A late Jacob Mellis strike secured a dramatic point for Mansfield Town as they drew 1-1 with rivals Lincoln City at Sincil Bank.
Neither boasted any clear-cut opportunities on derby day until Lincoln began to open up the Mansfield back-line. They looked the better side heading into the dying embers and reaped their rewards when Kellan Gordon gave his side a late lead.
However, the Yellows were not be disheartened when Mellis rifled home a 93rd minute equaliser to send the Stags’ fans into elation behind the net that he’d struck into.
Returning to league action after FA Cup defeat against Charlton, David Flitcroft initially opted with a total of three changes for the trip to Lincoln.
Tyler Walker, Neal Bishop and Hayden White were all brought back into the starting eleven, before the latter was then withdrawn in the warm-up, meaning Will Atkinson retained his place.
There was also welcome news on the substitute’s bench as Otis Khan returned from an Achilles injury that had sidelined him for two months.
The noise levels inside Sincil Bank were deafening from the outset – and the hosts won a corner inside the first minute to further increase the decibels.
It was dealt with by the Stags’ back-line as they were able to relieve any immediate pressure, thus settling the nerves on derby day.
Moments later, after Mellis’ effort from the edge of the area was well blocked, the hosts were able to counter via the pace of Shay McCartan.
He skipped away from CJ Hamilton but not from the towering figure of Ryan Sweeney as the centre-half stood firm to stop the forward progressing any further.
Danny Cowley’s men boasted the lion’s share of possession early on, yet it would not stop the Stags’ hunger to press from the front.
Mellis cleverly nicked the ball high up the field to set his side on the way to a three-on-two counter.
He subsequently fed teammate Danny Rose whose eventual effort forced Josh Vickers into a smart save; low down to his right-hand side.
But in the 19th minute, the Stags would count themselves lucky to still be level.
Matt Preston’s pass had too much weight on it, giving Bobby Olejnik a harder job than first thought. A hurried clearance fell straight to Bruno Andrade 30 yards from goal, however, he was unable to direct into an empty goal.
Rose, soon after, had another chance from the edge of the area. He found himself isolated against a sea of red and white as he elected to take a snapshot which brushed the side netting of Vickers’ goal.
The clocked had ticked little past the half-hour mark when McCartan swivelled and fired an ambitious half-volley over Olejnik’s crossbar.
First Hamilton and then Krystian Pearce won fouls around 40 yards from goal in quick succession – but Mansfield were unable to take advantage of either.
As the half came to a close Mansfield’s intricate passing began to rear its head. They were playing neat football, but were unable to breakdown a compact Lincoln back four.
The interval signalled the end to a tight first half which saw chances of real quality arrive few and far between.
Much like the first period, it was Lincoln who came out the traps quicker in the second half.
Andrade got the better of Atkinson down the right flank on 51 minutes before curling an effort towards goal that was held by Olejnik.
John Akinde then broke through exactly a minute later, but the legs of Olejnik this time denied the hosts the breakthrough goal.
In the midst of those two chances, Khan had entered the fray in place of action as he looked to get his side on the front foot with his first few touches.
Linking up well with Mellis and Walker, Mansfield’s no.10 just couldn’t find the angle to shoot from inside a crowded penalty area.
Pearce was then called into action twice – making superb interceptions to halt first Akinde and then McCartan.
And the former almost met Neal Eardley’s cross at the back post, had it not been for Preston’s vital flick just minutes later.
But City didn’t let up as Preston was then adjudged to have fouled Andrade, giving Michael O’Connor a chance to work Olejnik as he fired the set-piece towards goal from a tight angle.
Mansfield were under the cosh but looked to counter wherever possible. They eventually did so to good effect when Walker won his side a corner.
Benning’s in-swinger fell straight into the grasp of Vickers who was able to alleviate all pressure with a simple catch.
The Stags suddenly sped away with pace on 80 minutes. Walker whipped an enticing ball into the middle that made it all the way through to Rose who couldn’t make his touch stick.
And they would be left to rue that particular phase of play just five minutes later.
Matt Rhead’s flick-on found Andrade who was then able to pick out substitute Gordon who fired home from close range – handing the Imps a late advantage.
Flitcroft’s side had five minutes of added time to find that all-important equaliser but only needed three.
Mellis found himself in the right place at the right time when the ball dropped to him 16 yards from goal; he made no mistake in smashing the ball beyond Vickers to earn his side a point.
Late, late drama at Sincil Bank ensured that both sides would finish with a point apiece.
It’s yet another midweek fixture for the Stags in three days time when they welcome Crawley Town to One Call Stadium.
STAGS' XI: Olejnik (GK), Benning (Davies 88’), Preston, Pearce ©, Bishop (Elsnik 89’), Mellis, Atkinson (Khan 52’), Sweeney, Walker, Hamilton, Rose.
SUBS NOT USED: Logan (GK), Butcher, Smith.
LINCOLN CITY XI: Vickers (GK), O’Connor, Shackell ©, Pett, Andrade, Toffolo, Bostwick, McCartan (Rhead 80’), Eardley, Anderson (Gordon 77’), Akinde (Green 83’).
SUBS NOT USED: Slocombe (GK), Wharton, Chapman, Wilson.
REFEREE: Gavin Ward.
ASSISTANTS: James Mainwaring & Nick Greenhalgh.
FOURTH OFFICIAL: Tom Nield.
ATTENDANCE: 9’775 (1’654 away).