Mansfield Town were forced to settle for a 1-1 draw against Newport County after CJ Hamilton’s stunning opener was cancelled out by Padraig Amond in the first leg of their play-off semi-final.
The Mansfield winger made the first mark on the scoresheet early in the contest courtesy of a thunderbolt inside the Newport area.
However, the Exiles banished such arrears with seven minutes of normal time remaining – Amond tucking home the rebound from his initially-saved penalty.
David Flitcroft’s starting line-up signalled three changes from the final Sky Bet League Two matchday at MK Dons.
The trio of Matt Preston, Willem Tomlinson and Mal Benning made way for Ben Turner, Gethin Jones and Danny Rose.
Mansfield made a sprightly start under the low sun at Rodney Parade and had the hosts backpedalling on several occasions.
Jones’ quick thinking set Rose away to win the Stags’ first corner of the evening before Hamilton escaped the attentions of his defender only to have his cross diverted to safety.
And then, in the sixth minute, Tyler Walker was pulled down by Mark O’Brien after bursting clean through – Newport’s skipper only receiving a yellow card for his troubles.
On 12 minutes, though, the Stags would reap the rewards of a scintillating start in south Wales.
Jacob Mellis was able to release Hamilton on the counter and Mansfield’s number 22 unleashed a thunderous strike that left ‘keeper Joe Day less than little chance at his near post.
Jamille Matt – looking to restore parity – rose minutes later to meet his teammate’s long throw but Conrad Logan was sharply dealt with any such danger.
On the half-hour mark, Mansfield broke once more through Rose yet his attempted pass towards his strike partner, Walker, carried too much weight.
And less than 60 seconds later Mellis fired an effort wide of the target as Flitcroft’s charges searched for a second before half-time.
The home side were almost level via a set piece on 33 minutes – Matt again rising highest but this time being denied by the reflexes of Logan.
Not for the first time on Thursday evening, Mansfield launched a counter-attack at speed that unfortunately ended with Mellis over hitting his cross.
Rose and Walker linked up yet again on the stroke of half time, however, as the latter pulled the trigger the offside flag simultaneously reared its head.
The Stags took a deserved lead into the break and the Walker almost doubled his side’s lead three minutes into the second half.
The on-loan forward rounded Day, who had rushed off his goal line, but the subsequent effort had too little power to reach the goal line before it could be cleared.
And just two minutes thereafter Logan produced another moment of brilliance.
If his first-half reflex save was eye-catching, the second to deny Amond his first goal in nine appearances was out of this world – thwarting the Exiles’ striker from point-blank range.
Hamilton then looked to profit from a slip at the back by Regan Poole but ran into too many bodies.
Walker was next in line to try his luck just past the hour mark – a volley that bounced into the midriff of Day.
The home crowd were on their feet soon after when Logan’s fantastic save from Matt allowed Robbie Willmott to slot home, yet the goal was instaneously ruled out for offside.
Newport pressed on with their trademark long throws, which on 73 minutes, would have finally paid dividends had it not been for substitute Joss Labadie’s miscued effort.
The hosts, though, found their breakthrough in the 83rd minute.
Adebayo Azeez went down inside the 18-yard box and Amond assumed responsibility of following spot-kick, which he tucked away after having his initial attempted well-stopped by Logan.
It was a cruel blow for Flitcroft’s men who now head into the second leg at One Call Stadium on level terms.
STAGS XI: Logan (GK), Pearce ©, Bishop, MacDonald, Mellis, Sweeney, Walker, Jones, Hamilton, Turner, Rose (Benning 76’).
SUBS NOT USED: J. Smith (GK), Khan, Atkinson, Grant, Ajose, A. Smith.
NEWPORT COUNTY XI: Day (GK), Butler, Willmott, Dolan (Azeez 58’), Amond (Crofts 84’), Matt, Sheehan, Bennett (Labadie 72’), O’Brien ©, Poole, Demetriou.
SUBS NOT USED: Pipe, Marsh-Brown, Bakinson, McKirdy.
REFEREE: Charles Breakspear.
ASSISTANTS: Steven Rushton & Darren Wilding.
FOURTH OFFICIAL: Lee Swabey.