An incredible afternoon of twists and turns at One Call Stadium ended with an injury time winner from wideman CJ Hamilton as Mansfield Town retained their place in the Sky Bet League Two play-offs with a 3-2 victory over Cheltenham Town.
On a cold January afternoon, it was a red hot game inside One Call Stadium during an match which had everything.
A fairly eventful first period ended 1-1 with both sides giving it everything. Cheltenham took the lead in the 24th minute when midfielder Harry Pell beat Stags' 'keeper Conrad Logan from the penalty spot after right-back Hayden White had tripped Mohamed Eisa in the area.
The Robins' lead lasted for ten minutes, however, as in the 34th minute, winger CJ Hamilton tapped in at the back post after fellow wide man Alfie Potter had done well down the right. More drama was to come as in the 40th minute, Cheltenham's Taylor Moore was shown a straight red card for an elbow on Mansfield's Danny Rose. Robins' manager, Gary Johnson, was then also dismissed by referee Darren Handley after an altercation with Stags' assistant boss Paul Raynor.
The drama increased in the second half as it provided two more red cards and three more goals. With Mansfield in the driving seat, Hayden White was shown a straight red card for a challenge on Ilias Chatzitheodoridis. That gave Cheltenham encouragement and the Robins scored next to go back in front, Elijah Adebayo beating Logan at the near post after being found by Danny Wright.
After it was announced earlier this week that he'd be remaining at One Call Stadium for the rest of the season, striker Kane Hemmings came off the bench to score a close range equaliser in the 81st minute before referee Darren Handley was forced to produce his red card once again when he dismissed Danny Wright for swinging an arm at Alfie Potter.
By this point, there had been enough drama for two games but deep into stoppage time, CJ Hamilton scored his second of the afternoon to secure a fantastic win for the Stags as they cemented their place in the play-off places.
After an Emirates FA Cup defeat at the hands of Cardiff City in mid-week, Mansfield manager Steve Evans made one change to his starting eleven as wide man Alfie Potter returned to the right flank with Paul Anderson dropping to the bench. Club captain Zander Diamond was amongst one of the substitutes once again as he awaits his return from injury and he was joined by Kane Hemmings, the on-loan Oxford United forward fit again after a hamstring injury.
Cheltenham got the game underway and they had the first chance of the game. Striker Brian Graham picked up the ball just outside the Mansfield box but his shot was never troubling Stags' 'keeper Conrad Logan who watched it wide of his post.
The visitors looked to break in the fifth minute but after he had initially done well to drive forward, Cheltenham's Joe Morrell was booked for simulation after jumping over the leg of Stags' midfielder Joel Byrom.
Cheltenham were certainly looking dangerous on the counter-attack and Ilias Chatzitheodoridis, making his debut for the club, was just unable to keep the ball in after latching onto a pass inside the Mansfield area.
Mansfield hadn't really tested Cheltenham 'keeper Scott Flinders in the opening quarter of an hour. The closest they came was a half chance for flying winger CJ Hamilton who saw an effort cannon out off a Cheltenham body after he had been released by a ball forward from midfielder Alex MacDonald.
They next went close in the 20th minute when right-back Hayden White found time and space from 25 yards out to unleash an effort on goal but the well-struck shot flew over the bar.
Despite being on top in the opening stages, Cheltenham took the lead from the spot in the 24th minute. Robins' striker Mohamed Eisa went down in the box under a challenge from White and referee Darren Handley had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Harry Pell stepped up and dispatched the ball past Logan from 12 yards.
The Stags were forced into a change on 29 minutes after classy midfielder Jacob Mellis suffered an injury that ended his afternoon. Striker Lee Angol was brought on in his place with Mansfield reverting to a 4-4-2.
Angol's first involvement was to create an opportunity for his side. Left-back Mal Benning did well to skip past two Cheltenham men and Angol diverted his pass into the path of top scorer Danny Rose but the former Barnsley man saw his chance blocked.
Cheltenham were not playing like a side who had won just one of their last five league games and skipper Carl Winchester hit a dipping volley in the 33rd minute which had all the power but none of the accuracy needed to test Logan as it went wide of the upright.
Mansfield came close to equalising moments later as MacDonald found room down the right of the Cheltenham box. His pass found Rose in a central position but the striker was just unable to turn and fire a shot towards goal.
The Stags did get their equaliser a minute later, however, and again it came from good work down the right-hand side. This time it was Potter who got clear and his fizzed pass to the far post was slotted into the back of the net by CJ Hamilton.
Hamilton then almost turned provider as the Stags started to pile on the pressure. After receiving a pass ten yards out, the former Sheffield United wideman headed to the byline before seeing a low cross just miss the Mansfield bodies waiting to convert.
