Mansfield Town jumped into the play-off places as they recorded a comprehensive 2-0 victory against Stevenage at the Lamex Stadium tonight.
Two second-half goals from Ryan Tafazolli and Jack Thomas were enough to ensure the Stags moved into seventh position with an admirable performance in Hertfordshire, consigning the hosts to their third league loss in a row.
Adam Murray made three changes to the side that drew 0-0 with Plymouth Argyle on Saturday afternoon with Nicky Hunt, Reggie Lambe and Jamie McGuire all coming into the starting line-up against last season's play-off semi-finalists. Mitch Rose was missing through suspension while Lee Collins and Nathan Thomas dropped to the substitute’s bench.
Stags got off to a positive start and forward Matt Green miscued an effort wide with his left foot after impressive work on the left-hand side by Lambe. But the hosts responded and it took a superb one-handed save from Brian Jensen to keep out Tom Conlon's header from 12 yards.
Mansfield regrouped though and began to get hold of the ball, with defenders Ryan Tafazolli and Krystian Pearce looking to build from the back. After a long-throw was cleared, Jack Thomas tried a spectacular effort from distance which he saw fly over the bar.
As the visitors asserted their authority, Hunt curled a cross from the right which just evaded his target Matt Green and landed into the arms of keeper Jesse Joronen. Similarly to the weekend's encounter with Plymouth, it was the pace of Craig Westcarr and Green which Murray's men continually tried to deploy.
The first controversy of the game came on 15 minutes when Brett Williams lunged in ferociously on Pearce, but the referee adjudged the foul to only deserve a caution despite the protestations of the away contingent. That challenge epitomised Stevenage's early attacking frustrations as they frequently watched Stags' back four regain the ball with ease.
Shortly after, Thomas received the ball in space and attempted a threaded pass through for Green's speed in behind, but it just ran away from the striker and into the ‘keeper's hands. Boro's central midfield included former Everton trainee Steven Schumacher who was finding it difficult to take control of the game, with Mansfield's quick passing a problem.
Green had a half-chance to give Mansfield the lead after pouncing on a loose ball from close range which he drove into the side-netting following good work down the left-flank by Craig Westcarr. Teddy Sheringham's hosts weren't having the same success down the wings his opposition were, as full-backs Hunt and Malvind Benning continued to dominate to stop their offensive colleagues in their tracks.
Despite the Stags' meaningful forays forward, ex-Bristol City defender Jamie McCombe was in a stubborn mood challenging for headers purposefully and clearing several openings away. Thomas looked threatening in the 18-yard-box and he headed an opportunity wide of the post and subsequently saw the offside flag raised on the far side.
With half-time approaching, the game opened up a little and Thomas advanced forward towards the area and unleashed a powerful shot which was tipped to safety by Finnish youth international Joronen, and the resultant set-piece was cleared away.
A lapse in concentration at the back allowed Green to take the ball forward, and he played it through for Westcarr who fired venomously towards goal, however the ‘keeper was once again on hand to send away for a corner.
Moments before the break, a hectic scrap in the box ensued involving Benning who saw an attempt blocked back into his path, and the defender drove inches over the woodwork as the Stags started to up the tempo and use the pace in their side more shrewdly.
In first-half injury-time, former Peterborough United man Chris Whelpdale provided a scare as he cut in from his accustomed right-midfield position and unleashed a low drive which Danish shot-stopper Jensen saved with his legs much to the relief of the Yellows' supporters behind the goal.
After the break, Mansfield took an immediate lead by scoring the opening goal of the game. A drifted corner came in from the left and centre-half Tafazolli rose higher than his marker to power his header home for his third of the campaign.
It wasn't before the Stags made Sheringham's side pay for a second time in the space of six minutes to double their lead. A quick free-kick was taken to set Westcarr free who took his time and showed composure to square it across the area for Thomas who converted from close range.
The Hertfordshire outfit began to show urgency in front of their edgy spectators at the Lamex, allowing more space for wingers Lambe and Westcarr to break in as they sought a third to seal the contest.
Brilliant harrying from Mansfield's attacking plethora carried on forcing the opposition back and Green nearly added another. With the ball at his feet, he was lively in his quest to progress past the defender but his shot went wide of the mark.
Boro strikers Tom Hitchcock and Williams were getting frequently frustrated with their lack of service, and the former followed his partner into the referee's notebook with a rash challenge on Hunt as the Stags looked impressively in control with a play-off position in their sights.
A cross was cleared away towards the direction of Benning who lashed across goal, although Joronen was grateful to see this one go past the left-hand post. Despite sporadic spells of pressure from the hosts, they were barely getting a sniff with Jensen having a small amount to do as he watched his defence performing admirably in front of him.
Green's hunger up front wasn't decreasing as he aimed to join his colleagues on the scoresheet, and he continued to do the dirty work down the channels to make certain of his side's domination. Sheringham tried to change things up and made all of his substitutions by the 72nd minute, but fortunes weren't changing for the ex-Manchester United forward.
More poor defending at the back saw the tireless Green escape beyond the Boro defence in a one-on-one situation with Joronen, however the ‘keeper was off his line rapidly to close down the angles for the unbalanced striker and his shot was duly saved.
Disappointment grew in the Stevenage ranks although substitute Dipo Akinyemi thrashed a chance wide, but that was the only sighter for the hosts for quite some time with the Stags brimming with confidence throughout the pitch.
Green eventually did find the net after being slid in by Westcarr, however the linesman put up his flag abruptly for offside while the frontman found his way into the notebook for continuing the run past the keeper and placing the ball home.
As time ticked on towards the conclusion of the contest, Mansfield made changes as Lee Collins and Chris Beardsley were brought on to replace Westcarr and Green and that helped the visitors simmer the game down and secure the win, meaning they've now avoided defeat in four of their last five games.
Stevenage: Joronen, Henry (c), Hughes, McCombe, Johnson, Whelpdale (Kennedy 60'), Schumacher, Conlon (Akinyemi 72'), Jebb (Smith 45'), Williams, Hitchcock.
Subs not used: Day, Wells, Franks, Pett.
Mansfield Town: Jensen, Benning, Pearce, Chapman, Green (Beardsley 90'), Westcarr (Collins 88'), Tafazolli, Hunt (c), Lambe, Thomas, McGuire.
Subs not used: Shearer, Marsden, Thomas, Blair, Yussuf.
Attendance: 2,509 (163 away)