the area.
Fleetwood continued to look lively though – with Parkin in a particular posing a constant threat due to his strength, power and unorthodox technique.
The Stags were unable to take advantage of a gilt-edge opening on the quarter-hour mark as Daniel charged down the left flank and played an inviting low ball across the face of goal.
Both Lee Stevenson and Matt Rhead were stationed inside the six-yard box, but the ball somehow evaded the pair of them and the visitors were able to clear the danger.
There were more anxious moments for Fleetwood when Nathan Pond’s heavy back-pass caused problems for Maxwell, who was forced to clear quickly under pressure from Clucas.
On 27 minutes, Pond became the first player to go into the referee’s notebook when he deliberately tripped Stevenson around 30 yards out.
Clucas took responsibility with the resulting set-piece, but his curling effort fell harmlessly wide of the left-hand post, and never looked like troubling Maxwell.
By this point the Stags were looking dominant in key areas, but Graham Alexander’s team were holding firm against a barrage of crosses and balls into their area.
That was until the 31st minute when Chris Clements delivered a pin-point corner towards the edge of the six-yard box, where an unmarked Rhead ghosted in and headed beyond a full-stretch Maxwell.
Mansfield deserved their advantage and could have even made it 2-0 when Daniel’s near-post ball was flicked on by Stevenson and landed fortuitously in the hands of Maxwell.
On 43 minutes, Pond was forced into a desperate late clearance as Rhead’s intricate flick from Alan Marriott’s long ball almost put Stevenson clean through.
Ritchie Sutton went close to netting his first career goal on the brink of first half stoppage-time, when his downwards header from Clements’ corner forced Maxwell into a diving save.
The Stags fully merited their half-time lead and would have been full of confidence ahead of the second period.
Fleetwood looked more threatening after the re-start but Gareth Evans should have done much better on 57 minutes, when he wastefully chipped a 20-yard free-kick straight into Marriott’s hands.
The Cod Army started to press forward more and Marriott was called into action again just a minute later when he tipped over a dipping 20-yard half-volley from Antoni Sarcevic.
The visitors also enjoyed a series of corners in quick succession around the hour mark, but Mansfield defended resolutely in order to protect their advantage.
The Stags almost pounced on the counter-attack on 67 minutes when Westlake raced down the right-wing to reach Howell’s pass and played a low ball inside to Clucas.
Clucas cleverly spun away from his marker to carve out an angle, but his subsequent snap-shot bounced narrowly wide of the right-hand post and the danger was over.
The momentum was with Fleetwood, who although being largely restricted to long-range attempts, still looked threatening and capable of creating an opening.
Substitute Charlie Taylor tried his luck with one such long-range strike on 73 minutes, which flew through a crowded area and was deflected wide by Mikael Mandron.
With just a quarter-of-an-hour remaining, the visitors went even closer to an equaliser when Liam Hogan’s close-range header from Evans’ corner, was straight at Marriott.
Mansfield then carved out an opening with a corner at the other end as Sutton connected with Clements’ near-post delivery, but Maxwell was perfectly positioned to make a save.
The Stags created another chance on 80 minutes with Daniel providing a cross towards the near-post for Clucas, whose header deflected off a Fleetwood player and went wide.
Clements caused havoc with the subsequent flag-kick as his ball into the six-yard box wasn’t dealt with and allowed Rhead to strike the ball straight at Maxwell from only a few yards.
The match was on a knife-edge – and it was Fleetwood who seemed to enjoy the better of the closing stages.
On 83 minutes, the visitors were denied by the woodwork as Evans’ low free-kick was turned goalwards by Parkin and then up onto the upright by Marriott.
It was a heart-in-mouth moment for the Stags – especially as the ball spun across the face of goal and had to be cleared away to safety by Ryan Tafazolli.
Fleetwood continued to press forward, but Paul Cox’s men held on courageously to record a vital three points.
Attendance: 2,759 (102 away supporters).