Report: Hartlepool 2-4 Stags
Magnificent Mansfield Town scored three times in the last 20 minutes, to secure a superb victory over Hartlepool United in Sky Bet League Two.
James Jennings scored either side of goals from Marlon Harewood and Luke James, before Matt Rhead made it 3-2 with a great header and Jamie McGuire added a fourth in stoppage-time.
The Stags started well and made a crucial breakthrough on 20 minutes, when Lee Beevers’ right-wing cross was flicked on by Matt Rhead towards an unmarked Jennings, who slotted home from just a few yards.
Jennings celebrated euphorically infront of the travelling supporters, who knew the importance the goal could have on the Stags survival hopes.
The Pools weren’t about to lie down though, and they could have equalised within a few minutes, had Harewood been able to get some direction on a tame header from James’ cross.
Despite this attack, Hartlepool still looked vulnerable and their confidence wasn’t helped when Scott Flinders accidentally dropped the ball a few yards away from Ollie Palmer.
Palmer had his back to goal so was unable to pounce on Flinders’ mistake, but a few moments later, the Pools’ custodian sliced a clearance straight at Anthony Howell, who couldn’t bring the ball under control.
After a few murmurings of discontent amongst the home faithful, Hartlepool grabbed a fortuitous equaliser against the run of play, shortly before the half-hour mark.
Jack Barmby tricked and teased the Stags’ defence with some tricky, slalom footwork on the edge of the area, beating four men prior to slipping a ball inside towards Jack Compton.
Compton was forced to a tight angle so had to play the ball back to Barmby, whose subsequent ball across the goalmouth was thumped low into the net by Harewood.
The goal breathed new life into Colin Cooper’s team, who now started to press forward with more fluency and frequency than they had done in the opening 30 minutes.
John Dempster was cautioned for a wild lunge on Compton on the left-edge of the area, but the Pools’ creative playmaker was unable to cause any danger with the subsequent set-piece.
Hartlepool continued to look dangerous and they were given a great opportunity to establish an advantage when Ritchie Sutton tangled with Barmby just inside the area on 43 minutes.
Referee Gary Sutton was in a good position to make the decision and give a penalty, and duties from 12 yards were left to the experienced Harewood.
The Pools’ veteran forward looked confident as he stepped up, but his spot-kick to Marriott’s left was low, and the Stags’ shot-stopper guessed correctly to palm the ball away.
Both teams had chances in an end-to-end two minutes of stoppage-time at the end of the first period, but scores were level at the interval.
Hartlepool, chasing their fifth home win in six matches, looked strong in the early moments after the re-start and opened up an advantage on 51 minutes.
Anthony Howell’s sloppy low pass was intercepted by Compton on the edge of the Stags’ area, before the hosts moved the ball around quickly to create some space.
Eventually, Compton threaded a cute low pass through towards an advancing Luke James, who with time and space available picked his spot to fire the Pools into a 2-1 lead.
The Pools were now in a commanding position and continued to knock the ball around well, and the Stags soon opted to make changes in search of a route back into the game.
Shortly before the hour mark, Sam Clucas and Lindon Meikle introduced for Dempster and Howell respectively, and Mansfield soon began to seize the initiative.
Within two minutes of his introduction, Meikle tested Flinders’ reflexes when he collected the ball on the edge of the area, and sliced a shot towards the target.
Clucas also caused Hartlepool problems from the first minute that he was on the pitch, but when he reached the by-line on 67 minutes, his cross was too powerful for everyone.
The Stags enjoyed several set-pieces throughout the match and won another, this time around 25 yards out on the inside-right channel, as Christian Burgess was booked for fouling Palmer.
Jennings took the resulting free-kick and even though he miss-hit his effort, the ball looped up and beyond Flinders’ reach, and nestled in the back of the net, to make it 2-2.
Nevertheless, the Stags’ full-back was unable to celebrate his ‘Ronaldinho-esque’ equaliser, as he lay on the ground requiring treatment, having injured himself in taking the free-kick.
With over a quarter-of-an-hour remaining, the visitors sensed blood and went all out to try and grab all three points and a valuable victory.
Hartlepool were being pushed back and Mansfield soon enjoyed three great chances in a frantic minute, which the Pools somehow managed to survive.
After Meikle cut inside and had an effort parried away by Flinders, the ball reached Palmer around 25 yards out, who looked up and saw his powerful shot crash against the crossbar.
Moments later, after the hosts could only scramble the ball a few yards away, Adam Murray gained possession and hit a half-volley from the edge of the area straight at Flinders.
Hartlepool wasted a golden chance at the other end on 76 minutes, when substitute Anthony Sweeney worked his way into the area and screwed a low shot straight at Marriott.
The momentum was with the Stags though, and Clucas tested Flinders yet again two minutes later, when he tricked his way into the area and tried his luck with a low shot.
Mansfield were on top and it wasn’t long until they reaped the rewards of their attacking endeavour to snatch a crucial third goal, which put them in control.
Lee Beevers provided the unlikely assist as he worked his way to the by-line and delivered a superb hanging cross for Rhead, who rose high and headed past Flinders, who took an eternity to go down.
The Stags’ superb night in the North-East was completed a minute into added-time when Jamie McGuire burst forward, looked up, and smashed a low shot past Flinders from 20 yards.
It was a perfect night for the team from North Nottingham, who have taken a crucial step in securing their Sky Bet League Two status for next season.