An injury-time header from Matty Taylor handed Bristol Rovers a 2-1 win on a fiery afternoon at One Call Stadium.
Jermaine Easter broke the deadlock midway through the first-half before being shown a straight red-card in added time, with Stags’ defender Krystian Pearce suffering the same fate after the interval. Nicky Hunt’s dismissal for a second bookable offence reduced the hosts to nine men with 15 minutes left on the clock, before Ryan Tafazolli brought the game level with a sumptuous volley from the edge of the penalty area.
However with just a minute left of the eight added on by referee Mark Haywood, Rovers’ striker Matty Taylor’s header secured all three points for the visitors.
There were no changes to the team that ran out 3-0 winners against Newport County last Saturday, with Adam Murray opting for both an unchanged starting XI and bench for the visit of the Gas.
Murray’s decision almost paid off inside the opening sixty seconds of the match, with striker Matt Green going close with a volley from inside the penalty area. Midfielder Jack Thomas produced a deft little chip over the head of his defender and with Green one-on-one with Rovers’ goalkeeper Lee Nicholls, the forward lashed his effort over the crossbar from ten yards out.
It was a carbon copy of the move which saw Thomas set-up Craig Westcarr for the opening goal against Newport, and Mansfield continued to dominate the opening passages of the game with central-midfielder Adam Chapman drilling low into the palms of the Rovers’ ‘keeper.
Despite having a lot of the early running, the visitors landed the sucker-punch just after the quarter-of-an-hour mark.
Former Welsh international striker Easter was the man who had the ball in the back of the net after collecting a pass on the edge of the six-yard box from full-back Daniel Leadbitter.
He took a touch to steady himself before firing high into the roof of the net and past the helpless Brian Jensen in the Stags’ goal.
Although Mansfield found themselves a goal behind their confidence was undoubtedly unshaken as they peppered the Pirates’ box with cross after cross.
Their persistence almost paid off in controversial fashion on the half-hour mark when Stags’ captain Nicky Hunt fizzed in a low ball across the face of goal. The right-back’s cross was almost embarrassingly turned into his own net by defender Tom Lockyer as he stretched a leg out to clear, but Nicholls produced a smart stop to keep it out.
Tempers started to bubble over after a few tough challenges from both sides which produced cautions for both sides, Bristol Rovers’ goal-scorer Easter saw red in a moment of madness at the end of the three additional minutes. With the Gas on the counter-attack, Easter dropped his shoulder to escape the challenge of Tafazolli before flopping to the ground in a bid to earn a penalty.
With referee Mark Haywood about to issue a yellow card for simulation, the striker seemingly attempted to head-butt Stags’ midfielder Jamie McGuire before the referee could address the altercation; Haywood produced a straight red-card for the Gas’ frontman which saw Darrell Clarke’s side end the half with ten men.
Murray made all three of his substitutions in the space of ten minutes as he looked to mastermind an amber & blue comeback. McGuire, Jack Thomas and Reggie Lambe were all replaced for the hosts as Chris Clements, Nathan Thomas and Adi Yussuf came on in their place.
Challenges started to get harder and the game was suddenly an increasingly fiery affair. Krystian Pearce was dismissed for the home side to draw the player count level at ten apiece. After an off-the-ball confrontation between Pearce and Lockyer which ended with the Rovers’ man falling to floor, Haywood sprinted across the pitch to produce a red card for the Mansfield number five.
A melee ensued after the sending off and Nicky Hunt was booked for his part in the altercations.
The officials rapidly began to take charge of a match that threatened to bubble over, with Nathan Thomas coming closest to registering a meaningful chance after drilling from the edge of the area into the palms of the goalkeeper.
With Mansfield still behind and looking for a route back into the match, their task was made a lot harder after Hunt became the third man to see red this afternoon. Already on a yellow for his part in the aftermath of Pearce’s dismissal, the defender received his marching orders after stepping across Stuart Sinclair when Rovers were breaking from the deep.
The visitors thought they had wrapped up the three points within a minute of the Stags going down to nine men, but substitute Ellis Harrison’s low cross was turned in by Matty Taylor from close-range only to see it ruled out for offside.
Mansfield had to show that grit and determination which they showed at Dagenham & Redbridge a fortnight ago, and they did just that through a thunderbolt by Ryan Tafazolli. The ball fell to the defender after Rovers failed to clear their lines from a cross, with the ball sitting up nicely for Tafazolli to rifle a sensational volley past the flailing Nicholls.
A well-deserved equaliser for the Stags, but they were almost behind once again immediately from kick-off with Harrison coming close. The striker twisted this way and that before letting fly from the wide on the right, but his effort came cannoning back off the up-right before being cleared from danger.
With a mammoth eight minutes of additional time being awarded by the officials, the Pirates stole all three points right at the death after Taylor met James Clarke’s cross with a clever header back across the goalkeeper with Jensen already committed to his right.
Mansfield Town: Jensen, Benning, Pearce, Tafazolli, Hunt, McGuire (Clements, 55), Chapman, J. Thomas (Yussuf, 51), Lambe (N. Thomas, 55), Westcarr, M. Green.
Substitutes not used: Shearer, Rose, Collins, Blair.
Bristol Rovers: Nicholls, Leadbitter (O. Clarke, 46), J. Clarke, Lockyer, Parkes, Brown, Sinclair, Mansell (Gosling 84), Lines (Harrison, 46), Taylor, Easter.
Substitutes not used: Mildenhall, McChrystal, Montano, Blissett.
ATTENDANCE: 4,197 (847 away).