Mansfield Town staged a stunning second-half fightback as goals from Rhys Oates and Oli Hawkins helped Nigel Clough’s men to a 2-1 win at Hartlepool.
Former Pools’ striker Oates rifled home Stags’ first shortly after the break to overturn Jack Hamilton’s first-half opener.
Oli Hawkins moved from centre-back to striker at half-time before latching onto George Lapslie’s cut-back to complete the comeback on 60 minutes.
Victory closes Mansfield’s gap on third place to five points.
Manager Nigel Clough made five changes to the side that earned a point at home to Northampton Town on Boxing Day.
Defenders Kellan Gordan and Riley Harbottle were replaced by James Perch and Lucas Akins, whilst midfielders Hiram Boateng, George Lapslie and Stephen Quinn were replaced by Kieran Wallace, Will Swan and Ollie Clarke, who captained the side.
Mansfield began in a 3-5-2 formation with Akins and McLaughlin occupying the wide positions at right wing-back and left wing-back respectively.
A quiet opening yielded little goalmouth action until Akins was able to latch onto a bouncing ball outside the Hartlepool box and fire a stinging half-volley into the body of defender David Ferguson on eight minutes.
Mansfield continued to apply the pressure as Kieran Wallace’s accurate diagonal pass was collected by Akins inside the box, who cleverly laid it off to Clarke.
And despite a good connection, his dangerous driven effort flew beyond the bottom left corner with his instep on 16 minutes.
However, it was the hosts who took the lead after 20 minutes when Jack Hamilton headed Callum Cooke’s out-swinging corner against the post and into the back of the net from a central position inside the Mansfield box.
Stags remained undeterred as Will Swan tested Hartlepool stopper Ben Killip for the first time on 21 minutes with a well-controlled driven effort from outside the box.
Swan was in again eight minutes later after his darting near-post run was found by Quinn’s wide left set-piece delivery, however the forward’s effort this time couldn’t force Killip into a stop.
Mansfield were forced into an early change on half an hour when Clarke was replaced George Lapslie in midfield after sustaining an injury.
Having kept the hosts quiet following their go-ahead-goal, Hartlepool threatened a second for the first time on 33 minutes as striker Josh Umerah bundled his way into the Stags’ box before lashing a strike into the side-netting from an acute angle.
The visitors tempted an equaliser on the stroke of half-time when Oli Hawkins broke free of his marker to nod Wallace’s in-swinging corner goalwards, but Killip was able to hold at his near post and keep his side’s lead intact at the break.
Mansfield made their second change of the game during half-time as the experienced Quinn replaced Wallace in midfield. Oli Hawkins also moved into attack, having played at centre-back for the opening 45 minutes.
Clough’s aggressive second-half set-up came to fruition instantly as Stags struck level on 47 minutes. A swift move up field created an overload of amber shirts inside the attacking third, allowing Lapslie to slide the ball in behind to Oates who rifled it into the roof of the net from the right side of the box.
Mansfield were in again six minutes later after Lapslie’s through ball played in Oates, who would have gone one on one with Killip yet again had Reghan Tumilty’s last-gasp sliding tackle not denied the lively forward five yards outside the box.
Stags’ pressure continued and their attacking in numbers was rewarded with a goal yet again when Hawkins placed home the third goal of the game on the hour.
A well-worked surge was finished off coolly when Lapslie’s cutback from the right side of the box was turned into the bottom left corner by Hawkins, who ghosted free of his marker in front of goal.
Mansfield looked after the ball in the period immediately after taking the lead, however the game adopted a scrappier tone as the hosts became frustrated, Hartlepool’s Callum Cooke and Nicky Featherstone were subsequently booked on 75 and 82 minutes respectively.
The hosts cranked up their attacking efforts in the closing stages, however the Pools did little to unsettle Mansfield’s level-head defending late in the game.
Swan threatened a third for Mansfield in the third minute of additional time as the forward latched onto a long ball, rounded his defender close to the by-line before Killip tipped his near post effort behind for a corner.
Three points for Mansfield affirms their grip on sixth place ahead of a trip to Walsall on New Year’s Day.
HARTLEPOOL XI: Killip, Sterry (Missilou 63’), Menayese, Ferguson, Tumilty, Featherstone, Sylla, Shelton (McDonald 58’), Cooke, Hamilton, Umerah (Grey 74’)
UNUSED SUBS: Boyes, Paterson, Odour, Hastie
STAGS XI: Pym, McLaughlin, Hewitt, Akins (O’Toole 88’), Clarke (Lapslie 30’), Maris (Hartigan 80’), Hawkins, Perch, Wallace (Quinn 45’), Oates, Swan
UNUSED SUBS: Flinders, Gordon, Boateng
REFEREE: Martin Coy
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