Report: Stags 2-1 Newport
Mansfield Town re-boosted their play-off aspirations after coming from behind to beat relegation-haunted Newport County 2-1 at One Call Stadium.
Ryan Bird had put the visitors ahead with a scrappy goal, but Krystian Pearce restored parity on 17 minutes as both sides headed in level at the break.
And after Newport had a man sent off mid-way inside the second half, things went from bad to worse for the South Wales outfit when they conceded a spot kick, which Shaq Coulthirst converted – his third penalty in Mansfield colours.
Stags enjoyed the lion’s share of possession in the first half, but lacked the killer bite in attack which had seen them score richly in previous matches. At the other end, they looked vulnerable to Newport’s counter attacks.
But the home side began sprightly in the second half and ensured that goalscoring opportunities became scarcer for the visitors. And when Newport’s Jaanai Gordon was shown two yellow cards inside as many minutes, County’s task of acquiring much-needed points became greater.
Stags then turned the screw and tightened up defensively, not allowing a dogged Newport a way back into the contest.
Steve Evans’ Mansfield have now been beaten only once in 11 league games, while Newport are in a perilous position, propping up the rest of the English Football League.
Frontman Pat Hoban and midfield tiger Jamie McGuire were handed their first league starts of 2017, while Joel Byrom also returned to the midfield.
Lee Collins was moved from his usual defensive midfield role to right full-back, plugging the gap left by the suspension of Hayden White.
CJ Hamilton was the Stags’ fourth change, with the wing-man starting on the left of a midfield three.
And it was Hamilton who forced Stags’ first corner just 40 seconds after the kick-off, but Newport effectively dealt with the three subsequent crosses into their box.
But Stags were behind as Newport broke the deadlock with their first charge at goal in the fifth minute.
Mansfield were unable to deal with a low cross from the left and as Newport prodded it towards goal Kean couldn’t hang on to it, leaving Ryan Bird to apply the finish from three yards.
Hamilton darted down the left flank two minutes later in a bid for a quick reply, but his low shot was comfortably claimed by Joe Day, the Newport ‘keeper, at his near post.
Newport midfielder Mitchell Rose, on his return to One Call Stadium, was shown a yellow card for a rash challenge on Joel Byrom in front of the dugouts.
On 13, Rhys Bennett should have done better from eight yards out. Stags probed on the right, with Lee Collins hooking it into a packed penalty area. And as it came out to Ben Whiteman the midfielder nodded further towards goal, but a header from a rising Bennett did little to trouble Day.
Bennett came to the rescue at the other end, however.
Stags were flat footed from a free-kick of their own and sloppily conceded possession near the half-way line. And at the conclusion of a Newport break, Bird slammed goalwards, but Bennett got his body in the way to divert it behind for a corner.
But Stags were level on 17 minutes. Joel Byrom launched a long free-kick into the area and defender Krystian Pearce ghosted beyond the visiting defence to deftly direct it low between the ‘keeper’s legs and over the goal line.
Jamie McGuire raised the eyebrows of the crowd with a sweetly struck 30-yard volley, but Day rose to claim from underneath the crossbar.
Newport had Day to thank again mid-way through the first half.
Coulthirst turned wonderfully midway inside the visiting half to place it into the path of the onrushing Hoban, but Day raced out to thwart the striker’s shot.
Hoban tried his luck with an instantaneous follow up, and despite Day being exposed following the save, Mickey Demetriou was on the goal line to prevent Hoban from getting on the scoresheet.
Whiteman rifled a 22-yard attempt into the North Stand following a Stags’ corner in the 28th minute.
Stags almost paid for a mix-up at the back on the half-hour mark.
As the ball came over Rhys Bennett from midfield, it appeared the defender left it for goalkeeper Kean to smash clear, but the duo got in a pickle, clattering into each other, along with Newport’s Mitchell Rose.
With Kean in agonising pain on the floor, the attempted clearance almost fell into the shooting line of Ryan Bird, who stabbed it forward, but Benning was there to prevent any further danger.
With 34 on the watch, Benning was well placed near the corner flag to sweep an inviting cross into the Newport box. But Bennett’s header was saved by Day to his left.
As a result of the earlier collision, Kean couldn’t continue in the Stags goal and was replaced in the 39th minute by substitute goalkeeper Scott Shearer.
And the Scottish shot-stopper was called upon just moments after taking his place.
Alex Samuel sprinted on the right to deliver into the goal area and Shearer had to push away to the far side to prevent a Newport opening.
With two minutes remaining of the first half, Stags were let off the hook when Bird missed the target from 16 yards, after Stags failed to deal with a left-flank cross.
As the game entered time-added-on at the end of the first half, Stags’ striker Shaq Coulthirst wriggled his way into the goal area, but couldn’t prod it beyond Day.
Three minutes after the restart, Stags appeared determined to take the lead and almost converted through CJ Hamilton.
Collins laid it for Whiteman on the edge of the box and the midfielder floated it to the far side of the goal area, but Hamilton’s header cannoned off the ground and went wide.
Hamilton then turned provider on 52, with a low assist from the goal line.
Whiteman, the recipient, struck goalwards from 14 yards and the shot took a minor deflection to take the sting out of the effort as it rolled into Day’s grasp.
Newport were then down to ten men as Jaanai Gordon saw red mist and was given his marching orders in the 67th minute.
Gordon was dismissed after being shown two yellow cards inside as many minutes: the first, for a challenge on Jamie McGuire which was followed by a foul on fellow midfielder Joel Byrom. Ironically, moments before the first yellow was brandished, Gordon was set to be subbed.
In the 73rd minute, Jamie McGuire made way for Alex MacDonald.
Then came the drama which saw Stags ultimately bag the points. Referee Ross Joyce awarded the Stags a spot kick a minute after the Stags' substitution, which led to Mansfield taking the upper hand for the first time in the contest.
Following play on the left, Coulthirst blasted goalwards from 15 yards and Craig Reid raised his hands to block the shot. After taking a moment to make the decision, referee Ross Joyce pointed to the spot.
And Coulthirst stepped up to blast it right of centre, with Day getting a hand to it, but not enough from stopping it from going over the line.
Stags kept control of the affair, keeping possession but neither seriously penetrating or allowing Newport a way through at the other end.
In the 88th minute, Yoann Arquin replaced Pat Hoban in attack.
There was a nervy moment for the Stags in stoppage time, when Shearer had to push away a right-flank cross.
And if that wasn't enough to start the heart fluttering, Bird lofted it onto the roof of the net with almost the last kick of the game when he got beyond the Stags' defence.
And despite Stags being far from their best, three precious points were claimed.
STAGS: Kean (Shearer 39), Collins, Pearce, Bennett, Benning, McGuire (MacDonald 73), Whiteman, Byrom, Hamilton, Coulthirst, Hoban (Arquin 88)
UNUSED SUBS: Potter, Baxendale, Hemmings, Green
NEWPORT: Day, Jones, O’Brien, Demetriou, Butler, Samuel, Flynn (Bignot 27, Sheehan 70)), Reid (Jackson 85), Rose, Bird, Gordon
UNUSED SUBS: Bittner, Bennett, Owen-Evans, Williams
REFEREE: Ross Joyce
ATTENDANCE: 3,824 (158 Newport fans)