Simon Heslop’s first goal for Mansfield Town earned the Stags a deserved point in an end-to-end draw with Portsmouth at Fratton Park.
After a closely-fought first period, the summer signing from Stevenage opened the scoring within 60 seconds of the re-start, when he found the bottom-right corner with a low drive from the edge of the area.
Portsmouth earned a point courtesy of Paul Robinson’s 70th minute strike, and Andy Awford’s team piled on the pressure in the closing stages as Danny Hollands, Nigel Atangana, Patrick Agyemang and Nicky Shorey all had chances, but ultimately the match finished all square.
Stags boss Paul Cox made two enforced changes to his starting line-up as the suspended Adam Murray and the injured Ryan Tafazolli were replaced by Simon Heslop and emergency loan signing Jamie Sendles-White, respectively.
On a sunny afternoon in Hampshire, it was the visitors who got proceedings underway – attacking in the first half towards the Fratton End, which housed the more voiciferous supporters amongst Portsmouth’s noisy home contingent.
There was an electric atmosphere around Fratton Park in the early exchanges, as Pompey settled quickly and enjoyed a few long periods of possession and territorial pressure, without creating too much in the way of chances.
Pompey forced the first corner of the afternoon on eight minutes, but Nicky Shorey’s delivery towards the six-yard box was partially punched away by Sascha Studer, before Jamie McGuire wrapped things up by clearing the ball away to safety.
Mansfield then registered the first attempt on target, less than 60 seconds later, as Rakish Bingham saw a tame drive comfortably gathered by Paul Jones.
The Stags pressed forward again and soon had a more meaningful opportunity. Fergus Bell showed great footwork to keep the ball as he ran at a back-peddling defender, before he curled an effort narrowly over.
Against the back-drop of an electric atmosphere, Paul Cox’s team remained on the front foot over the next few minutes and forced another opportunity on the quarter-hour mark. Lee Beevers was the provider on this occasions, but Bingham, stretching and with his back to goal, was unable to get enough power on his header to properly test Jones.
Livewire Pompey playmaker Alex Wynter then had a drive blocked by Martin Riley on 17 minutes, as the momentum of a topsy-turvy contest swung back in favour of the home team.
The South Coast outfit then registered their first effort on target, when Ryan Taylor’s low effort trickled into the arms of Studer – a save which was met with ironic applause from the home crowd.
At the other end, Mansfield nearly created a golden opening just shy of the half-hour mark, when Jamie McGuire took advantage of a misplaced pass and immediately broke forward down the left channel.
The 30-year-old threaded a simple pass towards the feet of Matt Rhead, who responded with a low ball towards Bell, just a few yards ahead of him.
With the Pompey defence stretched, the youngster tried to put Bingham clean through, but his attempted pass was cut-out and the danger came to pass.
The hosts responded immediately as Danny Hollands capitalised on a poor backwards pass by Simon Heslop and broke clear down the right flank, but the ex-AFC Bournemouth man was foiled by an excellent challenge by Martin Riley.
Pompey quickly regained possession, however, and worked the ball inside towards Alex Wynter, who looked up and unleashed a powerful drive goalwards which ricocheted off Freeman and went out for a corner.
The pressure then came to an abrupt end as the corner was taken short towards Shorey on the edge of the area, but the veteran curled a strike high over the woodwork, with Studer totally untroubled.
Mansfield continued to look lively going forward and registered another opportunity on 38 minutes, when Ritchie Sutton whipped a teasing right-wing cross into the area, which was volleyed over by Bingham.
Due to his pace, trickery and direct attacking nature, the 20-year-old ex-Wigan Athletic youngster was causing numerous problems for the hosts and he went close again with a curling right-foot attempt from the angle of the area, which narrowly cleared the upright.
Rhead then received a yellow card for an accidental collision with Johnny Ertl in what was the only other incident of any note before the half-time interval.
After an intriguing, tense and closely-fought first 45 minutes, the Stags got right in the faces of their opponents and made a blistering impact as they opened the scoring just 58 seconds after the re-start.
Freeman’s long left-wing throw was cleverly flicked on by Rhead, towards Heslop, who has taken up a good position on the edge of the area.
The midfielder still had plenty of work to do, but managed to peel away from his marker to carve out a shooting angle and he subsequently hit a well-placed drive into the bottom-right corner, beyond a full-stretch Jones.
Pompey were shell-shocked at having fallen behind so soon after the re-start, but roared on by a 15,000-strong home crowd, they sought an immediate response and began to put Mansfield under some sustained pressure.
Andy Awford’s started to dominate territorially – working the ball out wide whenever they could and putting crosses into the box, though apart from cutting out a couple of low balls at his near-post Studer was rarely troubled.
Mansfield created two good chances in quick succession on the hour mark and were very unfortunate not to double their lead.
Bingham was able to stretch his legs and run at his marker midway inside the hosts’ half and he eventually let fly with a serving 30-yard drive, which was fumbled by Jones, before it was hooked away to safety,
Nevertheless, the Stags were soon back on the attack and went even closer to adding a second goal as Bell’s sweet strike was magnificently tipped wide by Jones – though somehow the officials failed to spot the ‘keeper’s intervention and awarded a goal-kick as opposed to a corner.
Pompey now upped the ante and put Mansfield under relentless pressure, but still they struggled to create clear-cut chances - something which was a big source of frustration for the home faithful.
Eventually, the hosts made a double change in order to bolster their attacking threat as Agyemang replaced the largely ineffective Drennan, whose biggest contribution was having an effort saved by Studer just a few minutes earlier, whilst Ertl was took off in favour of Nigel Atangana.
The changes quickly proved dividends as Portsmouth got back on level terms just a couple of minutes later.
Although Shorey’s corner into the area was cleared, the hosts regained possession and equalised as Agyemang used every inch of his stretch to work his way into the area and the by-line and then played a ball back across goal towards Paul Robinson, who stabbed a shot through a crowded six-yard box and into the net.
The pendulum had now swung firmly in favour of Portsmouth and roared on by an expectant home crowd, their relentless pressure continued well into the closing stages.
Jed Wallace was proving to be an instrumental and on a couple of occasions, he delivered teasing balls through the goalmouth, but nobody was able to convert as the Stags continued to survive.
The Stags could have snatched maximum points when Bell and Bingham combined inside the Pompey area, but Jones pulled off a fine fingertip save to deny the latter what would have been a well-deserved goal.
With five minutes remaining, Studer did likewise in order to keep Mansfield on level terms. The Swiss custodian brilliantly tipped over a venomous strike from Danny Hollands, who had been allowed to unleash a shot from the edge of the area.
The match was at fever pitch going into six long minutes of injury-time, and although Pompey continued to lay siege on the Stags’ goal, they still couldn’t find a way to snatch all three points.
Atangana and Agyemang both had efforts, whilst in the fifth minute of added time, Shorey wasted a golden opportunity as he cleared the upright with a woeful free-kick from about 20 yards out.
Ultimately, the match finished honours even, but the Stags can take heart from their fighting spirit, grit and determination which earned them a deserved point at one of the more intimidating venues in Sky Bet League Two.
Attendance: 15,585 (397 away supporters).