Report: Stanley 1-1 Stags
Mansfield Town were denied a first league victory over Accrington Stanley in over half-a-century as Kai Naismith’s last-gasp penalty earned the hosts a point in an entertaining 1-1 draw.
Naismith tucked away a calm, low effort into the bottom-left corner, after Martin Riley was judged to have pushed James Gray inside a packed penalty area.
It all looked so good for Mansfield, who led following Jake Speight’s opener on 75 minutes.
Accrington got proceedings underway on a gloriously sunny afternoon in East Lancashire, but it was the Stags who looked the better in the opening exchangers.
Paul Cox’s Play-Off chasers went close in the third minute when James Jennings’ long set-piece was blazed over by Martin Riley at the far-post under pressure from Peter Murphy.
Stags’ skipper Adam Murray then did well to block a potentially dangerous 20-yard shot from Will Hatfield on six minutes as the hosts enjoyed their first spell of pressure.
Moments later, Lee Molyneux accelerated into the box and tumbled to the floor under a challenge from Ritchie Sutton, but the referee was unimpressed with subsequent appeals for a spot-kick and waved play on.
Mansfield won a cheap free-kick on 11 minutes when Nicky Hunt and Jennings clashed wide out on the left flank, though Chris Clements’ resulting cross into the area was easily cleared.
The Stags gradually began to apply pressure, but lacked the killer ball required to pierce the Stanley defence open.
Instead, it was Accrington who won the first corner when Shay McCartan and Molyneux combined on the counter-attack, and Darryl Westlake was forced to track back and make a vital last-ditch challenge on the edge of his own area.
Mansfield then enjoyed a half-chance on 24 minutes as Stanley ‘keeper Marcus Bettinelli opted to parry a long set-piece cross by Clements, and Junior Daniel unleashed a 30-yard half-volley on the follow up, which flew just wide.
Jennings forced Bettinelli into a routine save with a tame acrobatic attempt two minutes later, as the match continued to be devoid of any real, clear-cut openings.
There was another half-chance for Mansfield on the half-hour mark, when Matt Rhead’s flick on was well-read by Palmer, but Michael Liddle defended well to hold off the Stags striker and was able to clear the danger.
Within seconds, the visitors could have quite easily have fallen behind as the lively McCartan jinked his way past two players to break into the Stags’ area, and his powerful low drive was saved by the legs of Lewis Price.
The visitors quickly responded with a chance of their own as Palmer let fly with a wicked low drive which caught a deflection and went just inches wide of Bettinelli’s right-hand post.
Liddle did brilliantly to block an attempt from Murray on 34 minutes as Stanley continued to defend well against an increasing wave of pressure from their higher-placed counterparts.
Daniel was the first player to go into the referee’s notebook when he was booked for a late tackle on Hunt close to the centre-circle on 37 minutes.
Moments later, the Stags’ winger let fly with a venomous drive from the edge of the area, which drew an instinctive reaction stop from a well-positioned Bettinelli.
However, Stanley, who still need points to be certain of maintaining their Football League status, were unlucky not to break the deadlock as they had plenty of pressure towards the end of the first half.
Murphy’s swerving right-foot strike from 25 yards was brilliantly tipped over the upright by a full-stretch Price, and from the resulting corner, Kayode Odejayi had a back-heeled effort blocked on the line.
After the re-start, Mansfield, who were now attacking towards their own supporters, went close within two minutes as Murray flashed a low 20-yard shot narrowly wide with the outside of his right boot.
The hosts had a golden spell of pressure just afterwards as Will Hatfield had a bobbling near-post attempt tipped away by Price, but the visitors were unable to effectively clear.
Tafazolli sliced his attempted clearance straight back to Hatfield around 15 yards out, who wastefully scuffed a shot straight at the Stags’ shot-stopper.
Chances were now being created at frequent intervals and it was Mansfield’s turn next as they caused problems with a short-corner, but an unmarked Riley headed wide from six-yard following Clements’ cross.
