Mansfield Town’s four-match unbeaten streak on the road came to an end after they slipped to a 1-0 defeat at Northampton Town this afternoon.
Cobblers’ forward Marc Richards netted his eleventh goal of the season inside four minutes after meeting an Alfie Potter cross inside four minutes, with the visitors very unlucky not to earn a point on a wet and gloomy day in Northampton.
The Stags lined up with the same XI as last weekend’s Emirates FA Cup First Round draw with Oldham Athletic, with Adam Murray naming the same starting eleven for the trip down to Northampton. There was one alteration to the bench, however, with teenager Cain Smith replaced by Krystian Pearce after the defender completed his four-match ban.
Despite starting strongly, the Stags fell behind early on after being caught on the counter-attack. The Cobblers managed to clear their lines after being pushed back, with winger Alfie Potter receiving the ball out wide.
The former Oxford man dropped his shoulder to avoid the challenge of Mansfield captain Nicky Hunt before whipping in a deadly cross from the left, which centre-forward Richards gratefully met with a bullet header into the top corner of Brian Jensen’s net.
A real sucker-punch from the hosts, but the Stags weren’t to be discouraged as they set out to find the equaliser. After striker Matt Green got the ball caught up between his feet, he managed to regain his
composure to find Craig Westcarr at the corner of the box.
The 30-year-old took aim with Rod McDonald closing him down, but his strike across the face of goal narrowly evaded the bottom corner of the net.
Mansfield seemed to be having the better of the play heading toward the midway point of the first half, and if central defender Ryan Tafazolli had made better connection with a header from Chris Clements’ corner they may have drawn level.
Green was the next Stag to try his luck, this time turning left-back Blair Adams’ cross on to the roof of the net after out-muscling his defender.
The Cobblers had been relatively quiet since their goal but fired a dangerous warning shot five minutes before the break. With Mansfield failing to clear their lines after the ball harshly ricocheted off Blair
Adams, his namesake, Nicky, had all the time in the world to pick his spot with a strike from the edge of the area.
He curled his effort towards the top right-hand corner, but ‘keeper Jensen produced a superb double-handed save to parry the ball away from danger.
Stags went into half-time a goal down after failing to make their possession count, but they couldn’t have possibly come much closer during first-half stoppage time. Blair Adams bent in a tantalising cross towards the six-yard box from a free-kick, and with ‘keeper Adam Smith beaten having missed with the punch Green flicked his header off the top side of the bar.
Northampton came out of the traps in the second-half the brighter of the two sides, with substitute Dominic Calvert-Lewin the width of the crossbar away from extending his side’s lead.
Nicky Adams did well to keep the ball in play at the by-line and curled in a first-time cross with Calvert-Lewin unchallenged as he turned the ball goalwards, but fortunately for the visitors it flicked up off the upright and out for a goal-kick.
The Cobblers’ brief period of dominance came to a swift end as Mansfield again dominated the play, floating crosses in left, right and centre but failing to work the Northampton goalkeeper.
The home side were gifted a golden chance to take one step further towards victory after defender McDonald had the goal at his mercy after being found by a Nicky Adams free-kick, but the big defender swung at air with not a single Mansfield defender in sight.
Back on the offensive for the Stags, and it was the Bermudan Reggie Lambe who dinked through a delightful ball for substitute Adi Yussuf to race on to. The Tanzanian striker’s first touch was terrific, but as he tried to pull the trigger the centre-half pairing of McDonald and Zander Diamond crowded him out as he sliced wide from 12 yards.
It was end-to-end stuff at Sixfields as the pendulum swung towards the hosts again, and this time ‘The Beast’ in the goal was to thank after a terrific save. Joel Byrom burst through the Mansfield defence before finding himself one-on-one with Jensen, but he dived splendidly to his right to finger-tip away the shot.
With time ticking away, Murray threw on Krystian Pearce to allow Tafazolli to join Green and Yussuf up front. With 20 seconds left of the four added minutes, the latter found the ball knocked into his path by Blair Adams but failed to convert from six-yards out as it went wide of the Cobblers’ goal.
Moments later referee Darren Bond blew for full time, as Mansfield succumbed to their first away defeat since 19 September in a match they deserved so much more from.
Northampton Town: Smith, Moloney, Diamond, D’Ath (Taylor, 65), Byrom, Richards, Adams (Cresswell, 90), Potter (Calvert-Lewin, 46), Buchanan, McDonald, O’Toole.
Substitutes not used: Hoskins, Watson, Furlong, Clarke.
Mansfield Town: Jensen, Hunt, Collins, Tafazolli, Adams, Rose (Yussuf, 70), Chapman, Clements, Lambe (Pearce, 89), Westcarr (Blair, 46), M. Green.
Substitutes not used: Shearer, N. Thomas, J. Thomas, McGuire.
ATTENDANCE: 5,454 (892 away).