Tomlinson strike earns Alfreton win
Mansfield Town suffered Boxing Day misery as they slipped to a surprise defeat against Alfreton Town in a stormy encounter at One Call Stadium.
Defender John Dempster fired the hosts ahead on 35 minutes, before Paul Clayton headed home from Josh Law’s set-piece delivery to level the scoreline.
Ben Tomlinson struck a controversial second goal on the hour-mark, appearing to deliberately barge Exodus Geohaghon to reach a loose ball, as Alfreton earned all three points.
Mansfield began in dominant fashion on a windswept afternoon in North Nottinghamshire and forced their counterparts to defend a series of long throws in the early exchanges.
Lee Beevers almost picked out Exodus Geohaghon with a delivery from the left flank after five minutes, before Anthony Howell headed wide at the near-post following a right-sided throw from Geohaghon.
Alfreton created the first serious chance when Simon Russell warmed the hands of Alan Marriott with a cross-cum-shot after some fine work from Nathan Arnold in midfield.
But it was the Stags who continued to look the more dangerous and Chris Clements hit a thunderous 30-yard drive goalwards, which had to be superbly palmed over the woodwork by a back-peddling Phil Barnes.
An effort from Meikle also bobbled narrowly wide of Barnes’ right-hand post, whilst Matt Green opted not to shoot from an acute angle when he was put clean through by Louis Briscoe.
Briscoe, industrious in Mansfield’s attacking threat, was again a central figure at the heart of the action, as the hosts came within inches of a deserved opener on 27 minutes.
The Stags winger lofted an exquisite ball over the Reds defence, which again reached Green, who was forced out wide and saw his intended cross to strike-partner Ben Hutchinson diverted wide by Adam Quinn.
From the resulting corner, Clements almost found the target with his superb delivery towards the back-post, which looked to have crossed the line and had to be frantically scrambled clear by the Reds defence.
Alfreton soon caused pandemonium with a corner of their own as Tomlinson’s near-post cross caught a dangerous flick from Paul Clayton, which forced a rooted-to-the-line Ritchie Sutton to clear.
Heavy rain continued to pour down viciously from the dark clouds overlooking One Call Stadium, though on 36 minutes, the Stags found a ray of sunlight in exceptionally difficult playing conditions.
Beevers’ fine cross into the six-yard box was missed by Green, who was lurking on the shoulder of Quinn, but John Dempster was on-hand to pick up the resulting loose ball and fire home.
Nevertheless, Mansfield’s slender lead lasted barely 60 seconds, as Alfreton hit back in lightning-quick fashion and struck their opponents with a sucker punch.
Josh Law picked out Clayton with a free-kick from the centre, and the Reds frontman towered above everyone as he rose highest to plant his header beyond Marriott from the edge of the six-yard box.
The Reds barely deserved to be level at the break, yet in the pouring rain and bitterly cold weather, Nicky Law’s drenched men struck a controversial second goal shortly after the re-start.
Tomlinson’s deliberate barge on Geohaghon, which saw the burly centre-back go to ground on the edge of the Stags area, went unnoticed by the officials, and allowed Tomlinson to slot beneath Marriott.
Having had more misery heaped on them, the hosts struggled to generate any momentum as they attempted to break the resistance of their gritty, tenacious and dogged opponents.
Clements saw an aimless free-kick drift wide of the target, whilst Green came no closer when he cut-inside and screwed a shot horribly wide on 76 minutes.
The Stags finally forced Barnes into action until 87 minutes, when substitute Jake Speight latched on to a fine pass from Anthony Howell and unleashed a powerful drive that was palmed away by the Reds shot-stopper.
Alfreton should have then put the result beyond doubt in the penultimate minute of normal time.
Tomlinson, who was troublesome throughout the second period, intercepted a sloppy back-pass from Meikle and embarked on a fine run through the middle, which ended with him firing narrowly wide.
The miss almost proved costly as Green twice came close during six minutes of additional time, but the gritty Reds remained resilient to record three points.
Attendance: 4,186 (350 visiting supporters).