Mansfield Town kept their Blue Square Bet Premier title hopes alive as they thumped Barrow to record a club-record 12th away league win of the campaign.
The Bluebirds, who put up a brave fight against the clinical Stags, squandered a golden chance to take the lead when Alan Marriott saved Richie Baker’s weak spot-kick.
And within minutes the hosts were punished as Matt Green and Junior Daniel swept away and combined in a neat one-two, which allowed Green to slot home from close-range.
Green doubled the advantage with a nonchalant spot-kick before the break, and maximum points were sealed on the hour mark when Lee Stevenson flicked home Adam Murray’s free-kick.
Gloss was added to the result in stoppage-time as substitutes Lindon Meikle and Matt Rhead linked up, before Stevenson tucked away Rhead’s intelligent back-post delivery.
On a gloriously warm afternoon in South Cumbria, it was the Stags, hoping to return to winning ways following their midweek loss at Wrexham, who got the game underway.
Barrow, however, dominated the opening exchanges and Baker drew a good save from Marriott in the second minute, before team-mate Adam Boyes whistled a shot over.
The Bluebirds continued to launch balls into Marriott’s six-yard box, as they sought revenge for a humiliating 8-1 defeat at One Call Stadium earlier this term.
But the Stags defence soaked up the pressure with ease and, following a lengthy spell of very little goalmouth action, enjoyed their first chance on 21 minutes.
Talisman Green capitalised on some slack defending by Danny O’Donnell on the edge of his own box, and raced forward into a one-on-one with Danny Hurst.
Nevertheless, the Barrow custodian rushed from his line and did enough to distract Green, who poked the ball well wide of Hurst’s left-hand post.
At the other end, Danny L Rowe had two chances in quick succession, as he whistled a speculative 20-yard shot high and wide, before another effort was blocked by Adam Murray.
Bluebirds skipper Sean Hessey was also off-target on 25 minutes, but only moments later, the spirited hosts were handed to break the deadlock when Luke Jones handled in the area.
Baker took responsibility with the resulting spot-kick, but his tame effort hit the trailing leg of Marriott, who reacted instinctively to block Sean McConville’s follow up.
The ball eventually spilled to Lee Beevers, who launched a long punt forward, which inadvertently put Green in the clear at the other end with the Bluebirds defence back-tracking.
Green ultimately over-ran the ball, but in the Stags’ next attack the talisman found the net.
In a neat passing exchange, Green panicked the Bluebirds’ back-four as he charged into the area in possession and played a neat one-two with Daniel, before tapping home.
The Stags lead was harsh on their part-time counterparts, who had looked brave, spirited and determined up until this game-changing moment.
Nevertheless, the hosts, in the Blue Square Bet Premier relegation zone at kick-off, almost equalised instantly when Boyes’ sweetly-struck left-foot drive clipped the post.
The former Scunthorpe United frontman then blazed over from 10 yards minutes later, whilst Danny L Rowe’s 20-yard attempt also bobbled wide of the target.
Despite having been largely on the back foot, Mansfield upped the ante prior to the break and Stevenson, in a one-on-one with Hurst, should have doubled the lead.
Less than two minutes later, with the Bluebirds’ defence again stretched, Briscoe out-paced O’Donnell to reach Green’s knock on, but was clipped by his marker just inside the area.
The referee showed little hesitancy in awarding a spot-kick, but unlike Barrow, who squandered their chance from the penalty mark, Green made no mistake at all.
The talisman calmly stroked his effort into the bottom-left corner, whilst Hurst dived away in the opposite direction, as he doubled the Stags’ grip on what had been an even contest.
With the Bluebirds licking their wounds, Daniel almost sent Green through with a cleverly floated ball over the top, before Barrow’s McConville drew a routine save from Marriott.
Dave Bayliss’ half-time message to his players must have been for them to re-create their impressive display in the first period, yet the Bluebirds looked even more determined after the re-start.
On 48 minutes, the lively Boyes capitalised on Jones’ loose backwards header, but his rasping angled drive was superbly palmed away by a full-stretch Marriott.
Even when the Stags shot-stopper was finally beaten, the woodwork came to his rescue.
Midfielder James Owen was brought down by Anthony Howell on the edge of the area, before Danny L Rowe’s thunderbolt free-kick rattled the upright and bounced away to safety.
Quite simply, Barrow were having absolutely no luck whatsoever.
Despite their fight and unquestionable endeavour, their mood of complete frustration was compounded when the visitors essentially sealed maximum points on the hour-mark.
Murray’s curling 25-yard free-kick was flicked goalwards by Stevenson, and with Hurst grounded and unable to claim the ball, duties were left for Dempster to fire home.
Stevenson was cautioned for removing his shirt during the celebrations, and with victory essentially sealed, burly frontman Matt Rhead replaced two-goal Green on 68 minutes.
The Bluebirds’ spirit by this stage had been wrecked, but both Boyes and Baker drew solid saves from Marriott as they sought a consolation strike from their miserable afternoon.
Stevenson also had an effort cleared off the line by Hessey in the closing exchanges, but in additional time, the creative playmaker added another to the Stags’ tally.
Substitutes Lindon Meikle and Rhead combined on the right flank, with Rhead advancing deep into the area, where his drilled back-post cross was nonchalantly tucked away by Stevenson.
The Stags’ clinical ability to put the ball between the posts was ultimately what decided this encounter, but the hosts can take heart from such a spirited and brave display.
Attendance: 1,114 (300 away supporters).