Stags go top with last-gasp winner
Matt Green’s dramatic last minute winner completed a magnificent comeback as Mansfield Town assumed firm control of the Blue Square Bet Premier title race.
Green converted following Matt Rhead’s nonchalant flick on, which led to incredible scenes of total jubilation amongst the travelling Stags’ contingent.
Hereford, sixth in the table, had led through Ryan Bowman’s early opener but were pegged back courtesy of Green’s close-range header shortly prior to the break.
Bulls’ custodian James Bittner produced a string of splendid saves as the hosts looked as though they would earn a point, before Green’s incredible last-gasp winner.
The Stags got proceedings underway on a warm night in Herefordshire and almost immediately forced Bulls shot-stopper Bittner into action.
Lee Beevers’ long ball down the right flank met Meikle just inside the area, but the winger saw his low effort blocked by the quickly-advancing keeper.
The Hereford custodian also kept out a powerful drive from Green in the opening minute, as Paul Cox’s men pressed forward with an eagerness to succeed.
But despite such a bright start, it was the visitors who grabbed the opener.
Sam Clucas, positioned deep on the right flank, capitalised on some slack defending and threaded a low pass through to an unmarked Bowman, who slotted beyond Alan Marriott.
The Stags looked shell-shocked and struggled to re-compose themselves as Hereford, backed by a boisterous home crowd, slowly started to dictate play.
Nevertheless, Mansfield should have been awarded a penalty on the quarter-hour mark, when John Dempster was pushed to the ground by Luke Graham following Adam Chapman’s long throw.
The incident went unnoticed by the referee and it wasn’t very long until the Stags were dealt another blow as Beevers was left in agony after a collision with Chris Sharp.
Beevers received lengthy treatment at the end of Edgar Street where the travelling contingent were located, and was eventually replaced by full-back Ritchie Sutton.
However, Mansfield still struggled to create any openings.
Instead, it was the battling Bulls that came close to a second as Chris Bush’s mis-hit free-kick was deflected wide of goal by the arm of Luke Jones, who was under pressure.
Hereford's players appealed in vain for a spot-kick, which wasn’t given, and with Martin Foyle’s side still seething from the decision, the Stags surprisingly found an equaliser.
Meikle accelerated his way down the left channel and his deep cross towards the back post was met by Green, who headed beyond a full-stretch Bittner.
The leveller was harsh on the spirited Bulls, though matters could have been much worse, had either Green or Chapman converted a deep free-kick into the area, just moments later.
Prior to the break, Adam Murray was cautioned for a last-ditch foul on Sharp, whilst Louis Briscoe was unable to cause any danger with the Stags’ first corner of the night.
However, in the second minute of time there was a moment of intense drama.
Marriott failed to hold Clucas’ chipped back-post delivery and amidst a frantic scramble, Josh O’Keefe’s hooked effort looked goalbound until Dempster’s superb last-ditch clearance.
The Bulls enjoyed two quick corners shortly after the re-start as they continued to look dangerous and test the capabilities of the Stags’ resolute rear-guard.
Clucas fired only inches wide following a terrific run and snap-shot on 53 minutes, just moments before Meikle spurned a gilt-edge chance for title-chasing Mansfield.
Green showed quick-feet to cut inside from the right and with the Bulls defence stretched, his intricate lay-off to Meikle put the winger in the clear.
Nevertheless, an advancing Bittner was able to smother his low shot from just inside the area, and the danger temporarily came to an end.
By the time the hour-mark arrived, the clash had developed into a captivating and titanic tussle between two teams eager to achieve a positive result.
Mansfield were beginning to have the edge, however, and almost struck again when Chapman’s long-throw was deflected into Bittner’s arms by a panicked Kingsley James.
Bustling frontman Rhead was soon thrust into the action in favour of Stevenson and within seconds of his introduction, the Stags came even closer to establishing a lead.
Murray found himself clean through and screwed a low ball across the face of goal, which agonisingly missed the target and also evaded a full-stretch Green at the far post.
The Stags turned away in anguish, but continued to attack with pure venom and it wasn’t long until they were denied by a superb reflex save from a full-stretch Bittner.
The Bulls defence failed to deal with Meikle’s right-sided delivery and Green’s clever flick looked destined to ripple the net until a back-peddling Bittner somehow managed to claw the ball away.
Meikle and Murray both saw low efforts blocked, whilst substitute Rhead hit a close-range shot high into the Herefordshire skies as the clash entered the final 20 minutes.
Hereford’s back-four were given temporary respite as Clucas curled a 30-yard free-kick just wide at the other end, but it wasn't long before Mansfield created more chances.
Murray was denied by further acrobatics from the impressive Bittner, before Dempster headed over following a set-piece ball from Murray on 82 minutes.
By now, amidst a mixture of nerves, tension and drama, it was all one-way traffic, but Hereford still continued to soak up everything that the Stags threw at them.
Mansfield threw bodies forward in desperation, but so nearly came unstuck as Marley Watkins quickly broke away and unleashed a low 20-yard strike straight at Marriott in the penultimate minute of normal time.
Four minutes of added time were indicated and at the end of such a topsy-turvy, nail-biting encounter, there was to be one final twist in what was an exhilarating contest.
Marriott’s long punt forward was intelligently read by Rhead on the edge of the area, who flicked the ball into the path of the dangerous Green.
With a quick glimpse towards the target, the Stags talisman spun away from his marker and unleashed a hard strike that flew beyond an advancing Bittner.
Time temporarily stood still for a split-second, but the ball nestled beautifully in the bottom corner, which led to pandemonium and sheer jubilation amongst everyone.
The Stags knew they had established an advantage going into what is sure to be a captivating, tense and dramatic last day of the Blue Square Bet Premier campaign.
Attendance: 2,141 (627 away supporters).