Mansfield Town stand on the brink of survival in Sky Bet League Two after showing incredible spirit to beat second-bottom Tranmere Rovers, 1-0, at One Call Stadium.
Reggie Lambe scored what proved to be the decisive goal on the brink of half-time to move the Stags onto 48 points – nine ahead of their opponents – with three matches of the season left to play.
Tranmere enjoyed waves and waves of pressure in the second half, but couldn’t force an equaliser as the Stags, marshalled by Ryan Tafazolli and Michael Raynes at centre-back, defended superbly.
When they were breached defensively, behind them was Sascha Studer, who showed a safe pair of hands throughout to keep a well-earned clean-sheet.
There was tension, drama and nervousness during 13 minutes of injury-time, but Adam Murray’s men held on to put themselves on the brink of survival in the Football League.
Stags’ boss Adam Murray made three changes to the side that lost 2-1 away at Plymouth Argyle on Saturday with Ritchie Sutton, Junior Brown and Michael Raynes replacing Lee Beevers, Rakish Bingham and Martin Riley in the starting line-up.
Mansfield started the game the better and should have been in front within 15 seconds as lovely skill by Brown sent Vadaine Oliver away through the middle, but his shot was met by a strong left hand from Owain Fon Williams to stop it nestling in the corner.
Their lightning start only got better and chances came thick and fast for the hosts in the first five minutes with Brown again in the action as a corner from the left-hand side made its way to him just inside the edge of the area, but he couldn’t keep his shot down.
Tranmere’s first opportunity came in the ninth minute when George Green’s 20-yard free-kick sailed only a whisker wide after Callum Elder was adjudged to have fouled the Everton loanee.
The visitors began to apply a little more pressure to the Stags’ as the half progressed and their best chance came in the 17th minute when Jennison Myrie-Williams’ persistence got him past Elder down the right-hand side, he pulled the ball back to Rory Donnelly, who could only guide his shot inches wide of Studer’s post.
Mansfield responded well and nearly took the lead when a free-kick from the right by Chris Clements flew dangerously across the box just evading the head of the awaiting Oliver.
Rovers’ began to reinforce themselves in the contest and nearly found the opener in the 31st minute, Cole Stockton found space from a corner but saw his effort fly straight into the arms of Studer.
Despite the Rovers pressure, the Stags stole the lead just before half-time with Reggie Lambe placing his finish to perfection beyond the helpless Fon Williams from just outside the box on his left-foot after being played in brilliantly by Oliver.
The second half started much like the first, with the first chance falling to the Stags’, Brown brought the ball down brilliantly before firing his shot straight at the Rovers stopper in front of the Quarry Lane stand.
Murray made the first change of the evening in the 54th minute with Matt Rhead replacing Jack Thomas for the hosts.
Rhead went straight into the action, proving to be a handful for the visitors defence and forced a foul just outside the area but the resulting free-kick went straight into the wall.
Rovers’ boss Micky Adams made all three changes at once for the visitors with Iain Hume, Kayode Odejayi and Matt Hill replacing Rory Donnelly, Cole Stockton and former Stag, Rob Taylor.
Mansfield nearly extended their advantage when captain, McGuire tried a speculative volley from 40-yards out that dipped just onto the top of the net.
Not long after that chance, Murray shuffled his pack for the second time with McGuire being withdrawn and being replaced by Ricky Ravenhill, who also took the captain’s armband.
In an end-to-end encounter, Rovers’ nearly equalised when Danny Holmes found Myrie-Williams inside the area but the winger’s tame effort fell straight into the grateful arms of Studer.
The relevance of the game was visible as the second half progressed with chances coming few and far between despite the game being end-to-end for much of the half.
Rovers dropped the passing game they adopted in the first half instead trying longer balls to the head of Odejayi, but it was Mansfield who nearly killed the game on the counter-attack with Rhead’s header falling perfectly for Oliver, who when attempting to run clear of the Rovers defence was adjudged to have fouled his opponent.
The final 10 minutes was attack against defence with the visitors’ searching for the equaliser they desperately needed but with the Stags’ crowd in full voice, the hosts nearly doubled their advantage late on when Lambe’s cross just missed the oncoming Oliver.
The tension around One Call Stadium could have been cut with a knife when referee, Darren Drysdale ordered eight minutes of added time, fortunately for the Stags’ support there was no need to worry as the hosts saw out the priceless victory despite a late barrage of Rovers pressure that saw a shot whistle just past the post and Reggie Lambe sent-off after an off-the-ball incident.
Attendance 3,051 (563 away supporters).