New Mansfield Town manager David Flitcroft was cruelly denied a win in his first game in charge of the Stags tonight as Lincoln City scored a 90th minute equaliser in an entertaining 1-1 draw at One Call Stadium.
The first half of David Flitcroft’s debut game ended goalless with neither side able to find a breakthrough despite plenty of positive, attacking play. Lincoln probably shaded the opening exchanges with Matt Rhead, playing against his former club, seeing a shot cleared off the line by Stags’ left-back Mal Benning. At the other end, striker Danny Rose and midfield maestro Alex MacDonald both tried their luck for Mansfield but found their range wanting.
It didn’t take long for the second half to produce the opening goal as in the 49th minute, the Stags went ahead. Midfielder Joel Byrom, on as a half-time substitute, headed home his first goal for Mansfield after nipping in to get on the end of a terrific cross from right-back Hayden White. That looked like it would be the winner but in the last minute of normal time, ex-Stag Ollie Palmer forced a volleyed effort past Conrad Logan to level proceedings. That wasn’t the last of the drama, however, as both Lincoln’s Luke Waterfall and Mansfield’s Rhys Bennett were shown red cards in the last few minutes as both sides ended with ten men.
After a busy first few days at the club, new Stags’ manager David Flitcroft made one change to the side that predecessor Steve Evans selected for the 1-1 draw against Coventry City last time out. Winger Alfie Potter suffered a tweak to his hamstring in training so as a precaution, the in-form wide man was left out with right-back Hayden White coming in. As a result, Paul Anderson moved forward from full back to the right side of midfield.
Before the game, Flitcroft was met by rapturous applause and a chorus of ‘David Flitcroft’s barmy army’ as the Stags’ fans gave the warmest of welcomes to their new manager.
Lincoln fielded two former Stags up front in the form of Matt Green and Matt Rhead and the latter headed a good opportunity straight at Mansfield ‘keeper Conrad Logan inside the sixth minute, though the linesman’s flag was up for offside.
The travelling supporters were up in arms on 11 minutes, demanding a red card for Stags’ midfielder Adam King after a tackle on Alex Woodyard but referee Graham Salisbury saw things differently and only produced a yellow card.
Rhead was causing problems from the Mansfield defence early on and the man mountain almost opened the scoring after seeing a timid shot deflect past Logan but thankfully for the Stags, left-back Mal Benning was in position to hook the ball away to safety.
Mansfield’s first real opening arrived in the 18th minute and it fell to top scorer Danny Rose. A cross from the right by experienced winger Paul Anderson found Rose inside the area and the fan favourite volleyed a shot towards goal but it went just over the Lincoln bar
The Stags almost hit the Imps on the counter-attack a minute later but after Anderson had released flying wide man CJ Hamilton, the former Sheffield United youngster saw his cross blocked by a Lincoln defender.
David Flitcroft’s men were now enjoying their best period of the game so far and after great work by Hamilton to cut inside from the left flank, February’s Player of the Month Alex MacDonald drilled a low shot wide of the post.
After a strong start to the game by Lincoln, the Stags were now starting to get on top. In the 26th minute, Hamilton raced down the left and looked to find striker Kane Hemmings at the near post but a Lincoln defender got there first to clear the ball for a corner.
Despite the success Mansfield were enjoying, their opponents gave them a reminder of the threat they pose as Luke Waterfall saw a free header blocked on its way through to goal before Waterfall then sent a powerful, low strike through a sea of bodies which Logan was equal to.
Though the game was still goalless after half an hour, it had offered up plenty of attacking action and a goal looked inevitable. It was Mansfield who almost opened the scoring in the 31st minute but Rose fired over the bar from just inside the area after shifting the ball onto his left foot.
Right-back Hayden White provided the assist for the winner in the reverse fixture, crossing for Danny Rose to head home, and just before the break he sent another teasing cross in from the right but with defender Rhys Bennett lurking, Lincoln ‘keeper Ryan Allsop was off his line quickly to claim.
David Flitcroft’s first substitution as Mansfield manager came at half-time with the new boss taking off Adam King, who was on a yellow card, and replacing him with fellow cultured midfielder Joel Byrom.
That substitution proved to be a masterstroke as in the 49th minute, Byrom headed Mansfield ahead. Kane Hemmings did brilliantly to hold the ball up at the near post and he laid it off for White who delivered a pin point cross which Byrom flicked across goal and past Allsop.
Lincoln were now searching for a way back in the game and Matt Green, once a cult hero at One Call Stadium, saw an acrobatic overhead kick go over the bar after Rhead had picked out his strike partner with a cushioned header.
Danny Rowe was brought on by Lincoln and he was immediately involved in the action as he tried to find an equaliser for his side. He got the ball out of his feet just inside the Mansfield area but saw a powerful drive blocked by Alex MacDonald who threw his body in front of the shot.
Mansfield almost got a second goal which, given how much time was left, would have killed the game off. A corner in by Benning found Bennett free at the back post and when the centre-half’s ball to the back post rolled out again to Benning, the Stags’ left-back smashed a shot over the bar when he should have done better.
With less than 15 minutes to go, Mansfield made their second change with forward Jimmy Spencer replacing the hard-working Kane Hemmings.
A few minutes later and Mansfield made their final change, with Will Atkinson taking the place of Paul Anderson, the versatile Atkinson taking Anderson’s place on the right wing.
Lincoln were forcing the Stags’ defence back with an aerial bombardment and a late corner almost produced an equaliser but Harry Anderson’s hooked effort, after a goal mouth scramble, landed on the roof of the Mansfield net.
Despite being under pressure, Mansfield almost killed the game off with an incisive counter-attack. Rose chipped a ball over the Lincoln defence for the on-rushing Spencer but he was just beaten to the ball by Allsop with the Imps breathing a sigh of relief.
Time was running out but in the 90th minute, Lincoln grabbed an equaliser. Rhead rose highest and headed a ball back across goal where Ollie Palmer, another former Stags’ striker, was on hand to spin and volley past Logan.
Palmer ran past his own fans to celebrate in front of the Mansfield faithful and in the ensuing celebrations, Lincoln captain Luke Waterfall was shown a straight red card for dangerously hurling a water bottle into the Stags’ crowd..
Only a minute later, it was ten versus ten. Mansfield defender Rhys Bennett was shown a second yellow card for a clumsy foul on Palmer by the right touch line as the dramatic end to the game continued.
There was to be no more late drama as the competitive local derby, and David Flitcroft’s first game as Mansfield manager, ended in a draw.
STAGS’ XI: Logan, Bennett, Benning, Pearce ©, MacDonald, Anderson (Atkinson 80’), White, Hamilton, Hemmings (Spencer 76’), King (Byrom 46’), Rose
SUBS NOT USED: Olejnik, Diamond, Mellis, Angol
LINCOLN CITY XI: Allsop, Habergham, Waterfall ©, Wharton, Rhead, Green (Palmer 81’), Williams (Rowe 64’), Bostwick, Frecklington (Anderson 67’), Eardley, Woodyard
SUBS NOT USED: Farman, Long, Whitehouse, Pett
REFEREE: Graham Salisbury