Mansfield Town bowed out of the Emirates FA Cup after Championship side Middlesbrough scored in injury time to claim a 3-2 victory, despite an inspired second-half comeback from the Stags.
Elliott Hewitt’s 90+5th minute own-goal confirmed the Stags’ exit after the Sky Bet League Two side produced an excellent display in the second-half to level the contest.
Middlesbrough got off to the perfect start by taking a two-goal lead inside 14 minutes thanks to goals from Uche Ikpeazu and Caolan Boyd-Munce.
But Mansfield were never deterred and found a way back into the game via Oli Hawkins’ powerful header on 67 minutes.
Shortly after having a goal disallowed for offside, the hosts equalised through Rhys Oates on 85 minutes to the delight of the roaring One Call Stadium crowd.
However, a 95th minute Middlesbrough counter attack decided the tie as Hewitt unfortunately chested a challenge Boro delivery over his own goal-line.
Stags’ manager Nigel Clough made two changes to the side that superbly overturned a two-goal deficit to defeat Hartlepool United in league action on Boxing Day.
Club captain Ollie Clarke returned to the starting eleven along with the experienced Stephen Quinn. Midfielder Jason Law moved to the bench and defender Farrend Rawson missed the cup tie through illness.
Mansfield were boosted by the return of striker Danny Johnson, who took up a place on the bench against his hometown club.
Mansfield began positively by looking to work the ball into tight spaces behind Middlesbrough’s defensive line from the off.
However, it was the Championship side who took the lead in eye-catching fashion. A clipped ball into Mansfield’s half evaded the head of Stephen McLaughlin, finding Boro forward Uche Ikpeazu. The striker worked the ball to the edge of the box and before venomously smashing it into the top corner with his left foot on five minutes.
At the other end, Stephen Quinn blasted a 25-yarder narrowly over Joe Lumley’s crossbar on eight minutes.
The visitors’ devastating experience in the final third soon had them two goals ahead on 14 minutes. Right wing-back Joe Gibson collected a quick throw-in before darting up the touch-line and crossing to Caolan Boyd-Munce, whose powered finish from inside the box found the back of the net.
Playing with confidence, Boro pushed for their third straight after the restart. Boyd-Munce saw his left sided effort drop the wrong side of the post on 19 minutes before Nathan Bishop saved Josh Coburn’s strike with his fingertips, four minutes later.
Mansfield resisted Boro’s pressure and soon began enjoying spells with the ball inside the attacking half. George Maris skipped clear of his marker to see his long-rage effort held on 29 minutes before John-Joe O’Toole flashed an enticing ball across the face of goal four minutes later, to no avail.
Aware to Mansfield occupying an advanced position, Boro looked to hit on the break before half-time. Boyd-Munce bombed down the right wing, cutting the ball back to Ikpeazu waiting inside the box before Bishop pulled off a superb point-blank save to keep the hosts within two.
Then came a relentless half of Stags’ attacking threats.
Nigel Clough’s men poured forward after the break and their first opportunity of the second period was nodded narrowly over by O’Toole following Quinn’s corner delivery.
Six minutes later, Clarke’s clip across the box was smashed goal wards by Oates and blocked on the goal-line as the Stags continued their crowd-fuelled pressure on Middlesbrough’s goal.
Stags should have scored in the 56th minute. Trickery from Bowery slid the ball into Clarke’s path in front of goal but the skipper’s miss-hit effort skewed over the crossbar. Soon after, another well-placed cross into the box was headed over by Oates who did well to out-muscle his marker
Mansfield’s persistence and desire finally came to fruition on 67 minutes. Quinn’s delicious cross from the left wing was nodded downwards and into the back of the net by the towering Oli Hawkins to breathe life into the cup-tie.
Stags thought they’d found their equaliser on 73 minutes when the ball broke for Oates in midfield. The striker drove towards goal before attempting to square to Danny Johnson but the pass was intercepted by the sliding Nathan Wood, knocking the ball agonisingly wide of his own goalpost.
Mansfield were again denied moments later despite having the ball in the back of the net, Oates’ hold up play allowed substitute Jason Law to shoot from range which was mishandled by Lumley and poked over the line by the charging Johnson. However, as the One Call Stadium erupted, the linesman’s flag was raised to signal offside against Johnson on 80 minute.
Mansfield weren’t deterred though. Oates’ defence splitting run in behind was well found by Jason Law to play the striker in. The number 18 advanced into the box, touched the ball beyond the ‘keeper and smashed it home.
The visitors could have retaken their lead straight afterwards though as a cross dropped into the back post was smashed over by Afernee Dijksteel.
Mansfield pressed for an injury time winner but all they found was heartbreak. A swift Middlesbrough counter-attack down the right side resulted in the ball being crossed into a dangerous area and bundled into the goal by Hewitt.
Stags though will take great heart from a superb performance – in the last 15 minutes of the first half – and throughout the second period – as they welcome Swindon Town to One Call Stadium on Tuesday.
STAGS XI: Bishop, Hewitt, O‘Toole, Hawkins, McLaughlin (Lapslie 62’),Maris, Stirk (Law 72’), Clarke (Johnson 62’), Quinn, Oates, Bowery
UNUSED SUBS: Stech, Turner, Nartey, Burke, Ward, Charsley
BORO XI: Lumley, Ikpeazu (Dijksteel 78’), Peltier, Wood, Howson, McNair, Bamba, Kokolo (Jones 78’), Coburn (Hernandez 63’), Gibson (Crooks 58’), Boyd-Munce (Tavernier 58’)
UNUSED SUBS: Daniels, Dijksteel, Malley, Sykes
REFEREE: Keith Stroud