Mansfield Town were made to pay for a slow start as they succumbed to a 3-0 defeat to Stevenage at the Lamex Stadium.
Chris Whelpdale opened the scoring with a third-minute effort for Graham Westley’s team, before Charlie Lee found the target just over 60 seconds later to double the hosts’ advantage.
Whelpdale then capped off an impressive display to put the result beyond doubt with a strike on 84 minutes.
On a gloriously warm afternoon in Hertfordshire, the hosts got proceedings underway, but were on the back-foot initially as Mansfield won a corner inside the opening minute following some good work by Reggie Lambe.
Skipper Adam Murray swung a corner towards the back-post where Rhead connected and attempted to chip the ball goalwards, but a partial deflection off a Stevenage defender took the ball towards Ryan Tafazolli, whose subsequent low shot was blocked.
The early minutes were played at a frantic speed and Stevenage managed to open the scoring in their first attack of the afternoon on three minutes.
Tom Pett slid an inviting defence-splitting ball out towards Chris Whelpdale, who had advanced beyond Lee Beevers on the right flank, which put his team-mate in the clear.
The ex-Gillingham man showed good pace as he accelerated away from a back-tracking Ryan Tafazolli and although his initial effort was blocked by the legs of Stags’ ‘keeper Dimitar Evtimov, Whelpdale was alert as he pounced on the resulting loose ball and emphatically fired home from six yards.
With the majority of the crowd inside the Lamex Stadium still celebrating from the opener, Graham Westley’s team incredibly doubled their lead more or less straight from the re-start.
This time, Whelpdale was the provider as his low cross from the right channel found Charlie Lee on the edge of the six-yard box, who calmly slotted the ball beyond Evtimov to make it 2-0.
The Stags were shell-shocked by their counterparts’ rip-roaring start and Stevenage could have enhanced their winning margin even further on six minutes as Whelpdale scuffed a low shot goalwards, which took a wicked deflection off Ritchie Sutton and went narrowly wide of the target.
Evtimov punched away the danger from the resulting corner, but Boro quickly regained possession and continued to apply more pressure – especially down the right flank.
Tafazolli was penalised for handling Ronnie Henry’s attempted cross just outside the area on eight minutes, but the Mansfield defender recovered to head away Dean Parrett’s in-swinging set-piece.
The Stags gradually began to get back into the game following their horrendous start and Boro custodian Chris Day was called into action for the first time on 11 minutes, when he had to deal with a heavy back-pass from Andy Bond, with Rakish Bingham chasing down on goal.
Less than 60 seconds later, Bond did exceptionally well to keep his team two goals in front. Bermuda international Lambe carried the ball over 40 yards and worked his way into the area, before his low, goalbound effort was blocked on the line by the Stevenage defender.
The goal would have provided Paul Cox’s men with a great platform to launch a quick comeback, but nevertheless they still pressed forward with frequency and pushed their hosts back with an aerial bombardment of long balls aimed towards Matt Rhead, who posed a constant threat.
On the quarter-hour mark, Parrett wasted a set-piece opportunity for Stevenage and Murray attempted to catch them on the counter-attack as he hit a high and hopeful ball towards Bingham which was just a few inches too high for the lightning-quick Stags striker.
The momentum soon swung back in Stevenage’s favour as Parrett picked out Lee with a pin-point cross towards the back-post just two minutes later, but Evtimov was well-positioned to make a routine save.
At the other end, Liam Marsden asked questions of Stevenage with a couple of his trademark long-throws deep into the area, but the defence came out on top on both occasions.
Mansfield then squandered a gilt-edge chance to get back in the game on 21 minutes. Ex-Boro man Simon Heslop launched a long ball downfield, which bounced up and was mis-judged by Bond, which inadvertently put Rhead in the clear.
However, the ball came at the burly forward at head height and he was only able to put direction, as opposed to power, on the ball and a back-tracking Day managed to make a save.
Mansfield continued to see more of the ball and Day was forced into another save midway through the first period as he was at full-stretch to palm away a venomous 25-yard strike by Bingham.
The 20-year-old went even closer to bagging his fourth goal in just five outings on the half-hour mark when he let fly with yet another thunderous long-range strike which rattled the upright. Rhead reacted quickest to get to the rebound, but Day showed great reflexes to get up and turn his effort away.
Boro could have then put the game to bed on 32 minutes, as Whelpdale enjoyed more success down the right channel and played a teasing ball across the Stags’ goalmouth towards Tom Pett, who saw his effort blocked. Lee then fired over from the edge of the area as the pressure came to an end.
Mansfield continued to apply pressure at the other end and almost halved the deficit before half-time as Bingham broke away down the right channel and provided a precise back-post cross for strike-partner Rhead, whose goalbound header was plucked out of the air by Day.
Stevenage would have been delighted to have maintained their two-goal cushion until half-time – especially after four minutes of added time at the end of the first half during which Mansfield had plenty of possession.
The Stags made two substitutions and changed their shape prior to the second half, as boss Cox sought new ways to get back into the contest. Ritchie Sutton was replaced by Jamie McGuire, whilst Ollie Palmer came on for Lambe.
Nevertheless, the second half was largely frustrating for the Stags as they continued to enjoy possession, but were constantly foiled by Stevenage’s big, strong and commanding back-line.
Palmer had a tame attempt saved by Day at his near-post on 48 minutes, but only after Stevenage almost forced a third goal at the other end with Lee shooting straight at Evtimov following a cross by Whelpdale.
Murray was off-target with a speculative 20-yard snap-shot only moments later, but clear-cut openings after this point were both sparse and sporadic for Mansfield.
With half-an-hour remaining, the Stags used the last of their available substitutions as Alex Fisher, who scored in the recent win over Morecambe, replaced the burly Rhead in attack.
Frustrations remained, however, as Stevenage defended doggedly to protect their lead and it was they who gradually began to create openings, because of the visitors pressing so many men forward.
The impressive Whelpdale, who looked threatening in both halves, tried his luck with a cheeky chip on 62 minutes, which went narrowly wide – much to Mansfield’s relief.
Former Stags youngster Chris Beardsley then forced Evtimov into a save with a near-post attempt, whilst Whelpdale and Lee continued to pose problems with their pace and trickery.
Mansfield had a short period of pressure just after the midway point in the second period as only a perfectly-timed Dean Wells challenge prevented Adam Murray from racing through into a one-on-one, whilst substitute Fisher played an inviting ball across the goalmouth, which hit Jon Ashton but was cleared away to safety.
Boro dominated the closing quarter-of-an-hour and Whelpdale was unlucky not to grab his second of the afternoon with a low effort, before Connor Calcutt headed over from two yards following a deft flick by Lee.
Eventually, Stevenage added a third goal with just over five minutes left to play as Roarie Deacon pierced the visitors’ defence with an inviting low ball that found Whelpdale, who picked his spot from six yards.
Overall, it was a thoroughly disappointing day for everyone connected with Mansfield, but they remain on the fringes of the Sky Bet League Two Play-Off positions.
Attendance: 2,820 (292 away supporters).