Iron battle back to earn victory
Mansfield Town suffered a shock defeat to Braintree Town at the Amlin Stadium.
The Stags, who could have moved five points clear at the Blue Square Bet Premier summit with victory, went ahead through Matt Green’s well-taken opener on eight minutes.
But Braintree courageously battled back and levelled on the hour mark thanks to Matt Paine’s 20-yard volley into the bottom corner.
James Mulley had a goal disallowed midway through the second period, but it ultimately mattered little as Kaine Sheppard’s header won in for the hosts.
The Stags named an unchanged side for the clash, as they looked to continue their excellent recent form which has seen them win 18 of their last 20 league fixtures.
And buoyed by a noisy travelling contingent of over 1,000 visiting supporters, Paul Cox’s men began in positive fashion and nearly grabbed an opener inside the opening minute.
Green and Lee Stevenson combined on the left channel, before the latter delivered a teasing cross into the six-yard box, with Matt Paine forced to head wide at the expense of a corner.
The Stags seized the initiative as they continued to attack with venom and having dominated possession, Luke Jones headed straight at Nathan McDonald following Adam Murray’s corner.
Braintree, with little to play for having already secured their Blue Square Bet Premier status, were being forced back constantly, and on eight minutes the Stags’ pressure paid off.
Lee Beevers floated a superb ball over the top towards Green, who skipped past his marker and nonchalantly fired beyond an on-rushing McDonald to establish an advantage.
Green’s 22nd strike of the campaign was received with euphoric cheers of uncontrollable delight amongst the visiting faithful, in the knowledge that their side had got the perfect start.
With the inquest into the opener still on-going between Braintree’s defenders, the Stags quickly sought to add another as they showed no mercy to their part-time counterparts.
Just two minutes later, Louis Briscoe’s teasing right-sided delivery caused havoc in the hosts’ six-yard box, but despite both Green and Stevenson lurking, Paine was able to clear.
Nevertheless, the one-way traffic continued as Jones was again denied by McDonald following another header, whilst the Iron custodian also kept out Murray’s in-swinging free-kick.
Alan Devonshire’s side gradually began to establish a foothold in the encounter having been outclassed for the opening quarter-of-an-hour and registered their chance on 18 minutes.
Winger Luke Daley weaved his way inside from the right channel and found Ben Wright with a low pull-back, as Alan Marriott was forced into a routine, but comfortable save.
The Stags’ work-rate was phenomenal as they chased every loose ball, fed off every scrap and refused to allow their opponents any time to settle or creative rhythm.
Following a quiet period and some brutal midfield exchanges, the Stags again broke clear midway through the first period courtesy of Anthony Howell
With Green and Stevenson advancing on the overlap to his left and right respectively, Howell eventually found Green, whose ferocious left-foot drive rattled the post.
McDonald caught Murray’s subsequent corner a few moments later, whilst, at the opposite end, Kenny Davis wildly blazed over from Kaine Sheppard’s intelligent lay-off.
The clash had developed into an enthralling and captivating contest between two teams; one of which was full of energy, whilst the other were brave and resolute.
Heavy rain made conditions difficult for both teams, though Mansfield really upped the ante after the re-start as they sought to add a ‘killer’ second.
Briscoe’s low 30-yard free-kick was routinely held by McDonald, whilst Jones thumped powerfully headed wide following Murray’s right sided corner towards the back post.
In another set-piece on 53 minutes, Murray’s back-post cross was flicked by Jones towards a centrally-located John Dempster, who was distracted by Nicky Symons.
What Braintree lacked in quality, they made up for in endeavour, as they refused to lie down and surrender to their title-chasing visitors.
The Irons survived a speculative 30-yard snap-shot by Murray close to the hour-mark, which was wonderfully palmed away by McDonald, before they surprisingly drew level.
James Mulley caused problems with some intricate footwork deep on the left channel, and having got away from Briscoe and Beevers, linked up with Sam Habergham.
Habergham’s cross to the edge of the area reached an unmarked Paine, who proved to be a real nuisance, as he steered a well-placed volley into the bottom corner.
The Stags were shell-shocked and their mood was reflected by the equally-miserable weather.
That despair was almost heightened on 68 minutes as Massey and Dempster tussled upon entering the area, with the Braintree man ultimately stabbing the ball home.
Just as it looked as if the hosts had established a lead, the referee came to the rescue as he judged Massey to have committed a foul, shirt-pulling, on Dempster.
However, Mansfield failed to take heed of the warning signs.
Three minutes later, Habergham’s deep cross found Sheppard at the near post, who stooped low and placed his header beyond a full-stretch Marriott to complete the turnaround.
Lindon Meikle and Adam Chapman were thrust into the action, and on 77 minutes, the duo combined with fellow substitute Matt Rhead, as Mansfield came close to equalising.
Chapman hurled in a long-throw from the right, flicked on by Rhead, deep into the six-yard box, to which Meikle powerfully headed wide at the back post.
More pressure followed but very much like the Amlin Stadium pitch, the hosts continued to soak up pressure as seconds agonisingly ticked away for the visitors.
With less than a minute of normal time remaining, Rhead also came within a whisker as he flicked on another of Chapman’s long-throws and forced McDonald into a superb reflex save.
Four minutes of added time brought no cheer for Mansfield, as Daniel volleyed over, whilst substitute Dan Holman curled an effort just wide at the other end.
Ultimately, it was the part-time Essex outfit that emerged victorious and threw a huge spanner in Mansfield Town’s bid to become champions.