After seeing their lead slip, the Robins almost went ahead for a second time. Right wing-back Kevin Dawson did well before pulling the ball back for Graham but, on the stretch, the Cheltenham man could only direct the ball wide.
Despite a strong start by the visitors, the momentum swung the way of Mansfield just before the break as Cheltenham were reduced to ten men.
Defender Taylor Moore was shown a straight red card after raising an elbow to the head of Danny Rose when challenging the Mansfield man for the ball.
The fall out from the sending off then spilt over to both dug outs and after an altercation between both benches, Cheltenham manager Gary Johnson was also given his marching orders.
Following the late controversy, there was then a lengthy stoppage for an injury to Eisa. The Robins' top scorer was unable to continue and was replaced by Elijah Adebayo, with Eisa departing on a stretcher.
Mansfield had the first sight of goal in the second half as they looked to go ahead. Alex MacDonald, who has impressed of late in his new, more central position, struck an effort from 20 yards out which was comfortably dealt with by Flinders.
The impressive MacDonald was involved again in the 50th minute as a brilliant ball forward by the former Oxford United man put Hamilton clear. He looked to find Angol in the middle but his pass was intercepted well by Emmanuel Onariase.
The former Scotland under 21 international was starting to pull the strings and his deep ball towards the back post in the 53rd minute found Angol waiting but the former Peterborough United man saw his strong header held well by Flinders.
As the game reached the hour mark, the Mansfield faithful were very vocal about what they perceived to be time wasting from the Cheltenham players which was disrupting the flow of the game.
Despite this, Mansfield were looking the more likely and Angol was inches away from turning in Potter's whipped ball across the face of goal but the ball just evaded the Mansfield striker.
With Mansfield in the ascendancy, the Stags were also reduced to ten men.
With the ball seemingly running out of play, Hayden White charged into the back of Cheltenham's Chatzitheodoridis with a ferocious tackle and was immediately shown a red card.
That completely changed the Mansfield game plan and Lee Angol, who was only introduced in the first half, was taken off with club captain Zander Diamond coming on at centre half and defender Rhys Bennett moving to right-back.
Things went from bad to worse for Mansfield as Cheltenham scored again to retake the lead. After racing down the left flank, Danny Wright found Elijah Adebayo at the near post and he was able to slam the ball past Logan.
Stand-in skipper Krystian Pearce was almost the unlikely scorer of a Mansfield equaliser but after outmuscling a Cheltenham man in the area, the commanding centre half saw his shot blocked.
With Stags trailing with 12 minutes to go, manager Steve Evans introduced striker Kane Hemmings from the bench, a first appearance in two weeks for the loanee after he was forced off with a hamstring injury against Cardiff City.
That move turned out to be a masterstroke as Hemmings scored Mansfield's leveller in the 81st minute. Quick feet by MacDonald saw him get to the left byline and he sent the ball across for Hemmings to spin and fire in from close range.
Just when the crowd at One Call Stadium thought they had seen it all, Cheltenham were then reduced to nine men. Substitute Danny Wright, who had been introduced just minutes earlier, was shown a straight red card for throwing an arm in the face of Alfie Potter.
That swung the momentum back in the way of Mansfield and with around ten minutes to go, there was still plenty of time for them to craft a third goal. Their cause was helped when the referee indicated for six additional minutes at the end of what had been a dramatic afternoon.
MacDonald tried his luck from range in the 90th minute but his thunderous effort hit a Robins' defender on its way to goal.
With the way the afternoon had panned out, it seemed inevitable that there would be more late drama and in the dying embers of the game, Mansfield scored again to secure the win. A dangerous ball into the box wasn't properly dealt with by the Cheltenham defence and it fell kindly to CJ Hamilton who slammed the ball home to spark wild celebrations from the players, staff and supporters inside One Call Stadium.
The Robins proceeded to throw everything at Mansfield in the final minutes but the men in amber and blue held firm.
The scenes of jubilation at full-time showed just how important that victory was for the Stags as they continue their hunt for promotion in Sky Bet League Two and retained their place in the play-off positions.
STAGS' XI: Logan, Bennett, Benning, Pearce ©, MacDonald, Mellis (Angol 29'(Diamond 71'), White, Potter, Hamilton, Byrom (Hemmings 78'), Rose
SUBS NOT USED: Olejnik (GK), Anderson, Atkinson, Spencer
CHELTENHAM TOWN XI: Flinders, Grimes, Pell, Dawson, Winchester ©, Eisa (Adebayo 45'), Graham (Atanga 66'), Morrell, Moore, Onariase, Chatzitheodoridis (Wright 71')
SUBS NOT USED: Lovett (GK), Sellars, Bower, Thomas
ATTENDANCE: 3,483 (149 away)
REFEREE: Darren Handley