Mansfield Town tasted defeat in their final home match of the season, but Torquay United’s 3-1 win wasn’t enough to prevent relegation to the Conference Premier.
The Stags started well, but fell behind against the run of play when John Dempster put through his own net in the 13th minute.
Ashley Yeoman doubled the visitors’ lead on the half-hour mark and their position was strengthened when Matt Rhead was shown a straight red card before half-time.
Paul Cox’s side reduced arrears within a minute of the re-start thanks to a goal by James Jennings, but Torquay went 3-1 up thanks to a late strike by Shaquille Coulthirst.
However, despite their victory, Torquay were relegated because of Northampton Town’s victory over Dagenham & Redbridge, which lifted them out of the bottom two.
On a warm afternoon at One Call Stadium, Torquay got proceedings underway, but it was Mansfield – attacking towards the North Stand in the opening 45 minutes – who began in lively fashion.
In the first minute, James Jennings’ in-swinging free-kick towards the back-post had to be tipped over by a back-peddling Martin Rice, but a flag was up for offside anyway.
The Gulls – knowing that anything less than a win would see them relegated from the Football League – were forced into more defending, when Chris Clements cut inside and saw his 20-yard strike deflected over.
The Stags’ midfielder was unable to pick out anyone with the subsequent corner, but Torquay remained on the back-foot in the early exchanges.
Palmer should have put Mansfield ahead on eight minutes, when he connected with Jennings’ chipped cross towards the back-post, but headed agonisingly wide of the right-hand post.
Jennings posed a constant threat to Torquay and after he combined with Junior Daniel and slid a low ball into the six-yard box, the visitors somehow scrambled the ball away.
The Gulls offered very little as an attacking threat, but opened the scoring thanks to a large slice of good fortune on 13 minutes, when John Dempster sliced a deep by-line cross into his own net.
Mansfield threatened a quick response and when right-back Marsden delivered a looping long-throw deep into the Gulls’ six-yard on the quarter-hour mark, Rhead’s header went just over.
On 20 minutes, the Stags were forced into their first change as Daniel, who was struggling with what appeared to be a pulled muscle, was replaced by youngster Sam Clucas.
Moments later, Torquay had their goalkeeper to thank for keeping them on level terms.
Marsden’s deflected chip-cross from the inside-left channel was flicked on by Rhead towards Dempster, whose six-yard header looked goalbound until Rice reacted instinctively and grabbed the ball.
The hosts were dominating in possession and Rice was again called into action just shy of the half-hour mark, when he saved a well-struck 25-yard snap-shot by Palmer.
Nevertheless, just two minutes later, Torquay doubled their lead.
Courtney Cameron found space on the left channel and delivered a fine cross towards the near-post, where Ashley Yeoman’s near-post header was parried by Lewis Price.
However, nobody was able to clear the loose ball and Yeoman reacted quickest to stab an effort from point-blank range into an empty net and it left Mansfield facing an uphill battle.
Incredibly, Torquay nearly went 3-0 up on 39 minutes, when Shaquille Coulthirst went forward and slipped a low ball through to an unmarked Yeoman, but Price rushed off his line to foil the striker.
The Stags almost halved their deficit on 42 minutes, when Rhead’s powerful back-post header flew just inches over, following a superb corner by Clements.
It was to be Rhead’s last contribution as just a minute later he jumped into a tackle with Dale Tonge, and was shown a straight red card by referee Gavin Ward.
Mansfield seized the initiative to press forward as they attacked towards the Quarry Lane End after the re-start, and won a corner inside the first few seconds.
Clements’ resulting delivery into the area was headed goalwards by Jennings and the ball ricocheted off Damon Lathrope, who was stationed on the near-post, and found the back of the net.
The visitors were now more nervous – knowing that they simply couldn’t afford to concede again.
However, on 52 minutes, they almost restored their two-goal cushion when skipper Lee Mansell let fly with a sweet right-foot strike from 25 yards, which was tipped over by a full-stretch Price.
The Gulls enjoyed a brief spell of pressure and more chances followed as Yeomen screwed a low shot wide under pressure from Ritchie Sutton, before Lathrope found the side-netting with a separate attempt.
Despite a numerical disadvantage in players, Mansfield saw more of the ball than their relegation-threatened counterparts, and thought they should have been awarded a spot-kick when Anthony O’Connor handled inside the area.
Straight up at the other end, Torquay spurned a great opening to go 3-1 up, when Cameron burst down the right flank and into a one-on-one with Price, who tipped a well-struck shot over the upright.
Cameron took responsibility with the subsequent corner and his fine delivery was met by the head of Yeoman, but his attempt didn’t trouble the Stags’ shot-stopper.
The Gulls were now beginning to attack with more frequency and Coulthirst wasted two chances in quick succession around the hour mark, when either would have eased their nerves.
On 68 minutes, Jennings was cautioned for a tackle on Coulthirst wide out on the right channel, before Yeoman hit an acrobatic attempt over the upright as Torquay continued to lurk with intent.
An unmarked Krystian Pearce should have eased the Gulls’ fears with a quarter-of-an-hour remaining, but he side-footed a six-yard attempt over the target, despite Cameron finding him in such a good position.
Torquay’s first change saw Jordan Chappell replace the ineffective Elliot Benyon, and the Gulls’ substitute made an immediate impact.
Chappell collected the ball deep on the right-wing and delivered a pin-point cross for a rising Coulthirst, whose powerful close-range header found the net and gave the ‘keeper no chance.
Riley was replaced by Anthony Howell in a tactical switch two minutes later, but the visitors remained on the front-foot.
On 82 minutes, Chappell and Coulthirst helped to stretch the Stags’ defence and latter delivered a teasing ball across the face of goal, which resulted in Cameron having a shot blocked by Marsden.
Torquay should have gone further ahead in added time when Mansell had two shots blocked by Price, whilst Marsden also made a vital last-ditch when a goal seemed inevitable.
Marsden, on his professional debut, was awarded the sponsors’ ‘Man of the Match’ award for his efforts, but Torquay proved to be more than comfortable winners.
Attendance: 3,389 (275 away supporters).