Kwesi Appiah’s last-gasp equaliser denied Mansfield Town a place in the third round of the FA Cup.
The striker, on loan at Cambridge United from Crystal Palace, levelled in the first minute of injury-time, after a strike by Rakish Bingham and an own goal from Tom Champion gave the Stags an advantage.
The match, which finished 2-2, was a closely-fought contest with both teams creating some good chances. A replay will take place at One Call Stadium later this month.
On a bitterly cold, albeit sunny afternoon, in Cambridgeshire, it was a special afternoon for those connected with Mansfield Town.
Not only was it Adam Murray’s first game in permanent charge, but the Stags also wore their brand new third kit – red and white hoops, red shorts and red socks, which was exclusively revealed as the team walked out for kick-off.
The Stags started the game brightly, enjoying plenty of early possession, and made a perfect start as they opened the scoring with their first attack of the afternoon after just three minutes.
Rob Taylor broke away down the left flank and whipped an inviting cross towards the edge of the six-yard box, where Rakish Bingham rose high and planted a firm header into the net beyond a despairing Chris Dunn.
However, Mansfield’s early advantage lasted just seven minutes, as the hosts hit back with their first proper attack.
Simon Heslop was dispossessed by Tom Champion around 35 yards from goal and the U’s skipper threaded a defence-splitting low pass through towards Luke Chadwick, who showed good composure to slot beyond an advancing Sascha Studer and make it 1-1.
The U’s then had a spell of territorial dominance and posted their next chance on 21 minutes when Chadwick linked up with Kwesi Appiah inside the area, but his close-range scuff-shot was blocked by Studer.
A few moments later, Mansfield went close to scoring again down at the other end.
In a carbon copy move to their earlier goal, Rob Taylor whipped a great ball in towards Bingham on the edge of the six-yard box, but the striker couldn’t get enough purchase on his header to trouble the home ‘keeper.
The Stags won the game’s first corner less than 60 seconds later, but Chris Clements’ delivery towards the near-post was poor and ex-Stag Greg Taylor easily cleared the danger.
Richard Money’s team stepped up their pressure around the half-hour mark and were awarded a great chance to trouble the Stags’ goal when Lee Beevers fouled Richard Tait right on the edge area.
U’s set-piece specialist Sullay Kaikai stepped up to take the resulting free-kick and his curling 20-yard effort deflected off the defensive wall and went out of play for a corner, which ultimately came to nothing.
Three minutes later, the hosts went close to going ahead for the first time. The Stags were put on the back-foot as Cambridge pressed forward again and Appiah smacked the ball wide from 12 yards in the midst of a goalmouth scramble.
Although Mansfield’s threat was sporadic, Bingham couldn’t take advantage of a golden opportunity to put the visitors back ahead on 35 minutes.
In a promising move, the striker showed good trickery and footwork to peel off the shoulder of his marker and find space at the near-post, but when Vadaine Oliver’s cross arrived, Bingham couldn’t direct it goalwards – much to his own frustration.
A minute later, Rob Taylor showed good technique as he flicked the ball up on his right foot on the edge of the area and let fly with a left-foot effort from 20 yards, which unfortunately for him was straight at Dunn.
It was now end to end stuff with both teams creating opportunities. Cambridge had the next attack, but long-serving defender Josh Coulson couldn’t trouble Studer when he got his head to Kaikai’s corner.
One minute of injury-time was awarded at the end of the first half – and during those 60 seconds, the U’s spurned an inviting chance to go in ahead at the interval.
Chadwick and Appiah linked up well as the U’s sprung a quick counter-attack following the break down of a Stags move. The ex-MK Dons player beat Beevers on the right channel and played a ball to Appiah, who carved out a shooting angle and whistled a well-struck shot narrowly wide of the right-hand post.
The U’s shaded proceedings in the early stages of the second half and again had plenty of possession, which they couldn’t convert into meaningful chances.
In what proved to be his last action before he was replaced by Matty Blair, the lively Kaikai hit a speculative 18-yard shot at a well-placed Studer, who did well to hold.
On 55 minutes, the hosts went close again. Liam Hughes took responsibility with set-pieces and the first of what were many balls into the mixer was aimed towards Champion, who headed over under pressure from Heslop.
Mansfield then made their first change as goalscorer Bingham was withdrawn in favour of Ollie Palmer, who now spearheaded the Stags’ attack alongside Oliver.
However, the U’s pressure continued and after Ryan Tafazolli was cautioned for a foul on the tricky Appiah, just shy of the hour mark, Hughes couldn’t pick anyone out in the box with the subsequent set-piece.
The U’s utility man, who has played in almost every position during his career at the R Costings Abbey Stadium, did much better with his next delivery though on 62 minutes.
This time, Hughes played a great corner towards Appiah at the back-post, whose initial effort was blocked by Studer and led to an almighty goalmouth scramble, during which neither he or team-mate Bird could poke the ball home.
Both teams then made their second change of the afternoon in a relatively short period of time. Fergus Bell came on for Oliver for the visitors, whilst Ryan Donaldson replaced Chadwick for the hosts.
Hughes tried a different approach from another Cambridge corner on 68 minutes – playing a scruffy low ball across the area, which Blair looped into the arms of Studer from 18 yards.
Jamie McGuire replaced Chris Clements with 17 minutes left to go, before the hosts made their final change as Robbie Simpson replaced the ineffectual Bird up front.
Punctured between those substitutes was a foul by Martin Riley on Bird around 30 yards out. Hughes stepped up to take the resulting delivery, but his curling effort was straight at Studer.
With a replay at One Call Stadium looking increasingly likely, that changed with 10 minutes remaining as Mansfield somewhat fortuitously went 2-1 up.
Hughes clumsily chopped down Heslop, 32 yards from the U’s goal, which allowed Rob Taylor to whip a left-foot delivery in the box – and it found the net via the unfortunate Champion.
The Stags were now buzzing with adrenalin and went close to putting the result beyond reasonable doubt, when Bell unleashed a great strike towards the top corner, which was superbly tipped over by Dunn.
With time ticking, Cambridge gathered momentum ahead of a late charge in order to stop their FA Cup dreams from dying.
On 88 minutes, Riley made a last-ditch block on the edge of the area to stop Appiah, before the striker saw a blistering drive kept out courtesy of a full-stretch Studer just a couple of moments later.
However, in the first of five minutes injury-time, the U’s snatched a leveller. Tait played a long ball into the box from the halfway line, which was flicked on towards an unmarked Appiah, who smashed the ball home.
The Stags then weather the storm in the dying embers as the contest finished honours even, with a replay being required in North Nottinghamshire later this month.