A stunning strike from Nathan Thomas earned Mansfield Town a well-earned 1-1 draw with SkyBet Championship new-comers MK Dons on Tuesday night.
Thomas’ spectacular effort gave the Stags the half time lead at the One Call Stadium, with Daniel Powell’s second half tap-in salvaging a draw for a full strength MK Dons side.
There was a return to the heart of the defence for summer signing Krystian Pearce after the former Torquay man took a knock in the away draw at Tamworth last week, while Craig Westcarr was chosen to partner Matt Green up top.
Free scoring MK Dons had scored a staggering 27 goals in just six pre-season matches prior to this clash, with in-form striker Simon Church getting the nod up front from manager Karl Robinson.
Sporting their brand new home kit for this first time, the Stags gave as good as they got for the opening 15 minutes with very few chances to note.
Keeping it tight at the back, a superb block from Collins thwarted Church’s advances in to the penalty area while Darren Potter's attempt at a long range strike was promptly closed down by Pearce.
At other end Matt Green was causing centre halves Kyle McFadzean and Antony Kay major issues with his strength and turn of pace. Green came within a yard of giving the hosts the lead after rounding David Martin and slotting home from close range, before turning to see the offside flag raised aloft on the far right hand side.
With both sides still struggling to grab the ascendency in this well contested affair, you’d forgive the fans for believing there was something crucial at stake with some of the rash and forceful challenges flying about across the One Call pitch.
This was highlighted by Dons defender Kay, who chopped Clements down to size on the half way line with a scything challenge just after the half-hour mark. Referee Gary Sutton brandished a yellow card to the 32-year old who was facing the Stags for the second time in just three days, after featuring for Barnsley in Bobby Hassell’s testimonial on Saturday.
With chances a few, you just knew it would take something special to break the deadlock in this game. Step forward Nathan Thomas.
After some good work out wide by Matt Green, the front man delivered a cross that was too deep for those in the middle, but not for the lurking Chris Clements who salvaged the ball at the by-line.
The Mansfield midfielder teed up Nathan Thomas, who smartly dropped his shoulder to shrug off his defender before curling a magnificent effort over the stranded goalkeeper and in to the top right corner of the net. A superb strike from the winger, with the majority of the Ian Graves Stand rising to their feet to cheer and applaud the fine effort.
With the goal coming just seconds before the half-time whistle sounded, the Dons tried to level the scoreline with the final kick of the first period.
An inch-perfect cross from Carl Baker found Daniel Powell who was striding in from the edge of the area, but he couldn’t make a good enough connection when he pounced with his effort directed in to the ground before bouncing over the cross bar.
The second half took a bit of time to get going but it was the visitors who looked the sharper. With opportunities hard to come by, Carl Baker let fly from the edge of the area with a low but powerful effort that Shearer had covered, but there was nothing the Scot could do just moments later.
A breath-taking turn of pace from Powell saw the MK Dons winger burst free of the Town defence to bear down on goal. Goalkeeper Shearer produced a fine stop to deny him with the initial strike down low to his right, but Powell was alert to the rebound – stabbing home from six-yards to level the score on the night.
Adam Murray rang the changes shortly after with Lambe, Beardsley and a trialist replacing Craig Westcarr, Matt Green and Lee Collins, before Anthony Dwyer replaced Nathan Thomas shortly after.
Robinson’s men were out for a winner, and they tried their luck through former Aston Villa academy starlet Samir Carruthers who fired a curling a strike from distance in to the hands of the unnerved Shearer.
Mal Benning, Adam Chapman and Chris Clements were the next three Stags players to depart with Jamie McGuire, Joe Fitzpatrick and Conor Green entering the fray for the final period of the match.
Like their opponents, Town too hadn’t given up the thought of nicking a winner in this too-close-to-call tie, and it was one of the few players who had started the match who was handed a golden chance to find the net.
A deflected cross fell perfectly for an unmarked Jack Thomas inside the area, but he couldn’t quite keep his composure after shanking the ball over Martin’s cross-bar.
Corbin Shires replaced the returning Pearce with a few minutes left on the clock, but after the three minutes of added time was up, referee Sutton blew his whistle to finish the match at one apiece. A superb effort from Murray’s men, with the fans left suitably delighted with their teams’ sterling effort.
Mansfield Town: Shearer, Hunt, Pearce (Shires, 87), Collins (Trialist, 65), Benning (C. Green, 75), Clements (McGuire, 75), J. Thomas, Chapman (Fitzpatrick, 75), N.Thomas (Dwyer, 69), M. Green (Lambe, 65), Westcarr (Beardsley, 65). Substitutes not used: Jensen, Fletcher, Spencer.
MK Dons: Martin, Spence (Hodson, 69), McFadzean (Walsh, 69), Kay, Lewington, Potter (Bowditch, 69), Carruthers, Baker, Reeves (Rasulo, 81), Powell, Church (Jennings, 81). Substitutes not used: Cropper, Tshimanga.