Super Stags thrash Gateshead
Magnificent Mansfield Town equalled a Football Conference record of 12 successive victories, with a 4-0 home hammering of Gateshead at One Call Stadium.
Anthony Howell, returning to the team in favour of Adam Chapman, put the hosts on course for another three points, as Mansfield established an early advantage.
The Stags spurned several good chances, but with a nervous finale looming, Louis Briscoe superbly doubled the lead with an instinctive low shot on 72 minutes.
Matt Green scored his 19th goal of the season to seal the win shortly afterwards, before Ben Hutchinson added another, this time a spot-kick, in the dying exchanges.
Backed by a vociferous home crowd, the Stags forced their part-time counterparts to defend from the outset on a blustery afternoon in North Nottinghamshire.
Mansfield dominated possession in the early minutes, with both Adam Murray and Lee Stevenson over-hitting crosses into the Tynesiders area.
Nevertheless, it was the North-East outfit that enjoyed the first opportunity, as Liam Henderson burst his way down the left flank but fired straight at Alan Marriott.
The Stags looked dangerous in possession and soon won a dangerous free-kick on the edge of the box, when James Curtis tangled with the lively Matt Green.
Curtis, who was partnering Liam Hatch in defence due to the absence of regular skipper Ben Clark, was booked for his troubles, but Stevenson fired over from the resulting set-piece.
Gateshead continued to soak up pressure as Mansfield struggled to create a gilt-edge chance that would allow them to test Heed custodian Adam Bartlett.
Against the run of play, the visitors had another chance when Ryan Donaldson speculatively fired straight at Marriott, having received an intelligent lay-off from James Brown.
But less than two minutes later, the Stags deservedly broke the deadlock.
Micky Cummins fouled Green deep on the left channel, which allowed Murray to whip a teasing cross towards the back-post, which caused problems for a back-peddling Bartlett.
Despite tipping the ball onto the woodwork, it was Howell who reacted quickest, as he somehow managed to slide the subsequent rebound into an empty net.
Buoyed by being ahead, Paul Cox’s team continued to attack, and thought they should have been given a spot-kick when Louis Briscoe was hauled down by Hatch inside the area.
As Mansfield players turned to the referee in protest for what appeared to be a blatant foul, the official looked at his linesman for assistance but both decided it wasn’t a penalty.
However, the Heed’s makeshift defence continued to be put under pressure.
On the half-hour mark, the hosts again went close as Stevenson whistled a lovely effort into the side-netting following a wonderful pass by Lee Beevers.
Moments later, it was the sheer brilliance of Bartlett and a stunning goal-line clearance by Jamie Chandler that prevented the hosts from doubling their advantage.
From Murray’s right-sided corner, Bartlett reacted magnificently to palm away a point-blank header by Green, before Paddy Boyle partially cleared the danger.
Stationed on the edge of the area was Luke Jones though, who directed his bullet header towards the target, where Stevenson eventually swung the ball over the target.
The Heed, two points adrift of the relegation zone at the start of play, looked lively on the counter-attack, and Donaldson soon whistled a teasing ball through Marriott’s six-yard box.
Winger Josh Gillies also blazed over with a 30-yard free-kick as Gateshead enjoyed their brightest period, but it wasn’t long before Mansfield were on the attack again.
Daniel and Stevenson combined on the halfway line, with the latter steering an inviting ball towards a quickly accelerating Green, who by now was in a one-on-one with Bartlett.
Green took a touch and wrestled away from Curtis, but with Bartlett alert to the danger, the Tynesiders’ shot-stopper managed to smother his low 20-yard effort.
Moments after the re-start, Stevenson flashed an attempt high over the target as Mansfield began the second period on the attack, but still lacking a cutting-edge.
With some anxious faces around One Call Stadium, bustling frontman Matt Rhead replaced Stevenson close to the hour-mark and was at the thick of the action straight away.
Rhead was almost put into a one-on-one with Bartlett, but some good defending by Curtis prevented him from doing so, as the Stags remained frustrated in their quest to add a second.
Junior Daniel soon had two efforts in quick succession, the first of which sailed wide, before his more sweetly-struck second attempt forced a solid save by the impressive Bartlett.
With a quarter of the match remaining, there was an anxious tension within the Stags play as they still needed a killer second to put daylight between themselves and Gateshead.
And backed by some magnificent vocal support, the defining strike finally arrived on 73 minutes.
Greg Taylor’s looping long-throw into the area wasn’t fully dealt with, and after Beevers saw his initial attempt blocked, Briscoe superbly steered a low 20-yard shot into the bottom-right corner.
It was a strike of undoubted quality and one which dented Gateshead’s chances, and with the North-East team still smarting, the Stags seized the initiative and added another.
Lindon Meikle, who had replaced Daniel only seconds earlier, slid a fabulous pass through towards Green, and the talisman peeled away from Curtis, before curling a shot beyond a full-stretch Bartlett.
By now, the Heed’s confidence in absolute tatters, whilst the magnificent One Call Stadium crowd were in full voice as they urged their heroes to continue to attack.
With one eye firmly on Thursday’s clash at Wrexham, Ben Hutchinson replaced talisman Green for the closing minutes, and the former Celtic striker wasted no time in adding a fourth.
Hutchinson slotted home a spot-kick, awarded after his brutal and venomous 25-yard free-kick was needlessly handled by Chandler in a five-man defensive wall.
Kidderminster Harriers’ win at Luton Town means Mansfield stay in second place, but a draw from Thursday’s clash at Wrexham will see the Stags move to the league summit.
Attendance: 3,472 (82 away supporters).