Ryan Bowman’s early finish proved to be the difference as Mansfield Town suffered a 1-0 defeat against Exeter City at St James Park.
The Stags had looked to have made a fruitful start down south but were undone by Bowman’s smart finish inside five minutes.
Mansfield pressed for, at the very least, an equaliser in the second period but with Ryan Sweeney being dismissed four minutes from time, they were unable to do so in Devon.
John Dempster made three alterations from his side’s previous Sky Bet League Two outing as a regular trio returned from respective injuries.
Skipper Krystian Pearce, Kellan Gordon and Nicky Maynard had been given the all-clear on their fitness to replace James Clarke, Otis Khan and CJ Hamilton in the starting lineup.
It was Mansfield who threatened first through Jacob Mellis – an effort dragged wide from the edge of the area after a neat interchange of play.
However, it was the hosts who found the back of the net with five minutes on the clock.
Bowman was allowed to drift behind the Stags’ defence unattended from a quick throw and he was handed the task of firing home on the half-turn.
The amber and blue sought an instant response on their travels, and were only inches away from doing so when Nicky Maynard saw his effort whistle past the post.
Conrad Logan was then forced into action to thwart Lee Martin as he drove the ball towards goal with purpose.
The Exeter man had another presentable chance minutes later but was unable to beat Logan with a deft flick.
Martin continued to pop up in the final third and, this time, his teasing cross was close to being turned home by Randell Williams.
And the latter came even closer to doubling his side’s advantage just eight minutes from half time.
Williams rose highest from a far-side corner and powered a header against the foot of the post, before Danny Rose was able to hook the loose ball clear on the goal line.
It meant Dempster’s side were tasked with overturning a one-goal deficit in the second period.
Pierce Sweeney’s touch early in the half gifted possession to Maynard, yet the effort was ultimately blocked as he struck it on the bounce.
The second half simmered with action – but few chances – as the hosts weighed up whether to stick or twist, while Mansfield searched for an equaliser.
Mellis traversed forward but could not find the required space to pull the trigger at the edge of the Grecians’ box.
There was soon a change in the works for the visitors with Will Tomlinson making way for Omari Sterling-James.
The substitute had given his side a much-needed boost before almost doing exactly what he was brought on to do in the 78th minute.
He received the ball in a pocket of space, turning away from his marker and firing a rising strike past Lewis Ward’s upright.
An attempted clearance from the hosts’ centre-half, Sweeney, collided against Aaron Martin and fortunately back into the arms of their ‘keeper.
Despite the Stags’ new-found momentum they were almost left stunned by a moment of individual brilliance.
Jake Taylor latched onto a loose ball 20 yards from goal and his audacious volley crashed against the bar
And with the clock ticking towards full time, their task was made significantly more difficult.
Sweeney was shown a straight red card due to an off-the-ball incident with Bowman on 86 minutes, reducing the Stags to ten men.
A handful of corners and deliveries from open play fell the way of the hosts but none were subsequently capitalised upon to mark only a second defeat in Sky Bet League Two.
Mansfield will be hopeful of putting this defeat behind them when they take on Scunthorpe United next Saturday.
STAGS' XI: Logan (GK), Benning, Preston (Hamilton 78’), Pearce ©, MacDonald, Mellis, Maynard, Tomlinson (Sterling-James 70’), Sweeney, Gordon, Rose.
UNUSED SUBS: Stone (GK), White, Khan, Afolayan, Smith
EXETER XI: Ward (GK), Sweeney, A. Martin, L. Martin Williams, Bowman, Jay (Woodman 88’), Moxey, Sparkes, Taylor ©, Collins.
UNUSED SUBS: Maxted (GK), Tillson, Ajose, Parkes, Fisher, Richardson.
REFEREE: Nicholas Kinseley
ASSISTANTS: Justin Amey & Mike Desborough
FOURTH OFFICIAL: Robert Dabbs
ATTENDANCE: 4,316 (262 away)