Chris Clements’ stunning free-kick earned Mansfield Town a 1-1 draw with AFC Wimbledon after Tom Elliott opened the scoring inside six minutes.
The Mansfield midfielder curled a delicious 25-yard free-kick in to the back of the net to level the scores after Tom Elliott’s sixth minute strike, as the visitors ended the game with 10 men as Lyle Taylor was sent off in added time.
After Stags' manager Adam Murray experimented with his side for Tuesday night’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy defeat at Notts County, the Stags’ boss reverted to the same starting XI that starred in the 2-1 win over York City last Saturday. Matt Green once again led the line up front after being rested for the game at Meadow Lane, while Chris Clements returned to partner Mitch Rose and Adam Chapman in the heart of the midfield. Defenders Ryan Tafazolli and Nicky Hunt returned in place of Lee Collins and Liam Marsden while winger Reggie Lambe was also brought back into the side for Craig Westcarr.
Despite starting brightly, it was the visitors who snatched the opening goal with virtually the first noteworthy chance of the match. With less than six minutes on the clock, a long ball from Dons’ goalkeeper James Shea found its way in to the feet of George Francomb, with the former Norwich City midfielder threading the ball through the back-line to the onside Tom Elliott.
The Wimbledon striker made no mistake from just inside the area; leathering the ball low past the outstretched arm of Brian Jensen and in to the back of the net.
The Stags were struggling to deal with their opponents’ lively forward play, with the goal scorer Elliott bringing the ball down on his chest before volleying towards the near post, but this time it failed to trouble the Danish stopper.
With the hosts needing some respite, Mansfield found the perfect tonic for relieving pressure, notching an all-important equaliser to level the scores. After some neat play on the edge of the area, Reggie Lambe found himself unfairly blocked off by Wimbledon’s Paul Robinson, with the ex-Millwall defender being cautioned for the offence.
Having scored a free-kick on the opening day against Carlisle, Mal Benning was expected to step up to take set-piece with the distance being well within his shooting range. Instead, it was Chris Clements who shuffled up to the ball before bending a perfectly weighted strike over the wall and past the despairing Shea, nestling it precisely into the bottom right-hand corner of the net.
The 25 year old took his tally to two goals for the season with his peach of a free-kick, eclipsing his solitary strike during the 2013/14 campaign at Newport last August.
The home side were well and truly back in the match after the goal in the 15th minute, but the London-club could have been back in front just past the half-hour mark.
Winger Sean Rigg latched on to a loose ball around the edge of the penalty area, before whipping in a cross in the direction of Elliott. The striker got a good connection with the ball, but his headed effort whistled marginally past the post. The chanced marked the last consistent spell of possession in the first half for the Dons, as Mansfield dominated the rest of the period.
Despite all of their possession, the hosts couldn’t put their southern visitors to the sword as the game went in to half-time all square, with Krystian Pearce seeing his volley cleared off the line after some pinball in the area, before Craig Westcarr bent his effort in to the arms of the Dons’ ‘keeper James Shea.
The second-half kicked off in frantic fashion as both teams came roaring out the traps, but a moment of madness in front of the Quarry Lane End almost resulted in a breakthrough just six minutes after the re-start.
James Shea came flying out to close down Matt Green after the Mansfield no.10 smartly controlled the long ball over the top, but with his back to goal he couldn’t wriggle free. Delaying pulling the trigger with the ‘keeper in no-man’s land, Green finally found assistance through the on-rushing Lambe, but the Bermudan’s goal-bound effort was cleared off the line by a last-ditch Paul Robinson header.
In retaliation, Sean Rigg had the Stags defence back-peddling as he dribbled his way towards the edge of the area; shooting powerfully along the floor, but his daisy-cutter strike was superbly saved by an oustretched leg of Brian Jensen.
Having being almost caught out a few minutes earlier, James Shea was again left completely red-faced. When Westcarr struck a shot from a tight angle it looked fairly innocuous for the Wimbledon shot-stopper, but the 24 year old spilled the ball as he went to catch it. Fortunately for him, it went the other side of the post and out for a corner.
A battle that was highly anticipated before kick-off finally came to fruition as the second-half wore on after Ryan Tafazolli’s short back pass allowed Akinfenwa to race in on goal. The commanding striker came toe-to-toe with the Scandinavian giant Jensen between the posts, with the latter coming out on top as he smothered the ball at the Wimbledon man’s feet.
Adam Murray looked to his bench mid-way though the half as he looked to mastermind a winning goal in this tight affair. On came Nathan Thomas, Jack Thomas and Chris Beardsley in place of Reggie Lambe, Mitch Rose and Craig Westcarr, but neither side could make the breakthrough.
With time almost up, the Dons went down to ten men. In the corner of the Ian Greaves Stand, Lyle Taylor was shown a straight red card for seemingly striking Nicky Hunt across the face. The striker was stunned, but the drama wasn’t over as Clements got the opportunity to repeat his first half heroics with a free-kick on the edge of the area.
With the last kick of the game, he curled one successfully over the wall, but this time it dropped just wide of the post as referee Ross Joyce blew his whistle to bring to an end the action-packed League Two fixture.
Mansfield Town: Jensen, Hunt, Tafazolli, Pearce, Benning, Rose (J. Thomas, 85), Chapman, Clements, Lambe (N. Thomas, 65), Westcarr (Beardsley, 75), M. Green.
Substitutes not used: Marsden, Collins, McGuire, Yussuf.
AFC Wimbledon: Shea, Fuller, Robinson, Osborne (Nightingale, 30), Meades, Bulman, Reeves, Francomb, Rigg, Elliott (Taylor, 69), Akinfenwa (Azeez, 75).
Substitutes not used: McDonnell, Kaja, Fitzpatrick, Gallagher.
ATTENDANCE: 3,042 (208 away).