Mansfield Town slipped to only their third home defeat of the season with a 2-0 loss to Exeter City at One Call Stadium this evening.
First-half strikes from Joel Grant and Lee Holmes secured the points for the Grecians on what was a frustrating night for the hosts, whose possession wasn’t rewarded in front of goal.
Back-to-back successes in four days was the target for the home side and despite their hard-fought style, they couldn’t take enough of their half-chances to threaten the Exeter net.
Adam Murray made two changes to the side that defeated Hartlepool United at the weekend, with midfielders Jack Thomas and Jamie McGuire coming in for Craig Westcarr and Chris Clements.
There was a place on the substitute’s bench for lively attacker Zayn Hakeem, who’s a member of John Dempster’s high-flying youth side and was also involved in their 2-1 win over Oldham Athletic on Saturday.
Despite a springy start in the opening exchanges with the Stags looking to get on the front foot, it was the visitors who took the lead on six minutes.
The first goal came when Mansfield-born winger Lee Holmes executed a fine cross for Joel Grant who diverted the bouncing ball into the back of Brian Jensen’s net.
In response shortly afterwards, a confident Matt Green attempted a powerful shot from 20 yards which was gathered by Bobby Olejnik, as the striker tried to build on his impressive performance at the weekend.
Apart from the early breakthrough, Exeter’s offensive threat was a rare one as the half progressed, with the hosts searching for a way through the Grecians’ defence. Ryan Tafazolli miscued his shot wide of the mark from a set-piece, which was one of a growing number of floated balls sent into the away side’s area.
It was just the final ball lacking for Mansfield, who struggled to create many clear-cut opportunities for Green, Reggie Lambe and Nathan Thomas to pounce on in the attacking third.
Mitch Rose, continuing at right-back in the absence of Nicky Hunt, was looking positive as he marauded down the wing to support Lambe and set a positive tempo for his side. But Paul Tisdale’s men were grafting to frustrate, although Nathan Thomas’ right-footed strike nearly upped the mood, but it was deflected behind.
From the resulting set-piece, Exeter didn’t clear the ball with much conviction and Jamie McGuire’s looped header dropped inches wide of Olejnik’s left-hand post. Moments later, Krystian Pearce showed brilliant defensive awareness to hook a cross away from the toes of Tom Nichols who burst into the box.
Carrying on their endeavours, Adam Chapman’s cross found the leap of Pearce from a corner, whose timely jump helped him to get full contact to the ball, but it fell agonisingly the wrong side of the post, much to the disbelief of the home supporters.
Returning to his hometown, Holmes was keen to impress and the ex-Derby County man extended the scoreline with the half-time break five minutes away. Grant scored the first and he returned the favour to Holmes, teeing it up nicely for the latter to strike it into the corner. Just before the whistle, Nichols could’ve rubbed salt into the wound but his laced effort was watched wide by Jensen.
Murray reacted at the interval by introducing Adi Yussuf and Chris Clements to proceedings, with the former aiming to replicate his quick impact from the bench in Saturday’s win.
Yussuf joined Green up front with Lambe roaming in behind – that appeared to cause different problems for the visitors to think about, as Mansfield looked to create tension with their pressing style.
The Tanzanian got on the end of a cross by Blair Adams who strode forward from left-back, but could only direct it wide. Green then attempted a piledriver from distance, which once again went narrowly past the post.
Before the hour mark, Murray completed his substitution allowance by bringing on Matty Blair in place of Lambe, to provide pace to the hosts’ attack.
And that came in the midst of a period when the Stags were sensing they could get back into the encounter, pressurising the opposition in a fiery manner.
Tisdale could call upon Premier League experience however, as veteran midfielder Matt Oakley came on in the second half to solidify the Grecians’ midfield. Ryan Harley scored twice for the away side in their
Devon derby win over Plymouth Argyle four days earlier, and his drive from range from well held by Jensen.
Yussuf was bright after coming on, and his effort was turned behind on the line after it had been nodded in his direction from a Chapman corner. Jack Thomas then thundered the ball goal-bound, but his shot was deflected over the by the brave head of Troy Brown.
In the next action, Chapman’s corner was floated in for the head of Pearce, whose neck muscles just couldn’t leverage enough power to get it beyond the reach of Olejnik. Mansfield were having much of the ball, although they were continually frustrated in their efforts to reduce the deficit.
Substitute David Wheeler escaped on the counter-attack for Exeter and it took superb covering work from Adams accelerating inside from his full-back position to clear the danger. Crosses from wide were being sent in by the bucket-load by the Stags, but Tisdale’s men were working impressively by getting their bodies in the way.
And that epitomised the rest of the contest, with referee Oliver Langford calling time on the contest, with the Stags now one place below the play-offs in Sky Bet League Two.
Stags: Jensen, Rose, Pearce, Chapman ©, Green, N Thomas (Clements 46’), Tafazolli, Lambe (Blair 57’), J Thomas , McGuire (Yussuf 46’), Adams.
Subs not used: Shearer, Collins, Westcarr, Hakeem.
Exeter City: Olejnik, Noble, Ribeiro, Harley, Holmes (Oakley 65’), Davies, Nicholls, Moore-Taylor ©, Nichols (Wheeler 56’), Grant (Woodman 78’), Brown.
Subs not used: Morrison, Reid, Harmon, Tillson.
Attendance: 2,435 (140)