Adam Murray’s early free-kick made it back-to-back wins in Sky Bet League Two for magnificent Mansfield Town, who defeated AFC Wimbledon at One Call Stadium.
The Stags’ skipper curled a great free-kick beyond Dons’ custodian Ross Worner to move Paul Cox’s team onto 50 points – a huge 10 points clear of second-bottom Northampton Town.
The Stags got proceedings underway and attacked towards the North Stand in the first half, which housed the noisy travelling contingent of 318 from South London.
Anthony Howell won the first corner of the match on five minutes, but Murray’s subsequent delivery into the six-yard box was headed wide by Ryan Tafazolli.
However, just moments later, Murray found the target to fire the Stags into a precious lead.
Sammy Moore needlessly pushed the Stags’ skipper in the back around 25 yards out, which allowed Murray to whip a teasing cross towards the target.
His sweetly-struck set-piece narrowly missed Ollie Palmer who was lurking dangerously inside the six-yard box, but bounced up and beyond Ross Worner and into the net.
Murray was congratulated by all his team-mates as Mansfield were now in a commanding position in their attempts to record back-to-back wins for the first time this year.
The visitors were forced to defend for most of the early exchanges and were dealt another blow when Darren Jones was taken off on a stretcher, following an accidental collision with Howell, who was booked.
Despite the match still being very much in its infancy, Dons’ boss Neal Ardley opted to make a tactical substitution as Jones, a centre-back, was replaced by forward Kwesi Appiah.
The change definitely enhanced Wimbledon’s attacking threat and they went close when Charlie Wyke headed wide from Tom Richards’ left-wing cross.
There were more nervous moments for Mansfield on the half-hour mark when Martin Riley’ sloppy back-pass to Alan Marriott under pressure from Appiah, caused problems.
Marriott was forced to rush from his line in order to reach the ball under pressure from Appiah, and he did so, otherwise the Dons’ substitute would have had a simple tap-in.
Although opportunities were few and far between, the Stags were being made to defend well and Ritchie Sutton produced two good tackles in quick succession to foil the Dons.
Wimbledon spurned a great opening to equalise on 42 minutes, when an unmarked Appiah scuffed the ball straight at Marriott from six yards, following George Francomb’s right-wing cross.
The miss could have proved costly as Murray almost doubled the Stags’ lead with a teasing corner right under the woodwork, which had to be tipped over Worner.
Sutton headed wide from Murray’s subsequent flag-kick ahead of five minutes of stoppage-time, which was mainly due to the earlier injury sustained by Jones.
In the second of those added minutes, Sutton, who was enjoying a solid match, made another vital interception as he cleared a dangerous low free-kick into the area by Francomb.
At the other end, Matt Rhead had a powerful 20-yard strike well-saved by Worner, before the burly frontman had an appeal for a spot-kick waved away as Mansfield finished strongly.
Nevertheless, the Stags’ couldn’t reproduce that same momentum in the early stages of the second period, as Wimbledon, still searching for an equaliser, looked strong instead.
The Dons should have levelled within five minutes of the re-start when Appiah played a teasing ball to an unmarked Francomb, who scuffed a woeful effort over the target from six yards.
With 54 minutes played, Stags’ boss Paul Cox made a tactical double substitution as Daniel and Howell were replaced by Lindon Meikle and Sam Clucas respectively.
Nevertheless, the Dons continued to press forward and dominate territorially, and Aaron Morris went close when he cut inside and curled a right-foot shot over the woodwork.
The Stags soon made their final substitution as Palmer was replaced by Jake Speight, who almost made an immediate impact as he was unlucky not to reach a long ball downfield by Marriott.
Moments later, Speight and Rhead combined well inside the visitors’ half, but the substitute was unable to beat Worner with a tame effort, having burst onto Rhead’s low through pass.
The burly frontman, who had already been spoken to by the referee, was cautioned a few minutes later for a poor tackle, but the Dons didn’t cause any danger from Alan Bennett’s resulting free-kick.
Wimbledon couldn’t take advantage of another set-piece opportunity in an excellent position on 76 minutes, after Kevin Saint-Luce was brought down by Lee Beevers on the edge of the area.
Francomb’s powerful free-kick ricocheted off a Stags player and out for a corner, which led to a sustained spell of pressure from the Dons, who enjoyed three corners in quick succession.
From the last of those flag-kicks, Francomb picked out Bennett with an excellent delivery towards the back-post, but the Dons’ centre-back saw his header cleared off the line by Jamie McGuire.
With minutes slowly starting to ebb away, the lively Appiah tried his luck with a speculative 20-yard half-volley, which Marriott did well to save at his near-post.
Mansfield fashioned a rare opening on 84 minutes, as Meikle scuffed a shot narrowly wide of the woodwork, following a good piece of work by Speight, who brought the ball under control from a long set-piece.
Murray and Morris were both cautioned after a coming together on the halfway line in the closing minutes and going into four minutes of added time, the Stags were on top.
Clucas headed straight at Worner in the first few seconds of injury-time, before Rhead couldn’t beat the Dons’ ‘keeper with a low drive only a few moments later.
Nerves were frayed as the Stags held on through almost five minutes of added time to record another important victory, which moves them onto 50 points in Sky Bet League Two.
Attendance: 3,292 (318 away supporters).