Chris Beardsley’s first goal since returning to the club ensured a 1-0 victory for the Stags over Crawley Town at the Checkatrade.com Stadium this afternoon.
The striker was rewarded for his tireless display up front for the visitors, before Adam Murray saw his side reduced to ten men as Matt Green saw a second yellow card for time-wasting.
Despite a late surge from Crawley, which saw a fantastic save by Scott Shearer following a Chris Atkinson drive, the Stags held out for three more precious points on their travels.
Manager Murray made one change to the side that beat Morecambe 2-1 on Tuesday night, as Mal Benning came into the starting line-up for the first time since mid-October after fully recovering from an injury.
The fit-again left-back replaced Nicky Hunt, who was absent from the matchday squad altogether due to a bid received from an unnamed club for his services.
Lining up in a similar formation to the one used against the Shrimps on Tuesday evening, the Stags started the game on the front foot with Benning heavily involved on his return, getting stuck in and striding down the left side with purpose.
Mansfield’s first half-chance of the encounter fell to defender Ryan Tafazolli from a set-piece, who struggled to get good enough connection on the ball to divert it past Callum Preston in the Crawley net.
Not long afterwards, an error from Lewis Young saw the visitors get their first clear-cut opportunity – the defender attempted to head the ball away, but Green stole it from him and raced through on goal in a one-on-one situation, but Preston made himself big and denied the top scorer superbly with his legs.
The home side responded as Gwion Edwards cut in from the left flank and fired an effort which Scot Shearer was equal to. Moments later, Stags’ supporters had their heads in their hands as Mansfield missed another glorious chance to take the lead.
Matty Blair played an cultured pass over the top for Green to run onto and the ex-Birmingham City man latched onto it and sped towards goal, but his shot went agonisingly wide of the post.
And that seemed to spur Murray’s men into more offensive action as Blair grafted out wide before rifling an effort goal-bound, which the goalkeeper palmed out to Green who didn’t have time to react and the danger was averted.
As the first half approached the end, the Stags were looking urgent with just the final pass lacking as they aimed to break the deadlock. Beardsley’s battle with the Reds’ backline was a particular feature, as the physical striker held the ball up well in the hope of finding a way through.
No changes were made by either Murray or his rival in the opposite dug-out, Mark Yates, at the break.
Crawley began the second period in a positive manner with their fans urging them to get the ball forward and provide the zest in attack that was missing in the opening 45 minutes.
Soon after, Beardsley set midfielder James Baxendale on his way before the Walsall loanee delivered invitingly for the former, which could only be headed into the hands of Preston between the sticks.
Benning continued to influence the match from full-back, providing the attacking outlet required. And it was his fine cross from a corner which helped hand Mansfield the lead 15 minutes into the second half.
Beardsley outfought his marker as he ran to the near-post to powerfully head home the delivery for his first goal for the Stags.
The burly forward carried on terrorising the hosts’ defence, getting his body in the way of everything and shielding the ball delicately before assistance often came through Baxnendale, Green or Chris Clements.
Krystian Pearce and Tafazolli were having a relatively comfortable afternoon dealing with danger abruptly to frustrate the home support. The West Sussex outfit were keen to up the ante however, getting a host of corners which they were struggling to make the most of.
Baxendale’s roaming behind the attackers was causing Crawley problems and he nearly netted a screamer, but his curling right-footed effort from 25 yards was well tipped over the woodwork by the ‘keeper.
Murray’s first change on 76 minutes saw the impressive Beardsley brought to be replaced by of Jack Thomas; subsequently meaning the number of bodies in the midfield increased as Green now took on the role of lone frontman.
Shearer’s handling was exemplary all afternoon, but it was his height which was required as the match headed into its final ten minutes – winger Edwards sent in a teasing cross which looked as if it could’ve been destined for the head of an oncoming runner, but Stags’ stopper got his fingertips on it to put it behind.
Another Benning set-piece was the route for Mansfield’s next chance as he swung a cross in, and substitute Mitch Rose pounced on the loose ball but saw his effort deflected wide. However a corner up the other end could’ve seen the hosts equalise, bu Sonny Bradley’s header darted over the bar.
Benning departed the field to rapturous applause from the Stags’ faithful as Sean Kavanagh came on in his place with the time running out for the home side to get anything from the game.
With every second precious to Murray’s men, Matt Green was adjudged to be time-wasting by referee Graham Horwood and the official showed the striker receive a second yellow card and his marching orders as the Stags had to see out the rest of the game with ten men.
But it would be the away supporters who’d be celebrating the victory as referee Horwood called time on proceedings to ensure six points in five days for Mansfield.
Stags’ XI: Shearer, Collins, Pearce, Tafazolli, Benning (Kavanagh 86’), McGuire, Clements, Blair, Baxendale (Rose 82’), Green, Beardsley (Thomas 76’)
Subs not used: Jensen, Westcarr, Yussuf, Chapman
Crawley XI: Preston, Walton, Bradley, Edwards, Barnard (Deacon 64’), Young (Fenelon 71’), Bawling, Harrold, Jenkins (Atkinson 71’), Yorwerth, Smith
Subs not used: Little, Rooney, Ashton, Tomlin
Attendance: 1,981 (164 away)