Mansfield Town recorded a third successive 1-1 draw as Colchester United hit back in the second half to snatch a point at One Call Stadium this afternoon.
The Stags were the better of the two teams and took the lead in the 22nd minute when powerful forward Kane Hemmings lofted the ball over Colchester ‘keeper Sam Walker. The visitors were very much in the game and Drey Wright saw a well-struck effort palmed away by ‘keeper Conrad Logan before Kurtis Guthrie saw an effort cleared off the line by energetic left-back Mal Benning.
Colchester came out firing in the second period and they got the equaliser in the 51st minute as Brandon Comley made the most of some time and space to fire past Logan. That proved to be the last of the goals with Mansfield going close to winning it late on when Paul Digby, on as a second half substitute, saw his header strike the woodwork.
In his second game in charge of the Stags, manager David Flitcroft made two changes to the side that conceded a last minute goal in Tuesday’s 1-1 draw with Lincoln City. Defender Rhys Bennett, who was sent off late into the Lincoln game, was replaced by club captain Zander Diamond, the former Northampton Town man joining Krystian Pearce in central defence. Further upfield, central midfielder Adam King was replaced by the cultured Joel Byrom who scored his first Mansfield goal in midweek.
The first chance of the game fell to Colchester United and Brennan Dickenson. The winger was given too much space by the Mansfield defence and he drove into the area but smashed a shot well over the bar with Stags ‘keeper Conrad Logan not tested.
At the other end, Mansfield’s first chance went to the returning Zander Diamond. Mansfield’s club captain met a corner by midfielder Joel Byrom at the far post but his header was hacked away and when dynamic midfielder Alex MacDonald lofted the ball back in, the Colchester defence stood firm once again.
Colchester’s Brandon Comley was next to try his luck in the ninth minute but his very optimistic shot from distance sailed over the Mansfield goal.
In the 13th minute, the Stags had a big chance to the take the lead. A free-kick was flicked on by defender Krystian Pearce and the ball dropped kindly for striker Kane Hemmings five yards out but the on-loan Oxford United man decided to head across goal instead of looking to beat ‘keeper Sam Walker and the danger was cleared.
The Stags were definitely having more of the ball but the U’s appeared to be carving opportunities every time they went forward. In the 21st minute, Drey Wright broke clear down the right but lashed a shot wide of the near post.
The opening goal arrived only a minute later and it went to Mansfield. A goal kick by Logan wasn’t dealt with by a hesitant Colchester defence and forward Kane Hemmings got to the ball before Walker, looping it over the U’s stopper and into the back of the net for his 10th goal of the season.
Mansfield could have doubled their lead shortly afterwards but after Byrom found striker Danny Rose with a brilliant ball, Mansfield’s top scorer hit a low shot into the hands of Walker.
The home side broke well in the 35th minute as they looked to extend their advantage. Left-back Mal Benning won the ball back just inside the Colchester half and he flicked the ball to his right for Alex MacDonald but February’s Player of the Month found his range just off as his shot sliced wide of the target.
The energetic MacDonald tried his luck again in the 39th minute. After Rose was bundled over 30 yards out, the Stags were awarded a free-kick and MacDonald curled an effort over the Colchester wall but it flew just wide of the target.
The Stags were definitely on top with their pressing game causing Colchester lots of problems, but the U’s almost drew level just before the break. Wright managed to get to a loose ball inside the area and he smashed a shot across goal which Logan did brilliantly to palm away.
The visitors continued to end the half strongly and they were unlucky not to go into the break level. Forward Kurtis Guthrie raced onto a Sammie Szmodics through ball and managed to force the ball past Logan but thankfully for the Stags, Benning was covering and he managed to get back and clear it off the line to send the Stags into the break with their noses in front.
The most contentious moment of the match occurred moments later, with the Stags’ crowd incensed with referee Ross Joyce.
Flying winger CJ Hamilton beat Ryan Jackson to the ball, despite Jackson appearing to use a hand, but with Hamilton through on goal, Joyce blew for a foul on the Colchester man, much to the disgruntlement of the Mansfield players, staff and fans.
The mood at the One Call Stadium didn’t improve as a minute later, the score became level. Brandon Comley drove at the Stags’ defence from the right wing and he was allowed to drill a shot across goal and into the far corner to make it 1-1.
David Flitcroft was seemingly unhappy with what he had seen from his side in the early stages of the second half as he made a double substitution in the 57th minute. Right winger Paul Anderson was replaced by Will Atkinson whilst Joel Byrom was taken off with Jacob Mellis coming on, both in like-for-like changes.
Mansfield breathed a huge sigh of relief in the 64th minute as Colchester almost went ahead. Diamond went down holding his hamstring on halfway, allowing Guthrie to race free down the right wing but with Wright waiting to receive the ball in the middle, Guthrie’s pass was blocked by commanding defender Krystian Pearce.
Diamond was forced off with that injury and he was replaced by the versatile Paul Digby. Digby was involved in the action straight away and he almost put the Stags back ahead in the 69th minute but his looping header at the back post hit the bar with Walker stranded.
The Stags hadn’t quite reproduced their first half level during the second period and the game was still very much up for grabs with just over ten minutes to go.
A good period of pressure almost led to an opportunity for the Stags but after Hemmings chipped the ball to the far post, Rose and Benning were both beaten to it by a Colchester defender.
Mansfield then went close to going ahead again in the 85th minute. Krystian Pearce did brilliantly to stride out of defence with the ball and he slipped a terrific pass through to Rose but the former Bury man could only direct his shot into the side-netting.
The 87th minute produced Mansfield’s best chance of the second half. Great work by Hayden White saw him get to the byline and his pass found fellow full-back Mal Benning who saw a driven effort palmed up in the air by Walker. The loose ball dropped to midfielder Jacob Mellis a few yards out but the former Chelsea youngster saw his header cleared off the line.
Both sides will have fancied their chances of stealing the three points and with six minutes added on at the end of the 90, there was still plenty of time for some late drama.
The closest either side came to scoring late on was when a teasing ball from the left by Colchester was too high for Logan but also too high for the on rushing U’s attacker who would have had a free header.
That was the last of the action as Mansfield recorded another 1-1 draw ahead of a massive local derby against Notts County next Saturday.
STAGS’ XI: Logan, Benning, Pearce, Diamond © (Digby 65’), MacDonald, Anderson (Atkinson 57’), White, Hamilton, Hemmings, Byrom (Mellis 57’), Rose
SUBS NOT USED: Olejnik (GK), Angol, Spencer, King
COLCHESTER XI: Walker, Jackson (Murray 85’), Lapslie © (Stevenson 88’), Kent, Wright (Shodipo 71’), Szmodics, Dickenson, Comley, Eastman, Vincent-Young, Guthrie
SUBS NOT USED: Barnes (GK), Prosser, Mandron, Mandeville
ATTENDANCE: 4,050 (163 away)
REFEREE: Ross Joyce