A spirited Mansfield Town salvaged a precious point away from home after coming from behind to draw 2-2 with Oxford United in tonight’s Sky Bet League Two match at Kassam Stadium.
Adam Murray’s men went ahead in the first half as striker Matt Green converted after a Mal Benning corner. A brace from prolific Oxford striker Danny Hylton looked to seal the victory for the home side but a late headed goal from midfielder Jack Thomas in the 89th minute saw the Stags go home to One Call Stadium with a vital point.
Stags' boss Murray made two changes to his starting eleven following last Saturday’s victory at home against Morecambe with striker Matt Green returning up front in place of Chris Beardsley. Fellow striker Craig Westcarr made way for Bermudian international Reggie Lambe who made his 29th league appearance of the season.
Both sides attempted to find their feet in the opening five minutes as possession was exchanged regularly. The home side found the first real opening on the six-minute mark when winger Liam Sercombe’s cross from the right side deflected off Stags’ defender Malvind Benning into the waiting hands of goalkeeper Scott Shearer.
Mansfield had their first opportunity moments later as Green, who received a cross from the left side of the pitch, directed the ball into the path of midfielder Matty Blair whose shot from 20 yards out was headed off the line by the Oxford defender.
With 13 minutes gone, Benning tried his luck as he received the ball on the left side of the pitch. His powerful attempt from 30 yards narrowly evaded the target as the Stags continued to impose themselves on the match.
Mansfield maintained a sustained spell of possession in the opposition half and found themselves with a free-kick in a dangerous position in the 18th minute. Midfielder Chris Clements was the preferred choice to take the set piece but could not evade the wall as the ball deflected out for the first corner of the evening.
Adam Murray’s men made the all-important breakthrough in the 23rd minute as Oxford’s Sercombe failed to clear Benning’s corner from the right side. Goalkeeper Sam Slocombe fumbled the high ball and Green headed home to ensure his side drew first blood.
Three minutes later, the U’s had a good opportunity as the ball was crossed into the penalty area from the right side. Striker Danny Hylton’s looping header created an uncomfortable moment for Shearer but was able to watch the ball go safely over the crossbar.
Benning was the first player to go into the book of referee Michael Bull after being deemed to have delayed the restart from a corner.
The home side evened the time 14 minutes from halftime as yet another cross was aimed into the penalty area, this time by defender Jonjoe Kenny. Hylton made no mistake in front of goal as he headed the ball emphatically past Shearer.
Michael Appleton’s side enjoyed a strong spell of possession as the first half neared the final stages but could not find an opening as the Stags’ defence held resolutely.
Mansfield came within an inch of restoring their lead in the in the 42nd minute as recent signing James Baxendale’s venomous strike from 30 yards out was denied by the fingertips of Slocombe who was forced to dive at full-stretch to his right.
An engaging first half came to an end with the scores level at the Kassam Stadium.
The second half got underway and the hosts immediately looked to step into gear as a free-kick from the left side was headed wide of the left post by a diving Kemar Roofe.
The home side had another opportunity shortly after when an unmarked Sercombe fired a powerful shot straight at Shearer who was able to parry the ball to safety.
An open second half progressed and on the 51-minute mark, the Stags found themselves in a positive attacking position with some slick interplay between Green and Lambe. The Bermudian’s resulting strike
from just outside the penalty area was kept out comfortably by the last line of defence Slocombe.
Adam Murray made the first substitution of the match after the hour-mark had elapsed as Chris Beardsley came on to replace Baxendale in the attacking third for Mansfield.
Oxford also went to their bench three minutes later with Zeli Ismail replacing Alex MacDonald as both sides appeared not to want to settle for a point each.
A second substitution was made by Mansfield shortly after as Welsh youth international, Dan Alfei came on to make his debut for the Stags in place of Blair.
After developing ascendency in the second half, the U’s took the lead in the 68th minute as the Stags’ defence was unable to contain another Oxford attack. The ball was crossed into the box from the left towards Hylton, who arrowed a shot into the roof of the net to grab his second of the game.
The third and final change for the Stags was made with 19 minutes to go in the match with midfielder Jack Thomas replacing Lambe in midfield.
The home side applied further pressure on the Mansfield goal and were denied only by the woodwork in the 77th minute as Chris Maguire’s close-range free kick struck the right-hand post before being cleared to safety.
With seven minutes remaining in the match, Beardsley was cautioned by the referee for an off-the-ball incident.
Late drama descended on the Kassam Stadium as Mansfield found a late equaliser with the game heading towards a defeat for the visitors.
A long throw by Mal Benning was headed onto Jack Thomas who directed his header onto the crossbar before looping another headed attempt over Slocombe and into the back of the net.
Despite the hosts pushing for a late winner, Stags held out to ensure the scores stayed locked at 2-2.
Oxford: 1. Sam Slocombe (GK) 3. Joe Skarz 4. Kemar Roofe (Bowery ’86) 5 Johny Mullins 6. Jake Wright (c) 8. Liam Sercombe 10. Danny Hylton 11. Alex MacDonald (Ismail ’64) 16. Jonjoe Kenny 18. John Lundstram 28. Chris Maguire (O’Dowda ’78)
Subs: 13. Benji Buchel (GK) 14. Josh Ruffels 15. Callum O’Dowda 19. Zeli Ismail 29. Jordan Bowery 33. Cheyenne Dunkley 36. Jordan Evans
Stags: 1. Scott Shearer (GK) 3. Malvind Benning 5. Krystian Pearce 6. Lee Collins (c) 8. Chris Clements 10. Matt Green 15. Ryan Tafazolli 17. Matty Blair (Alfei ’67) 19. Reggie Lambe (Thomas ’71) 24. Jamie McGuire 31. James Baxendale (Beardsley ’62)
Subs: 12. Brian Jensen (GK) 7. Adam Chapman 9. Chris Beardsley 18. Adi Yussuf 20. Jack Thomas 23. Sean Kavanagh 27. Dan Alfei