Clinical Stags defeat Cambridge
Magnificent Mansfield Town earned their third straight home victory as goals from Lee Stevenson, Luke Jones and Junior Daniel sank Cambridge United at One Call Stadium.
The Stags went ahead when Stevenson netted his sixth goal in as many games after eight minutes, before the visitors leveled through Liam Hughes on the half-hour mark.
Jones converted James Jennings’ corner on 39 minutes to re-establish a lead, and the three points were sealed when Junior Daniel curled an effort into the top corner after the break.
Paul Cox’s side remain in sixth place in the Blue Square Bet Premier table, three points adrift of Kidderminster Harriers, but with two games in hand.
The Stags attacked the Quarry Lane End in the first period, but found themselves on the back foot in the early minutes, as Cambridge, with three upfront, began positively.
Jamie Reed should have done much better when he cut through the middle with a fine run, but scuffed his low effort wide of Alan Marriott’s left-hand post from 25 yards.
Anthony Howell then drew a fine save from a back-peddling Jonathon Hedge at the other end, following some brilliant build up play which involved Louis Briscoe and Matt Green.
However, the U’s soon came within inches of an opener, as Hughes’ close-range header from Reed’s set-piece delivery, forced Marriott into a fabulous fingertip save on eight minutes.
The importance of Marriott’s superb stop was heightened just two minutes later, as Mansfield punished their counterparts to devastating effect.
James Jennings, who was facing his former employers for the first time, caused pandemonium with a low left-sided cross into the Cambridge six-yard box.
After Jones and Junior Daniel saw shots blocked in the midst of a goalmouth scramble, the ball eventually fell to Stevenson, who blazed home for his seventh strike of the campaign.
Nevertheless, despite their early setback, the visitors continued to pose problems and almost responded when Michael Gash’s low ball across the area was sliced wide by Kevin Roberts.
Following a quiet period of play, Mansfield could have doubled their advantage on 25 minutes.
John Dempster had both time and space inside a crowded area, but saw his low drive blocked by Josh Coulson, before Briscoe lashed over with a powerfully-struck rebound.
Briscoe was again at the heart of the action moments later, as he skipped down the right-flank and hooked an inviting ball towards Green, whose blocked attempt allowed Luke Berry to clear.
The Stags then had Marriott to thank, as the veteran shot-stopper pulled off another exquisite fingertip save to keep out Tom Shaw’s sumptuous 30 yard strike.
But from the resulting corner, Richard Money’s side finally drew level.
Hughes slipped under the radar as he weaved his way towards the back post, where he met Reed’s well-struck ball and headed powerfully into the net.
Cambridge’s aerial prowess was again evident on 33 minutes, as Gash’s deep cross from the right flank picked out Berry, which ultimately forced Marriott into action yet again.
Mansfield, on the back-foot at this point, then stunned the U’s as they re-took the lead before half-time.
Jennings hit a teasing set-piece ball towards the back-post, from where Jones venomously blazed into the roof of the net, after his initial effort was fumbled by Hedge.
The Stags finished the first period with a flourish and had several opportunities to extend their lead.
Briscoe’s swerving near-post strike from the inside-right channel was palmed away by Hedge at the expense of a corner, which saw Jones hook the ball wide with an acrobatic effort.
In stoppage time, Briscoe showed fantastic vision as he found Green with a stunning ball over the top, but the frontman was unable to find the target with his 20-yard drive.
Moments later, Briscoe picked up possession on the edge of the area from a Jennings corner, and hammered a thunderous strike towards goal, which was spilled by Hedge.
And with the very last kick of an enthralling first period, Briscoe, deep inside the area, saw a low drive ricochet off a static Roberts and drift narrowly wide of the right-hand post.
The Stags began the second half with the same vigor and venom in which they ended the first, and six minutes after the re-start, came exceptionally close to adding a third.
Stevenson and Daniel combined well on the left channel, before Daniel was put through and hit a right-footed strike that cannoned off the post and trickled agonisingly away from danger.
Chances proved to be at a premium as the game wore on, and having ridden a storm in which the visitors had plenty of possession, Mansfield finally extended their lead on 71 minutes.
Jennings, a revelation since his arrival at One Call Stadium, floated a superb left-sided ball into the area, before Daniel showed pin-point precision to find the target with his right-footed drive.
Both teams played some superb free-flowing football throughout the afternoon, but Mansfield always seemed the more likely of the two teams to score goals.
And they twice came close to scoring again in the closing stages.
Jennings curled a 20 yard free-kick over the target, whilst a full-stretch Green was also within inches of tapping home after Briscoe split the U’s defence wide apart.
The victory keeps Mansfield in sixth place in the Blue Square Bet Premier table.
Attendance: 2,508 (208 away supporters).