Mansfield Town broke into the Sky Bet Leagueplay-offs with a commanding 3-1 victory over Carlisle United at One Call Stadium this afternoon.
Stags went into the break in a commanding position, holding a 2-0 lead. The first goal arrived in the ninth minute, striker Kane Hemmings latching onto a loose back pass to round Carlisle goalkeeper Jack Bonham and tap in from a tight angle.
On the half hour mark, Stags doubled their lead. Defender Rhys Bennett got himself a rare goal, tapping in from a yard out after Bonham had got a weak hand to a Lee Angol effort.
Carlisle halved the deficit in the 67th minute as midfielder Jamie Devitt scored a controversial penalty after it was judged Richie Bennett was fouled by 'keeper Conrad Logan. Mansfield didn't let the visitors build too much momentum however as they scored their third in the 75th minute, Kane Hemmings securing his brace after turning in winger Alfie Potter's low cross into the area.
Only 48 hours after his side's tremendous 2-1 victory away at Wycombe Wanderers, Mansfield manager Steve Evans made three changes to his team. Conrad Logan returned in goal, replacing Bobby Olejnik. The Stags reverted to a back four with Malvind Benning coming in at left-back in place of skipper Zander Diamond who went off at Wycombe following a smash in the face.
Defenders Krystian Pearce and Rhys Bennett were chosen as the centre-half pairing, whilst Paul Anderson moved to right-back. Alfie Potter, Alex MacDonald, Jacob Mellis and CJ Hamilton made up the midfield once again whilst Kane Hemmings was partnered up top by Lee Angol, Saturday's match-winner replacing Danny Rose who was another casualty from Wycombe.
Mansfield kicked the game off and some good early pressure led to winger CJ Hamilton winning an early corner. Fellow wideman Alfie Potter delivered the ball in and Lee Angol, fresh from scoring the winner on Saturday, saw a looped header saved by Jack Bonham in the Carlisle goal.
Good inter-play on the edge of the Carlisle area almost led to an opening for Mansfield but Potter was unable to get his shot away and the visitors conceded another corner. This time the delivery found midfielder Alex MacDonald in a central position but his header was wide of the upright.
MacDonald had another sight of goal two minutes later but after driving into space, his long range, curling effort was easily held by Bonham.
Carlisle's first chance arrived in the seventh minute and they almost took the lead. A ball to the back post found Tom Miller ghosting in and his first-time half-volley fizzed wide of the target.
They were punished for not taking that opportunity as Mansfield took a ninth minute lead thanks to a late Christmas present from Carlisle captain Danny Grainger. His nonchalant back-pass sold Bonham short and striker Kane Hemmings was able to nip in and round the 'keeper before slotting into the empty net.
Carlisle were still in the game and they almost drew level in the 15th minute. The ball dropped to Shaun Miller in the area and his smashed effort from a central position was blocked on its way to goal.
In the 20th minute, CJ Hamilton used his pace to race clear of the Carlisle defence and his ball across goal looked to have found Hemmings but Bonham did well to race off his line and smother the chance.
Striker Sam Cosgrove was looking a threat for Carlisle and he almost latched onto a loose ball inside the area but great work by Benning saw the Mansfield man get in and poke the ball away.
Carlisle midfielder Mike Jones sent an optimistic effort towards goal in the 27th minute but it never troubled Mansfield 'keeper Conrad Logan as he watched the ball wide.
A Stags' counter-attack led to Potter seeing a shot blocked from the edge of the area and make-shift right-back Paul Anderson picked up the loose ball and sent it to the far post, but his whipped cross was just out of reach for Hamilton.
With half-an-hour gone, the game was still in the balance but Mansfield managed to take a firm grip on proceedings as they doubled their lead. Good work down the left saw Angol flick an effort towards goal and though Bonham managed to get a hand to it, the ball dropped to centre-back Rhys Bennett a yard out and he made no mistake as he side-footed home.
The Stags were now in control and they almost got a third in the 33rd minute. MacDonald's whipped cross found Angol but the former Peterborough United man saw his header go just wide of the post.
Mansfield were continuing to look the more likely and in the 41st minute, Hemmings headed just over the bar after meeting Potter's cross.
A clash between artful midfielder Jacob Mellis and former Stag Reggie Lambe caused some handbags late into the first half but referee Darren Drysdale didn't feel the need to go into his pocket, instead just giving Mellis a talking to.
Lambe looked motivated against his old side and he had the first chance of the second half, brilliantly bringing the ball down before seeing a shot from outside the box easily held by Logan.
Mansfield were looking for the goal which would kill the game off but they were denied twice in quick succession, Benning and Mellis both overlapping into the area before seeing passes hacked away with Hemmings and Angol lurking on both occasions.
On the hour mark, Tom Miller wasted a good opportunity for the visitors, heading over at the back post when he was found unmarked.
A brilliant counter-attack by Mansfield saw Hamilton race into the Carlisle area, but with Hemmings waiting, the former Sheffield United man decided to have a shot and it was saved by Bonham.
In the 66th minute, the game sparked back into life as Carlisle were awarded a penalty. Half-time substitute Richie Bennett ran into the area and went down under a challenge from Logan with the former Hibernian 'keeper and the Mansfield bench furious, claiming the Carlisle substitute had dived. Jamie Devitt stepped up and from 12 yards he dispatched the spot kick, firing into the bottom corner, beyond the reach of Logan.
Mansfield were looking to reinstate their two-goal lead and a good one-two between Angol and Mellis 30 yards from goal ended with the latter firing a rasping drive over the bar.
Momentum was now with Carlisle and they should have drawn level. A cross in was headed against the post by Sam Cosgrove and when the ball rebounded into the path of Richie Bennett, he somehow diverted the ball against the bar when it was easier to score from a matter of yards.
Missing that chance came back to haunt the Cumbrians as Mansfield scored a third to give themselves a two-goal cushion. Impressive winger Alfie Potter drove at the Carlisle defence and he rolled a pass into the six-yard box where Kane Hemmings was waiting to flick in his second.
After scoring the third, Mansfield had to be at their best to clear a dangerous loose ball after good work by Hallam Hope before Jamie Devitt cut inside from the left and fired a shot straight down the throat of Logan.
Hemmings was denied his hat-trick in the 86th minute when Bonham got down well to parry away his low effort after the Oxford United loanee had done well to wriggle free inside the area.
Mansfield's Hayden White and Carlisle's Richie Bennett were both booked in the final minute of normal time after an altercation off the ball.
Mansfield-born Carlisle defender Tom Parkes tried to spark a miraculous late comeback for Carlisle with a long range free-kick, but smashed the effort into the Mansfield wall.
Stags' 2018 began with a victory as they extended their excellent run to just one defeat in 18 matches in all competitions, moving to within a point of the automatic promotion places.
STAGS' XI: Logan (GK), Bennett, Benning, Pearce ©, MacDonald, Mellis (Atkinson 83'), Angol (Thomas 88'), Anderson, Potter (White 79'), Hamilton, Hemmings
SUBS NOT USED: Olejnik (GK), Digby, Sterling-James, Butcher
CARLISLE UNITED XI: Bonham (GK), T.Miller, Grainger © (Hope 45'), Liddle, Parkes, Jones, Devitt, Cosgrove, Lambe (O'Sullivan 80'), S.Miller (Bennett 45'), Hill
SUBS NOT USED: Bacon (GK), Nabi, Ellis, Brown
ATTENDANCE: 3,632 (320 away)
REFEREE: Darren Drysdale