Super Stags silence the Lambs
Luke Jones grabbed his seventh goal of the campaign as resilient Mansfield Town survived a late Tamworth onslaught to record an incredible 11th consecutive league victory.
The Stags, who remain just one point behind Kidderminster Harriers at the Blue Square Bet Premier summit, were made to battle throughout by their spirited part-time counterparts.
Defender Jones sealed all three points by converting Matt Green’s lay-off in the second half, but the Lambs, who could yet face a relegation struggle, put up a fantastic fight.
Dale Belford’s team twice hit the woodwork and wasted numerous gilt-edge opportunities, as Mansfield ultimately clung on to their priceless advantage in the dying stages.
Over 1,100 visiting supporters made the journey to Tamworth for this encounter, and the Stags faithful nearly had a good reason to celebrate in the very early exchanges.
Only three minutes had been played when Green evaded the offside trap to latch onto Luke Jones’ long punt out of defence and squared a simple pass towards Lee Stevenson.
Stevenson saw his vicious shot bravely diverted wide by Tom Marshall, but from Adam Chapman’s subsequent back-post corner John Dempster’s bullet header drew a smart save from Liam Mitchell.
Mansfield looked dangerous as they enjoyed more possession than their part-time counterparts, but on eight minutes the Lambs created their first meaningful opening.
Marshall’s quick ball out of defence set up a counter-attack and Danny Lloyd’s dangerous cross from the left wing was almost poked into the net by Darren Byfield, sliding in at the back-post.
Tamworth gradually began to improve, but were left to rue some poor finishing.
Lee Hendrie’s left-sided delivery caused panic in the Stags box, with Duane Courtney’s initial shot inadvertently striking Adam Cunnington, before an unmarked Byfield woefully blazed wide.
The Lambs then wasted another gilt-edge opportunity as Richard Tait played in Cunnington following a clever run through the middle, but Tamworth’s talisman hammered his shot well over.
The pendulum of this topsy-turvy clash swung again midway through the first period as the Stags created three chances in lightning-quick succession.
Mitchell pulled off a superb low save to prevent Green’s 18-yard drive breaking the deadlock, before Louis Briscoe’s floating cross was headed wide by Tait at the expense of a corner.
Defender Jones then rose highest in a crowded six-yard box to meet Chapman’s pin-point delivery, but his header lacked accuracy and only rippled the side netting.
The Stags weren’t finished there, however, as less than a minute later Briscoe’s low drive from the edge of the area was deflected narrowly wide, despite Green lurking dangerously.
Nevertheless, Tamworth continued to defy the odds and having survived a lengthy spell of pressure, they again came close to breaking the deadlock on 38 minutes.
Hendrie’s pin-point right-wing cross was flicked by Cunnington towards Lloyd at the far post, who slid an effort across goal, which forced Dempster into a desperate goal-line clearance.
Two minutes later, though, Mansfield were back on the attack.
Skipper Adam Murray combined with Chapman on the edge of the area, before Chapman advanced forward and whistled a powerful right-foot effort at an advancing Mitchell, who held well.
Tamworth slowly began to defend deeper with each passing second and soon survived an almighty goalmouth scramble as they craved for the half-time whistle.
From a Chapman corner, debutant Ryan Taylor’s curling back-post chip was palmed away by a back-peddling Mitchell, whilst Murray saw a venomous shot blocked by a defender inside the six-yard box.
Despite some half-hearted appeals for a spot-kick, play continued and Green was unable to scramble the ball into the net, with Michael Wylde eventually hammering the ball clear to a chorus of cheers.
Mansfield created one more chance in the first period, which came in added time.
Meikle’s flair on the ball saw him skip away from the marker, and he found Briscoe with a left-sided pull-back, but the winger’s 20-yard effort was diverted off-target by Green.
The Lambs began the second period on the front foot, with Cunnington barging his way past both Meikle and Chapman in order to set up Hendrie just seconds after the re-start.
However, the former Aston Villa playmaker tamely fired straight into the arms of Alan Marriott from, despite having options available to him, which would have put Mansfield in far more danger.
Shortly afterwards, Lloyd also blazed straight at the Stags custodian following a wicked, weaving run through the middle, as the home side became threatening.
Mansfield boss Paul Cox quickly made a double change with winger Junior Daniel and powerhouse frontman Matt Rhead both introduced in favour of Briscoe and Stevenson respectively.
But the Stags continued to be put under the cosh by Tamworth, and on 57 minutes, Marcus Kelly’s inswinging free-kick forced a back-peddling Marriott to push the ball onto the woodwork.
Mansfield won their first corner of the second half on the hour mark, but Rhead headed wide under pressure from Marshall, who clearly had both arms around him.
Having only been on the pitch a few minutes, Rhead was already proving to be a massive nuisance for the Lambs, and it wasn’t long until the Stags finally made a breakthrough.
Lloyd’s needless foul on Lee Beevers on the halfway line allowed Taylor to whip a ball forwards.
Green exquisitely held up play only yards inside the area, before his central ball back to Jones was ruthlessly slammed into the bottom-right corner by the towering defender.
Relief was instantly evident on the faces of the travelling contingent, who celebrated wildly behind the net, whilst Jones was surrounded by equally ecstatic team-mates.
Having made such an important breakthrough, the Stags’ task was now simple, but they were almost undone by the Lambs just six minutes after their opener.
Courtney hurled a long-throw to the edge of the six-yard box, but Jones’ backwards header was seized upon by an unmarked Wylde, who somehow flicked the ball onto the crossbar at point-blank range.
A frantic Mansfield defence hurridly cleared away the danger, but there was barely time to breathe before an attack was launched at the other end.
Chapman stretched the Lambs back four with an intelligent inside pass to Rhead, who helped the ball on to an overlapping, and unmarked, Daniel, located on the left flank.
Daniel’s ball into the area was taken by Green, who weaved and turned under pressure from two markers, and eventually sliced a shot onto the post with Mitchell well beaten.
The Lambs had been let off the hook, and with the game still finely in the balance, they pushed men forward in an attempt to test the Stags’ resolve.
Courtney hurled several long-throws into the area, one of which wasn’t dealt with by Beevers or Marriott, and eventually fell in the net, only for it to be disallowed.
But it was from Courtney’s left-sided corner that real panic was caused as Marriott failed to claim possession and ultimately tangling with Wylde on the edge of the area.
The evergreen custodian was booked for his troubles, but with such danger posed by the position of where the resulting free-kick was to be taken from, Kelly eventually whistled it over.
Each second passed incredibly slowly for the Stags, who became camped in their own area under a tidal wave of intense pressure as Tamworth launched an aerial bombardment of long balls.
The Lambs tried desperately to force an equaliser, but they were unable to do so, as Mansfield magnificently held on to record yet another vital three points in their quest for promotion.
Attendance: 1,968 (1,172 away supporters).