Dimitar Evtimov produced a heroic goalkeeping performance as magnificent 10-man Mansfield Town defied all the odds to record a heroic 1-0 victory over AFC Wimbledon.
After a largely forgettable first half, during which the only notable incident was Rob Taylor’s straight red card, the Stags took the lead just 90 seconds after the re-start courtesy of a strike by Vadaine Oliver.
However, an inspired Evtimov proved to be the hero as he made at least half a dozen superb saves to thwart the hosts – and help his team to a much-needed, but well-deserved, three points.
AFC Wimbledon got proceedings underway on a mild afternoon in South-West London and it wasn’t very long at all until they created a golden opportunity.
Just 35 seconds had elapsed when George Francomb delivered a teasing set-piece cross towards the edge of the six-yard box where Adebayo Akinfenwa knocked the ball goalwards and Matt Rhead was forced to hook the ball off the line, but the Dons’ muscular frontman was flagged offside anyway.
It ultimately proved to be Akinfenwa’s only contribution to the game as he received lengthy treatment in the aftermath, and eventually hobbled off to be replaced by Adebayo Azeez.
After a sloppy period in which Neal Ardley’s Dons shaded possession, the Stags then stepped things up and enjoyed a sustained spell of pressure around the quarter-hour mark.
Mansfield could have opened the scoring on 14 minutes when Chris Clements’ low free-kick, around 30 yards out, was played out towards Rob Taylor in acres of space on the left flank.
The ex-Port Vale man drifted into the area and smashed a low ball through a packed six-yard box which reached Matt Rhead at the back-post, but the frontman’s shot ricocheted off the post, before the Dons eventually cleared their lines.
Rhead had another attempt two minutes later when he dragged a shot wide from 25 yards, before Taylor went marginally closer with a dipping left-foot effort that was well-struck, but lacked the accuracy to trouble home ‘keeper James Shea.
By and large, the first half was a scrappy contest littered with stoppages, largely forgettable periods of play and not an awful lot in terms of goalmouth action.
However, the Stags did begin to get on top and mustered up a half-chance on the half-hour mark when Taylor’s looping throw was flicked on by Rhead towards Oliver, who despite facing away from goal, managed to direct a tame header into the arms of the AFC Wimbledon ‘keeper.
Less than 60 seconds later, the momentum of the game changed in an instant as under the nose of referee Darren Deadman, Taylor went in with a strong tackle on the Dons’ Sammy Moore, which also took out Barry Fuller, and the Mansfield left-winger was given his marching orders.
With a one-man advantage, the hosts tried to build pressure, but struggled in their efforts and a thunderous 25-yard strike by George Francomb, which went wide of Dimitar Evtimov’s left-hand post, was the closest they came to scoring before the half-time interval.
The Stags made a blistering start to the second half and put the cat firmly amongst the pigeons by taking a surprise.
Oliver showed great persistence as he chased down a loose header backwards and managed to wrestle past Jake Goodman, before showing excellent composure to open up his body and slot past the ‘keeper.
With their boss furious on the sidelines, the side from South-West London began to play on the front foot and Dannie Bulman forced a great fingertip save from Dimitar Evtimov on 53 minutes.
Although the resulting corner was cleared, the Dons went close again just a few moments later when Francomb’s curling right-foot cross towards the back-post found the prolific Matt Tubbs, who was foiled down low by Evtimov.
There were more nervous moments for the Stags as Tafazolli tripped an advancing Fuller on the right-hand edge of the area on 55 minutes and the defender was very fortunate not to get a second yellow card for the offence.
Both teams then had a player booked before the hour mark, Sean Rigg and Junior Brown respectively, whilst Mansfield made their first change as Rakish Bingham replaced Oliver, who had earlier received treatment for a knock.
Despite playing with a one-man disadvantage, Murray’s Mansfield created two chances in quick succession and were unlucky not to double their lead around the hour mark.
Rhead headed goalwards from Kieron Freeman’s right-wing cross, which was bundled off the line at the expense of a corner, before Luke Waterfall had a bullet-header tipped over from the subsequent flag-kick.
Wimbledon stepped up their pressure again, but couldn’t find a way beyond the excellent Evtimov, who saved a swerving low 25-yard strike by Moore, and then denied the midfielder again two minutes later.
As the minutes passed, the Dons’ frustrations grew and boss Ardley opted to make a bold change with a quarter-of-an-hour left to play as he hauled off the ineffective Azeez in favour of George Oakley.
Yet again, however, the hosts were foiled by Evtimov, who tipped a stinging effort by Moore onto the woodwork and clutched the ball at the second attempt after the AFC Wimbledon man peeled away from his man to reach a corner.
On 82 minutes, the Dons went even more agonisingly closer to an equaliser. Francomb floated a corner which drifted all the way out to Moore on the opposite flank, who recycled the ball from which it flicked off Goodman’s head and went wide.
Tafazolli then made a magnificent last-ditch clearance inside his own six-yard box on 85 minutes, before Tubbs couldn’t find the accuracy to turn home a teasing in-swinging set-piece on 88 minutes.
Rhead picked up a knock and was replaced by Ollie Palmer ahead of six minutes of injury-time during which the Dons continued to lay siege on the Stags’ goal.
The hosts went even closer than previously to an equaliser in the second of those six minutes as Tubbs drew two sensational saves from Evtimov, whilst Pell also went close in an almighty goalmouth scramble.
In the last of those nail-biting minutes, Wimbledon went agonisingly closer as Rigg crossed from the left flank for Pell, who sent a header towards goal which went a whisker wide of the target.
Attendance: 3,790 (178 away supporters).