Before play re-started, Mansfield made their first change as Sam Clucas replaced Palmer in attack.
On 54 minutes, Molyneux drilled a low shot goalwards from a tight angle inside the Stags’ area, but Price was in a good position and gathered the ball comfortably at his near-post.
Stanley’s next attack came just before the hour mark when McCartan peeled away from his marker to reach an in-swinging left-sided corner, but headed over from eight yards.
At the other end, Daniel slipped Clucas through on goal with an intricate low through ball, but with the angles against the Stags’ substitute, he could only fire into the side-netting.
Stags’ chief Cox made his second change on 62 minutes as Lindon Meikle was brought on in favour of Westlake, who had been cautioned for an earlier challenge.
The hosts made their first substitution midway through the second half when McCartan was surprisingly withdrawn in favour of James Gray, who took up a position out wide.
Moments later, Accrington were awarded a free-kick in a dangerous position on the edge of the Stags’ area, after Clements accidentally collided with an advancing Hatfield.
Molyneux’s low set-piece strike was bravely blocked by Murray and although the Stanley playmaker immediately seized upon the loose ball, his resulting cross was easily claimed by Price.
The visitors weren’t able to create any opportunities despite enjoying two corners in as many minutes moments later, though they were at least dominating territorially at this stage.
However, Mansfield still remained confident of snatching all three points and made their last substitution with 20 minutes left to play, when Speight replaced Daniel.
The Stags suddenly began to look more threatening and went close when Clements sliced a six-yard volley wide of the target, following a superb left-wing cross by Clucas.
Pressure was intensifying on Stanley – and only an offside flag kept them on level terms moments later, after Speight put the ball in the net from an offside position from Jennings’ cross.
The decibels from the 662-strong travelling faithful were going up a notch with each passing minute and on 75 minutes, the noise turned into euphoric cheers as the Stags made a breakthrough.
Jennings showed excellent footwork to retain possession on the edge of the area, and slipped a low ball towards Clucas, who had taken up a good position on the inside-right channel.
The Stags’ youngsters still had plenty to do, but his superb slalom footwork bamboozled Accrington’s defenders and allowed him to cut-inside and slip a low pass towards Speight.
It was then, from around 10 yards, that Speight struck a delightful right-foot attempt into the roof of the net to spark wild celebrations in the away end and sink Stanley hearts.
Accrington immediately used their remaining substitutions as Piero Mingoia and Kai Naismith were thrust into the action in favour of Hatfield and Molyneux respectively.
The Stags task now was to hang and their battling spirit was epitomised by skipper Murray, who tracked back superbly to foil Gray, just when it seemed likely that the Stanley player would unleash a shot.
Luke Joyce flashed a low 25-yard free-kick narrowly wide of the right-hand post on 82 minutes, and moments later his excellent ball into the area was claimed bravely by Price.
Stanley continued to heap pressure on Mansfield and Riley blocked a powerful 20-yard attempted from Naismith as precious seconds started to ebb away.
Tom Aldred had a looping header claimed by a back-peddling Stags ‘keeper with just five minutes remaining as Mansfield, in search of their fifth straight win, continued to remain resolute.
In the final minute of normal time, the hosts won yet another free-kick in a dangerous position when Jennings was cautioned following a tackle on Naismith.
After a long delay, the Stanley substitute stepped up to deliver a cross and his initial effort was terrible, before his subsequent follow-up strike was equally as bad, as it drifted yards wide of the target.
The Stags nearly made it 2-0 in bizarre circumstances in the third minute of added time when Speight chased down Bettinelli, and forced him into a rush clearance which ricocheted off the Stags player and hit the post.
It proved costly, as Stanley were able to launch one last-gasp attack in which they won a penalty.
Riley was judged to have pushed Gray inside a crowded area and the referee showed no hesitancy in awarding a penalty, which was duly converted by Naismith.
Attendance: 2,092 (662 away supporters).