Mansfield Town fell to a 1-0 defeat against Bristol Rovers at the Memorial Stadium this afternoon.
Rovers’ forward Matty Taylor got the only goal of the game in the 61st-minute to ensure the victory, much to the frustration of the Stags who created ample second-half chances to take a point away from the West Country.
Manager Adam Murray made three changes to the side that suffered defeat to Yeovil Town at One Call Stadium last week as Krystian Pearce, Mitch Rose and Matty Blair all returned to the starting line-up in place of Adam Chapman, James Baxendale and Colin Daniel.
Meanwhile, Tanzanian forward Adi Yussuf served the first game of his five-match suspension for his actions in last month’s away encounter at Plymouth Argyle.
The Stags lined up in a 4-1-4-1 formation with defender Lee Collins occupying a position just in front of the back four in a defensive midfield position, and the visitors had the first opportunity of the game.
Midfielder Rose pounced on the ball inside the 18-yard-box, and hooked it towards goal but goalkeeper Steve Mildenhall watched it warily over his crossbar.
Despite the early chance, the opening exchanges were relatively disjointed, although the Gas slowly worked their way into the contest, playing some neat football in the process. Striker Jermaine Easter was close to pulling the trigger inside the area, before Ryan Tafazolli made the crucial tackle to deny the striker.
Mansfield were more than a match for their high-flying opponents as the half progressed, with Chris Clements often collecting the ball in midfield and looking productive, whilst Rose was looking energetic going back and forth in support of lone frontman Matt Green.
The hosts were using the ball attractively in patches but failing to get beyond the backline of Dan Alfei, Pearce, Tafazolli and Mal Benning. The Stags were shadowing their markers well and ensuring any danger from Rovers was being snuffed out, although they were seeing some of their passes going astray.
And that theme continued with neither ‘keeper being troubled, as misplaced passes and unfortunate ricochets were telling the story in the glorious conditions at the Memorial Stadium. The first yellow card of the match went to Reggie Lambe, for a late tackle on Matty Taylor out wide.
From the resultant free-kick, Benning headed the ball away and it cannoned off Easter, who was making a darting run, but it dropped well clear of Scott Shearer’s woodwork.
The best chance of the period fell on the stroke of half-time. Shearer clawed a cross away before Easter laid it back for midfielder Chris Lines who couldn’t convert from around eight yards out and it went inches wide.
The Stags began the second half with purpose, but it would be Rovers who had the early effort on goal, with Cristian Montano firing goal-bound, but Shearer held well. Clements’ set-piece then got headed out for Rose to shoot ambitiously but it cleared the bar by some margin.
And that signalled a change in proceedings as the action soon started to hot up, with Lee Mansell thumping an effort dangerously from 30 yards out which whistled wide of the post.
The last time Mansfield visited the Memorial Stadium, it was Colin Daniel who consigned the Pirates to relegation from the Football League with the only goal of the game in 2014.
And the winger on loan from Port Vale was brought on by Murray in place of Matty Blair, with the Stags searching for a bit more bite in the attacking areas.
Mansfield had the next meaningful attack when Clements picked up a pocket of space. The playmaker played a pass which found its way to Lambe, who unleashed a fierce strike that went just over the bar.
As the encounter opened up, the home side took the lead. Dangerous Columbian winger Montano delivered a rasping cross for Taylor who slotted into the net from close range.
But the goal didn’t deter Mansfield from going on the attack as Chris Beardsley came off the bench to join Green up top, and shortly after his introduction he could’ve levelled up the match. Having received the cross from Rose, he struggled to get purchase on his header under little pressure and it looped into the arms of Rovers’ stopper Mildenhall.
Stern defending was required from the visitors with Darrell Clarke’s men sending in a number of set-pieces, but Murray’s side were standing up to that particular test to ensure the Bristolians only had a one-goal advantage.
Going forward, Mansfield were growing in confidence as they switched to a 4-4-2 formation, with Rose taking up the position at right midfield and providing energy once again. However, it was just the final ball lacking in their play.
Soon after, the killer ball nearly came. Alfei strode down the right-hand side and whipped it superbly into the danger area for Beardsley, but the ball went just behind the target man and the chance was cleared.
Skipper Lee Collins was the route of the Stags’ next opportunity as he surged forward from the middle of the park, escaping a couple of challenges before rifling towards goal, but Mildenhall tipped it away as the away side upped the ante with time ticking on.
With an additional five minutes to be played, the game became stretched with the Gas doing their utmost to eat away at the remaining time and Stags struggled to create any late chances.
Bristol Rovers XI: Mildenhall, Brown, Lockyer, McChrystal, Mansell, Taylor (Harrison 87’), Lines (Clarke 84’), Clarke, Easter (McBurnie 62’), Montano, Bodin.
Subs not used: Puddy, Leadbitter, Parkes, Broom.
Stags’ XI: Shearer, Alfei, Pearce, Collins, Tafazolli, Benning, Rose (Thomas 86’), Clements, Blair (Daniel 53’), Lambe (Beardsley 64’), Green.
Subs not used: Jensen, Baxendale, Chapman, McGuire.
Attendance: 7,847 (241)