Mansfield Town’s nine-match unbeaten run in Sky Bet League Two came to an end this afternoon as Matt Taylor’s first half strike was enough for Swindon Town to record a 1-0 victory.
Stags were dominant throughout much of the encounter, particularly in a 15-minute spell in the second half, but they couldn’t find the back of the net as they slipped to defeat for the first time in 10 matches.
Both teams created chances in an end-to-end first half but Swindon struck what turned out to be the winner in the 39th minute when former Premier League winger Matt Taylor fizzed a shot past Stags’ stopper Conrad Logan after the hosts had counter-attacked well.
With his side in a rich vein of form, Mansfield manager Steve Evans went with the same side which won 3-1 at home to Barnet last time out. There were a host of strong performances in a behind-closed-doors friendly against Peterborough United during mid-week but the former Leeds United manager decided no player deserved to be dropped from the starting eleven.
Both sides had half chances early on as the game began at a high tempo. In the first minute, striker Luke Norris directed a volley over the bar for Swindon whilst at the other end, Mansfield top scorer Danny Rose saw a tame effort from 16 yards easily claimed by home ‘keeper Reice Charles-Cook.
The home support were up in arms, directing complaints toward Premier League referee Kevin Friend when Swindon captain Marc Richards went down in the area under pressure from Stags’ defender Rhys Bennett but the man in the middle waved away the protests, much to the disgruntlement of the Robins’ fans.
In the 13th minute, Swindon midfielder Ollie Banks lined up a shot from range after being given time on the edge of the box but his curling effort went just over the Mansfield bar.
A minute later and Stags could have been ahead as they had the best chance of the game so far. Powerful striker Kane Hemmings raced onto a ball into the box and his lobbed shot looked to be dipping in after beating Charles-Cook, but it agonisingly dropped the wrong side of the bar.
It was then the turn of the home support to go close to breaking the deadlock. With 20 minutes almost on the clock, Timi Elsnik found the side-netting from a good position after being picked out with a low pass by Matt Taylor.
The game was still being played at an electrifying pace and Hemmings tried his luck again for Mansfield, firing a low effort past the post before the Mansfield defence had to be at their best to deal with a period of strong, aerial pressure from the Robins.
Midfielder Will Atkinson scored his first goal in Stags’ colours last week and he nearly got a second but his flicked header at the near post, after meeting a cross from left back Mal Benning, dropped wide of the far post.
A goal looked like only a matter of time and in the 27th minute, Mansfield ‘keeper Conrad Logan was forced into a brilliant save at full stretch to tip Keshi Anderson’s shot wide for a corner.
Hemmings was looking lively for the Stags and in the 37th minute, he almost made the most of a fortuitous break but, after the ball had broken kindly for him inside the area, he stung the palms of Charles-Cook with a powerful drive from an acute angle.
When the opening goal came, it went the way of the home side. Mansfield lost possession on the edge of the Swindon box and a swift counter-attack ended in Matt Taylor drilling a low shot under Logan and into bottom corner.
Banks almost scored a spectacular second for the home side but his thunderous effort from 25 yards out found the side-netting.
Both teams were unchanged as the second half got underway with the Stags having 45 minutes to get something from the game and keep up their pressure on the top three in the Sky Bet League Two.
Logan was forced into a point-blank save in the 51st minute to deny Richards but the linesman had his flag up anyway with the Swindon frontman straying offside to meet Taylor’s whipped, low cross.
Stags’ midfielder Alex MacDonald has been in fantastic form of late and he looked to produce a bit of magic to get his side an equaliser. The former Scotland under 21 international did well to chest the ball down and bring it under his control but his powerful effort from 30 yards whistled just over the bar.
The second half had started at the frenetic pace that much of the first half had been played at. Logan was called into action in the 55th minute as Elsnik sent a shot goal bound but it was straight down the throat of the man mountain in the Stags’ goal.
Just before the hour, Mansfield made their first change of the game with manager Steve Evans using the attacking arsenal at his disposal. Cultured midfielder Joel Byrom was taken off after receiving a booking earlier in the game and he was replaced by a new addition, forward Ricky Miller who joined Hemmings and Rose in a three-pronged Stags attack.
The gaffer made another change shortly after in the 68th minute, swapping the pacey CJ Hamilton for fellow left winger Matt Penney who made his Mansfield debut in the process.
Penney, on loan from Sheffield Wednesday, almost made an immediate impact as he skipped clear down the left, but his low cross went out for a goal kick.
Minutes later, a teasing ball from the right flank found Keshi Anderson in the middle and though his header had the beating of Logan, centre half Rhys Bennett was on hand to hack the ball away off the line.
Experienced midfielder Matt Taylor had executed wonderful delivery all afternoon and it looked a dangerous situation when he stepped up to take a free-kick from a central position 30 yards out. The former Bolton man couldn’t test Logan, however, as his effort struck the Stags’ wall.
Mansfield’s final change came in the 82nd minute as they tried to find a way back into the game. Frontman Hemmings was replaced by winger Alfie Potter.
Left-back Mal Benning was almost the unlikely scorer of a Mansfield equaliser as the ball dropped to him inside the area. His effort looked goalbound however it was blocked by a Swindon defender before it could test Charles-Cook.
The Mansfield pressure continued a minute later as they went close again to drawing level. Bennett was able to keep the ball alive, heading it up in the air and it was Stags’ talisman Danny Rose who met it, producing a stunning scissor kick that went just over the target with Charles-Cook helpless.
Time was running out for the men in amber and blue and Atkinson struck a clean volley towards the goal but it hit teammate Ricky Miller and deflected to safety.
The Swindon fans were on edge as Mansfield continue to throw everything at the hosts but Swindon almost sealed it as top scorer Luke Norris ran clear but he smashed his shot over the bar.
Mansfield were awarded a last minute free-kick on the right of the area but in last chance saloon, Penney’s free-kick was over hit and went out of play without a touch.
The full time whistle blew seconds later as Mansfield tasted their first defeat of 2018, despite feeling like they should have got something from the game.
STAGS’ XI: Logan, Bennett, Benning, Pearce ©, MacDonald, Anderson, Atkinson, Hamilton (Penney 68’), Hemmings (Potter 82’), Byrom (Miller 59’), Rose
SUBS NOT USED: Olejnik (GK), Digby, Spencer, King
SWINDON XI: Charles-Cook, Purkiss, Preston, Norris, Richards ©, Elsnik, Knoyle, Banks, Anderson (Mullin 90’), Taylor, Menayese
SUBS NOT USED: Moore (GK), Robertson, Dunne, Iandolo, Woolery, Romanski
REFEREE: Kevin Friend