Ten-man Mansfield Town battled to a 2-2 draw with Northampton Town at One Call Stadium this afternoon.
Striker Matt Green took his tally to 14 for the season with a brace in a sensational first half for the Stags, but they were dealt a blow when Jamie McGuire was sent off on the stroke of half-time for a second bookable offence.
The Sky Bet League 2 leaders showed good spirit with the man advantage by pulling it back to 2-2 through John Marquis and a Ricky Holmes penalty. And that’s how it stayed as Mansfield were willed on by their excellent supporters inside the ground, as the defence remained strong in the closing stages to secure a well-earned point.
Manager Adam Murray made two changes to the side that suffered defeat to Wycombe Wanderers at Adams Park on Friday, with midfielders Jack Thomas and Jamie McGuire replacing Daniel Alfei and Mitch Rose.
History didn’t favour the visitors coming into the contest, as they’d never done the league double over Mansfield before, but that is the feat they were seeking after their 1-0 win at Sixfields earlier on in the campaign.
But it was the Stags who had the first opportunity of the match, as midfielder Chris Clements fooled members of both sides in the 18-yard-box when he ferociously struck a free-kick towards goal from the wide position, but it flew over by a matter of inches.
The hosts kept up their pressure, and took the lead on 11 minutes. Mal Benning whipped in a superb delivery beyond the Cobblers’ defence and top scorer Green nipped in before goalkeeper Adam Smith to nod home from close range.
Northampton seemed stunned, and only five minutes afterwards they were punished again from a set-piece as Murray’s men doubled their advantage. Clements curled the ball in fantastically for Green, who had made a similar run to his first goal, and glanced it with his head shrewdly into the bottom corner of the net.
Mansfield were forced into their first change midway through the first half as right back Dan Alfei came on to replace the injured Ryan Tafazolli, with captain Lee Collins subsequently reverting to centre half.
The Cobblers continued to be frustrated going forward as they were rarely able to break through a valiant Stags’ defence, with McGuire protecting the back four well on his return to the starting line-up, and Thomas dictating from the point of the diamond midfield.
Chris Wilder’s side were hoping to equal a club record of going 13 away league games without defeat, but Krystian Pearce and co knew they would have to defend sternly for the entirety, as Northampton went 2-0 down in their last away encounter against Stevenage, but still managed to get the win.
However, the home side were in an attacking mood and nearly found their third. Thomas fed striker Manny Dieseruvwe down the right flank, and the loanee cut inside and played it across the area for Clements who’d held his run, and he fired it marginally over the bar from around 16 yards.
The league leaders were rattled, although they did muster a half-chance with the interval approaching following neat approach play, but Danny Rose’s effort evaded Scott Shearer’s crossbar by a distance.
Other than that, the visitors were limited to short passes inside their own half as they were frequently snuffed out by a gutsy Mansfield team who were eager to press their opponents and offer them no time or space.
However, in the five minutes of injury-time in the first period, the Cobblers were given a lifeline. McGuire, who had earlier been cautioned for a foul on Cobblers’ skipper Marc Richards, received a second booking after a coming together between John Marquis and the Birkenhead-born man.
After regrouping at the interval, the Stags lined up in a 4-3-2 formation with Green and Dieseruvwe still forming a two-man attack, whilst Thomas became a little more conservative in the middle of the park.
Stags’ spirited backline was performing brilliantly, and that was underlined by the pre-match statistic that the Cobblers had 39 goals on their travels, the joint best in the whole of the Football League. In a bid to solidify his outfit, Murray brought on midfielder Adam Chapman in place of Matty Blair in the 56th minute.
Set-pieces were nearly the away side’s downfall once again as Benning pumped a free-kick towards the box, which was headed down for Green, who smartly turned and powered towards goal, but it whizzed past the post.
Down the other end, substitute Ricky Holmes had an effort from range with a fierce strike which beat Shearer and cannoned off the bar, but it bounced off the line and out to safety, much to the relief of the home contingent inside One Call Stadium.
Shortly afterwards, Northampton got an opportunity to halve the deficit. Defender Krystian Pearce brought down striker James Collins in the box and the referee awarded a penalty, which Ricky Holmes coolly slotted away as he sent the ‘keeper the wrong way.
And belief grew for the visitors, who then levelled the contest up. A corner wasn’t cleared after Scott Shearer couldn’t hold onto the cross and Marquis pounced from close range to stab the ball into the net to send the sell-out away fans into raptures.
The table-toppers were looking a different team to the eleven that were outfought in the opening 45 minutes, and Holmes was next to have a crack from 25 yards out, but Shearer dived to his left to claw away.
Frustratingly for Mansfield, their counterparts were getting their midfielders closer to their offensive players as the contest wore on, forcing the home side to retreat, meaning forays forward were few and far between, despite Green’s admirable running.
Northampton boss Chris Wilder introduced striker Sam Hoskins to the fray with just over ten minutes remaining, and he came close to having an immediate impact. The 23-year-old was threaded through inside the box, but miscued his shot narrowly over the woodwork.
Thomas broke forward for the Stags and had an effort of his own after cutting in, but Smith was even to it and held the ball relatively comfortably. The energetic Mitch Rose had the next opportunity with the match nearing its conclusion, but his thumping drive was clutched on to by Smith.
Although both sides applied late pressure, the scoreline remained at 2-2 with Mansfield getting the reward they deserved for their commendable work-rate throughout the afternoon, especially after going down to ten men.
Stags’ XI: Shearer, Collins (C), Pearce, Tafazolli (Alfei 23’), Benning, McGuire, Clements, Blair (Chapman 56’), Thomas, Dieseruvwe (Rose 62’), Green
Subs not used: Jensen, Baxendale, Beardsley
Northampton XI: Smith, Moloney, Taylor (D’Ath 46’), Diamond, Richards (C) (Holmes 46’), Buchanan, McDonald, Collins, O’Toole, Rose, Marquis (Hoskins 79’)
Subs not used: Clarke, Byrom, Lelan, Prosser
Attendance: 4,367 (1,667)