A second-half penalty from Craig Mackail-Smith handed Mansfield Town their first league defeat in five matches as they lost 1-0 to Luton Town this afternoon.
Adam Murray named an unchanged side from the team that beat Crawley Town 4-0 at One Call Stadium last Saturday, with the only alteration to the squad being the return of winger Matty Blair on the bench.
The 26-year-old had missed the first few games of the season through a serious knee injury sustained last season, but was back in the fold this afternoon in place of Chris Beardsley.
The hosts flew out of the traps with a flurry of threatening chances during the opening 10 minutes of the game. Goalkeeper Brian Jensen made a superb stop low to his left to deny midfielder Jonathan Smith before moments later scooping the ball off of the head of striker Craig Mackail-Smith after a tantalising cross by the right-back Stephen O’Donnell.
Despite all of their early pressure, a horrendous miscue by defender Stephen McNulty handed Matt Green the opportunity to stab home an opening goal, but the striker was foiled by the wide-spread arms of Luton stopper Mark Tyler.
With the match starting to plateau slightly, both teams struggled to make any significant in-roads as both defences continued to stay resolute. The tempo remained high however with both sides committing to every challenge, as Stags’ full-back Nicky Hunt and Hatters’ midfielder Smith were adjudged to have over-stepped their boundaries after the pair both received yellow cards for respective fouls.
With very little to shout about for either side heading towards the break, Mackail-Smith thought he had broken the deadlock for Luton with what would have been one of the most remarkable goals of the weekend, if not for the assistant’s flag.
The forward produced a superb over-head kick after latching on to a delightful cross from the right that split the Mansfield back-line, but the former Peterborough striker saw his acrobatic effort chalked off for offside.
Following the close call for the Stags, manager Murray was forced in to a premature change after midfielder Chris Clements was forced off through injury. Coming on in his position was Jack Thomas, with the substitution the final action of the first 45 minutes as referee Kevin Johnson blew his whistle for the interval.
Mansfield Town started the second half in much brighter fashion than they did the first, coming within a foot of squeezing home the game’s first goal. A marauding run by Nathan Thomas saw the winger cut inside before charging towards the edge of the area before slipping through striker Craig Westcarr.
With a defender breathing down his neck, the 30-year-old attacker took his shot first-time as he tried to beat Tyler down low from around 14 yards out, but after producing the initial save the ‘keeper had to back-track to sweep the ball away from the goal-line after the back-spin took it towards the net.
Despite their early pressure, the Stags found themselves in trouble after Ryan Tafazolli pulled down Mackail-Smith inside the penalty area. A spot-kick was awarded along with a yellow card for the Mansfield defender, as the striker picked himself up to smash home the penalty to put his side into the ascendency.
Before the goal Adam Murray sent on winger Reggie Lambe for Nathan Thomas and the Bermudan international impressed as the visitors began to hunt down an equaliser.
It was in fact Mansfield’s first substitute, Jack Thomas, who almost levelled the game with an absolute pile-driver from 20 yards out that had Tyler at full-stretch, poking it around his left-hand post and out for a corner.
The Stags made their final change of the match by bringing on an attacking player in Adi Yussuf in place of the combative midfielder Mitch Rose.
The ex-Oxford City striker got straight in to the thick of the action by forcing Tyler to come off his line and smother his strike after beating the offside from Adam Chapman’s chipped through ball.
With four minutes of added time issued by the fourth official, Mansfield peppered the Hatters’ box with cross after cross as they threw caution to the wind and sent the defenders forward. Despite their best efforts to snatch a late point, the referee called time on a competitive end-to-end League Two fixture that saw the visitors come up short by the narrowest of margins.
Luton Town: Tyler, O’Donnell, J. Smith, McNulty, McGeehan (O’Brien, 86), Griffiths, McCourt (Lawless, 90), Lee, Mackail-Smith, McQuoid (Green, 80), Wilkinson.
Substitutes not used: Justham, Hall, Marriott, Williams.
Mansfield Town: Jensen, Hunt, Tafazolli, Pearce, Benning, Rose (Yussuf, 77), Chapman, Clements (J. Thomas, 43), N. Thomas (Lambe, 52), Westcarr, M. Green.
Substitutes not used: Marsden, Collins, Blair, McGuire.
ATTENDANCE: 7,939 (262 away).