Mansfield Town's seven-match unbeaten run came to an end with a 2-0 defeat away to Crawley Town this afternoon.
It was a close and somewhat uneventful opening half with the only real chance falling for Mansfield in the third minute. Winger CJ Hamilton managed to round Crawley 'keeper Glenn Morris after being found by striker Jimmy Spencer but the pacey winger saw his effort cleared off the line.
In the second half, two Crawley substitutes made the difference to ensure the three points stayed in West Sussex. Defender Joe McNerney was introduced at the break and in the 63rd minute, he headed home forward Jordan Roberts' cross from close range to give the home side the lead.
The score remained at 1-0 until the final minute of the 90 when Ibrahim Meite, another second half introduction, raced clear of the Stags' defence before rounding goalkeeper Conrad Logan and finding the empty net.
On his return to former club Crawley, Mansfield manager Steve Evans opted for the exact side which defeated Guiseley 3-0 in the Emirates FA Cup last weekend, making nine changes from the midweek penalty loss away at Blackpool.
The Stags fielded the back five that had been so solid of late, 'keeper Conrad Logan operating behind Hayden White, Rhys Bennett, Zander Diamond and Johnny Hunt. Will Atkinson retained his place from Wednesday night with Alex MacDonald alongside him in central midfield. On the flanks, Paul Anderson and CJ Hamilton both returned. Last Sunday's hat-trick hero Jimmy Spencer started his third game in a week, partnering top scorer Danny Rose up front.
It was the Stags who had the game's first chance and they should have opened the scoring in the third minute. Striker Jimmy Spencer held the ball up well and slipped it to winger CJ Hamilton who used his pace to round Crawley 'keeper Glen Morris but Hamilton's effort was too tame and defender Josh Yorwerth was able to clear it off the line.
Mansfield flew out of the blocks and continued to put the home defence under some strong early pressure. In the sixth minute, striker Danny Rose did well to flick on a corner but Crawley hacked the ball away with Stags' defenders Rhys Bennett and Zander Diamond lurking.
Crawley managed to stem the tide and the team led by former Leeds and Liverpool star Harry Kewell were getting their foot on the ball but failing to ask any questions of Mansfield 'keeper Conrad Logan.
Their first sighting of goal fell to Jordan Roberts who found space on the edge of the Mansfield area but Crawley's top scorer failed to keep his shot down, blasting an effort over the bar.
The home support were then protesting for a penalty in the 20th minute when Mark Randall went down inside the Mansfield area but referee Gavin Ward was having none of it, signalling for the former Arsenal youngster to get back to his feet after Will Atkinson had made a challenge in the box.
Mansfield then had their own penalty appeal when Hayden White appeared to be clipped just inside the Crawley box but again, the officials saw nothing untoward and waved play on, with White not appealing for anything.
Roberts was still trying to find his range for the home side and in the 27th minute, he dragged a low shot well wide of the target.
Just after the half hour, November Player of the Month nominee and Mansfield club captain Zander Diamond got up to direct MacDonald's throw in to the far post but with Rose challenging for it, Crawley managed to survive the scare.
Inside the 33rd minute, winger Mark Randall smashed a shot over the bar and out the ground before Jordan Roberts fired another effort over the bar minutes later.
With the break approaching, Crawley 'keeper Morris had to be at his best to claim a cross from Mansfield winger Paul Anderson with Rose challenging at the far post.
After a subdued display in the first period, the two sides emerged for the second half and the Reds replaced Mark Connolly with Joe McNerney.
Crawley midfielder Josh Payne had two early efforts on goal, first seeing an optimistic shot blocked before firing a free-kick from 30 yards over the bar.
It was Payne who had the Red Devils' next chance too, as the hosts went their closest to taking the lead. In the 54th minute, Randall played a low set piece into the box from the right and Payne latched onto it but fired the ball just over the bar.
Mansfield responded at the other end when Hamilton went close to meeting Rose's cross from the right but he failed to make contact with the ball at the far post.
Stags made their first change of the match on the hour mark, former Peterborough man Lee Angol replacing Jimmy Spencer.
Despite the change, it was the home side that scored first to take the lead. A Crawley corner was only cleared to Roberts and his brilliant delivery found Joe McNerney inside the six-yard box with the defender able to flick a header into the corner of the net, leaving Logan with no chance.
The second Mansfield substitution arrived in the 69th minute with midfielder Calum Butcher being introduced for Hamilton and Alex MacDonald shifting to the left flank.
Payne was influencing things in the middle of the park for Crawley and with just over 15 minutes to go, he drove at the Mansfield defence but fired over from distance.
Stags needed a big performance in the final stages of the game to keep their seven league game unbeaten run going. MacDonald tried to spark their comeback into life but hit a 22-yard effort straight at Morris.
Manager Steve Evans switched his side's formation in a bid to get back into proceedings, defender Krystian Pearce replacing Johnny Hunt to form a back three with MacDonald dropping to left wing back.
With ten minutes to go, Mansfield saw appeals for a handball in the Crawley area turned down before Pearce saw a drilled effort from a tight angle blocked by a home defender.
In the 87th minute, Payne stung the palms of Logan and the hosts then nearly hit the Stags on the counter-attack but a brilliant interception by Pearce kept the deficit to just the solitary goal.
Mansfield were struggling to break through a physical and solid Crawley back line and the game was put to bed in the final minute of normal time.
Striker Ibrahim Meite, who was only just on as a substitute, broke clear as Stags threw bodies forward in an attempt to force an equaliser, and he rounded Logan before slotting home, despite Pearce's best attempts to get back.
The Stags did then have the ball in the back of the net as a MacDonald free-kick found its way in but the referee blew early for a foul in the area, meaning Crawley's lead remained at two.
That was how it finished with Mansfield's unbeaten run coming to an end ahead of back-to-back home games before Christmas.
STAGS' XI: Logan, White, Hunt (Pearce 75'), Bennett, Diamond ©, MacDonald, Atkinson, Anderson, Hamilton (Butcher 69'), Spencer (Angol 60'), Rose
SUBS NOT USED: Olejnik (GK), Digby, Mellis, Sterling-James
CRAWLEY TOWN XI: Morris, Connolly (McNerney 45'), Yorwerth, Lelan, Evina, Smith ©, Payne, Young, Randall (Bulman 90'), Roberts, Boldewijn (Meite 88')
SUBS NOT USED: Mersin (GK), Lewis, Doherty, Verheydt
ATTENDANCE: 1,791 (229 away)
REFEREE: Gavin Ward