Mansfield Town bowed out of the Emirates FA Cup at the third round stage this evening with a 4-1 defeat to Cardiff City in their replay at One Call Stadium, despite making their Championship opponents sweat with a brilliant first half performance.
The two teams went into half time level after an action-packed minute saw both teams find the net. Against the run of play, Cardiff took the lead in the 34th minute when powerful defender Bruno Ecuele Manga converted from close range after a well worked corner. The Bluebirds could only hold on to their lead for a minute, however, as right-back Hayden White's ball into the area eventually made its way to striker Danny Rose who made no mistake, calmly slotting past Bluebirds' 'keeper Neil Etheridge for his 13th goal of the season.
Stags couldn't replicate their level of performance from the first period and as the second half wore on, Cardiff started to show their Championship quality. They retook the lead in the 66th minute when wideman Junior Hoilett turned the ball into the back of the net from close range after good work by right midfielder Callum Paterson. A third goal followed four minutes later as, after more impressive play by Paterson, forward Anthony Pilkington fired past Stags' 'keeper Conrad Logan from inside the area. Cardiff's fourth arrived in the 88th minute, Hoilett grabbing his second with a drilled shot from 25 yards.
After a 0-0 draw away at Cambridge United on Saturday, Stags' manager Steve Evans made two changes to his line-up. Right-back Hayden White came in for Alfie Potter, with Paul Anderson moving forward to the right side of the midfield. Influential midfielder Joel Byrom made his long awaited return from injury, taking up a central midfield berth alongside Jacob Mellis with Alex MacDonald moving to a more advanced position whilst striker Lee Angol missed out. Club captain Zander Diamond was given a place on the bench after he also returned from a spell on the sidelines.
Mansfield had to survive some early pressure by Cardiff but despite the Bluebirds having a lot of the ball, they failed to test Stags' stopper Conrad Logan in the opening five minutes of the contest.
The Stags almost created an opening in the 10th minute with midfielder Alex MacDonald seeing his through ball for striker Danny Rose intercepted by a Cardiff defender at the crucial moment.
When the first shot of the game arrived, it went to Mansfield. Good work by MacDonald and cultured midfielder Joel Byrom ended in the latter firing a shot down the throat of Cardiff 'keeper Neil Etheridge.
Flying winger CJ Hamllton had started brightly for Mansfield and he was next to try his luck but his timid effort in the 11th minute never really tested Etheridge.
Cardiff finally got into the Mansfield box in the 15th minute. A hopeful ball forward put Kenneth Zohore in space but with the Mansfield's defence appealing for offside, man mountain Conrad Logan was off his line quicklu to smother the chance.
Junior Hoilett, who played in the Premier League for Blackburn Rovers and Queen Park Rangers, showed his quality minutes later as he cut inside from the left-hand side and curled an effort towards the far post which forced Logan into a superb save at full stretch.
Hoilett was involved again in the 25th minute as he went into the referee's book for a wild and late challenge on Alex MacDonald 25 yards out. As MacDonald lined up a shot, Hoilett flew into him from behind with both feet, but only received a yellow card for the challenge.
Byrom and MacDonald stood over the resulting free-kick and they slipped the ball across to unmarked left-back Mal Benning who fired, first time, over the bar from just inside the area.
Mansfield were enjoying the better of the chances and were giving the packed One Call Stadium crowd belief that they could cause an upset. On the half hour mark, midfielder Jacob Mellis delivered a low ball into the area and after Hamilton failed to get the ball out of his feet, top scorer Danny Rose saw a shot deflect wide.
Despite being the better of the two sides, Mansfield fell behind in the 34th minute. A corner from the right was headed back across goal and from close range, Bruno Ecuele Manga was able to tap home with the Mansfield bench seeing their appeals for a foul in the build up fall on deaf ears.
Cardiff's lead lasted only a matter of seconds, however, as Mansfield hit back straight away. With the travelling fans still celebrating the opener, Danny Rose turned the ball home from inside the area after Cardiff had failed to properly deal with a ball into the box from Hayden White.
With the fourth official indicating an additional two minutes at the end of the first half, Mansfield almost went into the break ahead. Wideman Paul Anderson saw a shot from the edge of the box blocked by a Cardiff player before Stags' defender Rhys Bennett's header from deep inside the Cardiff area was claimed by Etheridge.
The winner of the tie would go on to face Premier League leaders Manchester City in the next round. City manager Pep Guardiola was in attendance at One Call Stadium and he would have no doubt been impressed with Mansfield's work rate and quality in the opening 45 minutes.
A Cardiff counter-attack early in the second period ended in midfielder Joe Ralls trying his luck but his effort hit Pearce en route to goal.
Mansfield's first chance of the second half arrived in the 55th minute. Hamilton did well to beat his man and cut inside and after he teed up artful midfielder Jacob Mellis, the former Chelsea youngster saw a low, fizzed drive held by Etheridge.
A corner by Cardiff caused a moment of panic in the Mansfield box but former Hibernian 'keeper Logan did well to tip a backwards header onto the roof of the net to keep the teams level.
As the hour mark ticked by, the game was still very much in the balance with Mansfield continuing to go toe-to-toe with their higher level opposition. Cardiff kept breaking the game up with intermittent fouling to try and disrupt the Stags' attacks and as a result, referee Geoff Eltringham was forced to produce his yellow card on numerous occasions.
Cardiff then began enjoying their best spell of the game and Mansfield breathed a huge sigh of relief in the 65th minute as a whipped ball across the face of goal by Callum Paterson was poked inches wide of his own goal by Stags' captain Krystian Pearce.
Cardiff's pressure eventually paid off as they retook the lead in the 66th minute. Paterson once again got down the right and this time Hoilett managed to get on the end of it to slide the ball into the back of the net from just a few yards out.
Mansfield's hopes of progressing suffered a cruel blow as Cardiff added another in the 70th minute. Another ball from the right cut open the Stags' defence and from around 10 yards out, Anthony Pilkington was able to slam the ball home.
The Stags needed a small miracle and were relying on the magic of the FA Cup to keep their dream alive. In an attempt to cut the deficit, Mansfield manager Steve Evans brought on striker Lee Angol in the 74th minute, with Joel Byrom making way after an impressive return to action before winger Alfie Potter replaced Paul Anderson in a like-for-like change out wide
Cardiff added a cruel fourth in the 88th minute to make the score line harsh on the Stags. The ball dropped kindly to Hoilett on the edge of the area and his first time effort was arrowed into the bottom corner past Logan.
Though Mansfield bowed out of the competition, their heroic effort was rewarded by a standing ovation from all in attendance as focus moves to Cheltenham's visit to One Call Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
STAGS' XI: Logan, Bennett, Benning, Pearce ©, MacDonald, Mellis, Anderson (Potter 78'), White, Hamilton, Byrom (Angol 74'), Rose
SUBS NOT USED: Olejnik, Digby, Diamond, Atkinson, Spencer
CARDIFF CITY XI: Etheridge, Bennett, Morrison ©, Ecuele Manga, Richards, Ralls (Halford 74'), Zohore (Bogle 85'), Plikington, Paterson, Damour, Hoilett (Healey 90')
SUBS NOT USED: Murphy, Tomlin, Feeney, Mendez-Laing
ATTENDANCE: 5,746 (514 away)
REFEREE: Geoff Eltringham