Mansfield Town claimed their third consecutive win with a 3-2 victory over Exeter City at St James Park this evening.
Two goals from centre-half Ryan Tafazolli and one from full-back Mal Benning ended the Grecians’ ten-match unbeaten run on a beautiful Spring evening in Devon.
Tafazolli opened the scoring after only ten minutes with a left-footed effort from the edge of the box and Benning scored a wonderful long range strike to double the Stags’ lead just before the hour mark.
But hosts got back on level terms through the exciting Ollie Watkins and then a thunderous strike of their own from full-back Christian Ribeiro.
Yet with around ten minutes remaining, it was Tafazolli again who swivelled to fire home a right-footed volley which gave the Stags three valuable points.
Stags’ boss Adam Murray made two changes to the side that emphatically beat Notts County on Saturday, one enforced as right-back Daniel Alfei missed out after pulling a hamstring.
Forward Mani Dieseruvwe dropped to the bench as the versatile Colin Daniel and midfielder Mitchell Rose came in, the latter rewarded with a start following his contribution in the 5-0 thumping of Nottinghamshire rivals County.
The Stags lined up in a 4-1-4-1 formation with Daniel slotting in at right-back, whilst midfielder Adam Chapman sat in front of the centre-half pairing of captain Lee Collins and Tafazolli.
Mitchell Rose started alongside Jack Thomas in the centre of the Stags’ midfield with Matty Blair and Reggie Lambe on the flanks, with Matt Green leading the line.
The hosts came into the game as the form team in Sky Bet League 2, unbeaten in ten with their last defeat coming on 23 February in a 4-1 defeat to Oxford United.
Young forward Ollie Watkins was awarded the Football League’s ‘Young Player of the Month’ award before the game following his recent impressive scoring run – seven goals in eight games to be precise.
Mansfield started the brighter of the two teams with an early attack, striker Matt Green found himself down the right channel in behind the Grecians’ defence but winger Lambe couldn’t get enough on the forward’s cross to trouble Grecians’ stopper Bobby Olejnik.
Stags opened the scoring just after the ten-minute mark when Benning’s deep free-kick found Green who, under great pressure, laid the ball back to Tafazolli on the edge of the box whose well-placed left-footed effort trickled into the bottom corner.
The hosts responded with a couple of corners in quick succession, but the Stags held firm as forward Jayden Stockley could only head the ball into the ground and subsequently over the bar.
Green looked to add to the Stags’ early lead as Lambe released him down the left channel after winning the ball on half-way, allowing Green to cut inside, but his right-footed effort whistled wide of target.
Stockley almost got the Grecians back on level terms midway through the first-half when he was fouled by Collins 30-yards from goal. The forward took the free-kick himself but curled his shot just over Scott Shearer’s crossbar.
With five minutes to go before half-time, Stockley increased the pressure on the Stags’ defence, first he felt he was being held by Tafazolli in the box then just moments later headed wide from close range.
On the stroke of half-time the hosts threatened again with Jake Taylor making good progress down the right flank. He found Mansfield-born Lee Holmes 25-yards out from goal but his curling effort went well over, much to the delight of the travelling Stags’ fans behind Shearer’s goal.
The Stags made their first change at the half-time interval as midfielder James Baxendale replaced Jack Thomas.
It was the hosts who had the first chance of the second period when wideman Taylor got in down the right but his effort flashed across goal and away from danger.
Bermudian winger Lambe had a wonderful chance to double the Stags’ lead when Craig Woodman’s slack back-pass played the Mansfield winger in, but he hesitated and his effort was charged down.
From the resulting corner, Daniel had an effort cleared off the line but it fell to full-back Malvind Benning 35 yards out. Benning, who has already scored two tremendous volleys this season, arrowed a sensational effort into the top corner from all of 35-yards out to double the Stags’ advantage.
The ever-threatening Reggie Lambe had another golden opportunity to add to the visitors’ tally. This time, substitute Baxendale cut out Ryan Harley’s sloppy pass and squared the ball to the winger, but he was indecisive and couldn’t get his shot away as he waited for the perfect opportunity.
Exeter boss Paul Tisdale made a double change just past the hour mark to try and get his side back in the game as Christian Ribeiro and Alex Nicholls replaced Jamie McAllister and Lee Holmes.
The changes had the desired effect as the in-form Watkins drove at the retreating Mansfield defence and fired the ball low past Shearer from just inside the penalty area, to set up an intriguing final half-an-hour.
The home crowd found their voices when substitute Nicholls, who was wearing a protective face mask, led a couple of promising attacks down the hosts’ right flank but Stags’ skipper Collins cut out his most dangerous delivery.
The Grecians cranked up the pressure once more but any quality in the final third still alluded them as Taylor’s snapshot from the edge of the area flew way over the crossbar.
With 15 minutes left on the clock, Taylor had another effort for the hosts but his half-volley from Nicholls’ cross just went past the left-hand post.
The Stags responded with a glorious chance but Olejnik stood up well to brilliantly deny Blair as he ran clear through on goal.
And the visitors were made to pay as the Grecian’s went straight up the other end and full-back Ribeiro did his best to outdo counter-part Benning with a thunderous 25-yard drive of his own.
The ball fell to the substitute in the middle of the pitch and his first-time whipped effort evaded Scott Shearer’s full-stretch dive.
The Stags responded in fascinating style as defender Ryan Tafazolli got his second and Mansfield’s third of the night with a brilliantly taken right-footed volley ten minutes from time.
Adam Chapman hurled a long throw into the box, which Tafazolli flicked on towards Reggie Lambe, but the Grecians’ half-clearance fell invitingly for Tafazolli who swivelled to fire it past the helpless Olejnik.
Striker Mani Dieseruvwe came off the bench with five minutes remaining to replace Green, who led the line for the Stags with admirable work rate and desire.
As expected, the hosts piled on the pressure in the remaining minutes as the fourth official held up his board indicating there to be five minutes of stoppage time.
The Grecians’ captain Moore-Taylor threatened down the left as he beat Daniel, who did well in his unfamiliar role of right-back, but his low cross was dealt with well by the Stags’ defence.
The result lifts Stags to 12th in Sky Bet League 2, still six points behind AFC Wimbledon who occupy the final play-off spot.
Grecians’ XI: Olejnik (GK), Woodman, Noble, McAllister (Ribeiro 62’), Harley, Holmes (Nicholls 62’), Moore-Taylor (Capt.), Watkins, Stockley, Taylor, Brown.
Unused subs: Pym (GK), Davies, Reid, McCready, Tillson.
Stags’ XI: Shearer (GK), Benning, Rose (McGuire 69’), Collins (Capt.), Chapman, Green (Dieseruvwe 84’), Daniel, Tafazolli, Blair, Lambe, Thomas (Baxendale 46’).
Unused subs: Jensen (GK), Beardsley, Yussuf, Shires.
Attendance: 3,407 (77 away fans)
Referee: Charles Breakspear