Mansfield Town survived over half-an-hour playing with ten men to earn a valuable point in a 1-1 draw against Northampton Town at the Sixfields Stadium.
Ollie Palmer fired the Stags ahead in the first half, but Darren Carter’s equaliser from the penalty spot extended the Cobblers’ unbeaten run to six matches.
Darryl Westlake received a straight red card in the build-up to the penalty, as referee Andy Haines judged him to have handled the ball on the line.
The result moves the Stags up two places in the Sky Bet League Two table to 16th, whilst Northampton remain in the relegation zone – albeit now just two points adrift of Exeter City.
Northampton spurned a gilt-edge chance in only the first minute as Brendan Dickenson beat the offside trap to latch onto Alan Connell’s long ball and raced towards goal.
The Cobblers player advanced into the area and had a low drive blocked by the legs of Alan Marriott, before his second attempt hit John Dempster and ricocheted away to safety.
Mansfield hit back when Ryan Tafazolli rose high on the edge of the six-yard box to meet James Jennings’ left-sided corner, but his goalbound header was blocked on the line by Chris Hackett.
Lee Stevenson then flashed a low 12-yard snap-shot just wide of Matt Duke’s left-hand post just a few moments later, following a cleverly weighted through ball by Darryl Westlake.
The Stags continued to enjoy a fair amount of possession and soon carved out another opening when Ollie Palmer seized upon a loose ball, but scuffed a tame low shot straight at Duke.
On 18 minutes, the Cobblers caused Mansfield a big moment of panic with their first corner, when Darren Carter’s in-swinging near-post delivery, intended for Emile Sinclair, was blocked by the knees of Marriott.
It wasn’t long until Marriott was called into action again as just three minutes later the Stags’ shot-stopper got down quickly to keep out Hackett’s thunderous free-kick from 25 yards.
After a quiet period of play, the Stags made a vital breakthrough on 32 minutes.
Palmer showed great strength to outmuscle Zander Diamond and reach Adam Murray’s hopeful long ball, before he coolly fired past a grounded Duke from five yards out.
It was a great moment for the big travelling contingent, who celebrated euphorically in the South Stand at the other end of the ground, and the Stags’ task now was to protect their lead.
The hosts came charging back at Paul Cox’s team and created several opportunities leading up to the break.
Martin Riley was fortunate to escape a caution when he brought down Dickenson on the edge of the area on 42 minutes, after the Cobblers sprung quickly on the counter-attack.
Carter’s subsequent free-kick ricocheted off a six-man Stags’ wall towards Ricky Ravenhill, who let fly with an audacious 30-yard attempt which flew inches over the woodwork.
The Cobblers spurned a brilliant opening in first half stoppage-time, when Dickenson’s low left-wing ball reached Emile Sinclair in a dangerous position inside the area.
Sinclair did enough to hold off his marker and play a clever ball back towards an advancing Alan Connell, whose goalbound shot was bravely diverted over the woodwork by Jennings.
Carter caused the Stags more problems with the resulting flag-kick as he played a brilliant ball towards the near-post, where Mathias Doumbe ghosted in and headed narrowly wide.
Sinclair’s persistence in chasing a long ball over the top won Northampton a corner within a minute of re-start, but Carter was unable to provide a good delivery on this occasion.
However, the Cobblers remained on the front-foot and went close again when an unmarked Connell looked up and let fly with a rip-roaring 25-yard strike, which was only inches over.
At the other end, Mansfield enjoyed a brief spell of pressure leading up to the hour mark as Palmer in particular proved to be a constant thorn in Northampton’s side.
The Stags’ scorer won a free-kick after he was clattered into by Doumbe, which allowed Jennings to whip another set-piece into the area and eventually win a corner.
Jennings played a high ball towards the far-post from the resulting corner, where Tafazolli reached the ball ahead of Duke and sent a looping header up in the air, but Northampton scrambled clear.
Chris Wilder’s team were quickly back on the attack and substitute Ian Morris tried his luck with an audacious 25-yard strike on the hour mark, which Marriott brilliantly tipped over.
However, the pendulum soon took a massive turn in favour of the hosts.
In their next attack, Hackett found Connell on the edge of the six-yard box with a right-wing cross and Westlake was judged to have handled the ball following Connell’s header.
Referee Andy Haines showed no hesitancy in awarding a penalty and also opted to show Westlake a straight red card, before Carter slotted home from 12 yards to draw Northampton level.
The equaliser was a dagger blow for Mansfield, who soon made a double substitution in an attempt to tighten their rearguard ahead of the closing stages.
Palmer was replaced by Colin Daniel, whilst Lee Stevenson was withdrawn in favour of Lindon Meikle – a move seemingly designed to give Mansfield more width.
Despite being at a numerical disadvantage, the Stags were now looking the most dangerous of the two teams and, surprisingly, enjoyed more possession.
On 76 minutes, after a Stags corner was only half-cleared, Meikle headed the ball back up-field and Rhead’s flick on put Howell in the clear, but the midfielder fired into the side-netting.
Moments later, Mansfield almost sprung on the counter-attack when Meikle’s through ball caused a race between Daniel and Duke, but the Cobblers’ custodian got to the ball first.
With just five minutes remaining, Northampton wasted a gilt-edge opportunity to go ahead.
In a clever counter-attack, the hosts broke quickly down the left flank and Connell provided a glorious pin-point ball towards an unmarked Hackett at the far-post, who blazed horribly over.
The Stags survived five nail-biting minutes of stoppage-time to earn a valuable point, which lifts them up two places in the Sky Bet League Two table.
Attendance: 5,129 (744 away supporters).