James Gale’s second goal in as many games earned Mansfield a well-earned 1-0 home victory over fellow promotion hopefuls Stevenage in a well-fought battle at One Call Stadium.
The 21-year-old guided the Stags ahead on 11 minutes after delicately deflecting Davis Keillor-Dunn’s edge-of-the-box effort. The hosts’ resilient defending in the closing stages saw out a brilliant result to strengthen Mansfield’s play-off push.
Manager Nigel Clough made one change to the Stags’ XI that earned victory at Newport County in midweek. Match-winner Gale started for Mansfield against Stevenage, replacing Jordan Bowery in attack.
Stags worked their way into the Stevenage box for the first time on five minutes following a bright start by the home side. Stephen Quinn’s well-placed midfield pass played Davis Keillor-Dunn in down the right, but the forward was tackled before pulling the trigger.
The hosts were in again six minutes later and this time made it count.
Callum Johnson’s quick feet on the right freed himself of his marker to tee-up Lucas Akins on the edge of the box. Akins recycled possession by squaring to Keillor-Dunn after seeing his initial effort blocked. And the midfielder’s subsequent driven effort at goal through a body of players nicked off the boot of James Gale to deceive ‘keeper Timothee Lo-Tutala and trickle over the goal line.
Mansfield kept the pressure on the visitors by continuing to work at the Stevenage defence. Soon enough, in-form midfielder Hiram Boateng wriggled into space on 16 minutes to curl a well-struck effort over the bar.
Stags were dealt an unfortunate blow on 21 minutes when goalscorer Gale collided with Lo-Tutala inside the Stevenage box, requiring Rhys Oates to replace him from the bench.
A lull in goal-mouth action ensued as both sides jostled for possession in midfield.
Stevenage came the closest to adding a second goal before the break when forward Jamie Reid found space on the edge of the box to shoot. However, he was denied by Pym’s convincing near-post save on 45 minutes.
Three minutes into stoppage time, the visitors provoked another opportunity.
Right-back Luther Wildin’s right-sided cross found Jordan Roberts in the centre of the box, who steered a tame effort goalwards with his head, but Pym held it comfortably to end the first-half action.
The visitors resumed the second half on the front foot by testing Pym again on 49 minutes. A floated right-sided cross picked out Max Clark in front of goal, whose arrowed header was well held by the Mansfield shot-stopper.
Stags reacted and crafted a chance of their own on 59 minutes after Oates’ darting run in behind played Mansfield in. Wide right, the forward clipped the ball in from the by-line to no avail. However, the loose ball inside the box was mopped up by Boateng who worked it to Akins, whose shot inside the box was deflected narrowly wide by Carl Piergianni’s knee.
The game opened up on the hour and Mansfield were in again through Akins on 63 minutes. The forward worked into the box and squared powerfully, evading the run of Keillor-Dunn to his left.
Full of confidence, Mansfield tempted a second five minutes later. Having received the ball on the left from a throw-in, Keillor-Dunn swivelled and curled a 20-yard right-footed effort inches over the bar and onto the roof of the net.
A quiet period ensued as both sides experienced loose spells of possession. That was ended on 83 minutes when Oates was played through down the left. The Stags’ striker raced through on goal before blasting an effort over from the left side of the box.
A minute later, Keillor-Dunn received the ball close to the centre circle before spotting Lo-Tutala off his line, with the Mansfield attacker letting fly from range but the Stevenage goalkeeper recovered well to claim his effort.
With Stevenage committed to their offensive effort, Oates exploited spaces in behind the defence to craft another opportunity two minutes later. The Stags striker collected Boateng’s long-distance pass and dribbled closer to goal before curling an effort narrowly over the bar.
The visitors threw every man forward in the closing stages, but Mansfield’s steely defensive effort sealed them out to wrap up an incredible three points.
STAGS: Pym, Hewitt, Akins, Johnson, Perch, Quinn (Law 71’), Wallace, Gale (Oates 21’ (Harbottle 89’)), Kilgour, Keillor-Dunn (Maris 89’), Boateng
UNUSED SUBS: Flinders, Reed, Swan
STEVENAGE: Lo-Tutala, Wildin (Evans, 87’), Clark, Reeves, Piergianni, Sweeney, Roberts, Gilbey (Horgan 74’), Bostwick (Forster-Caskey 45’), Reid, Rose (Taylor 64’)
UNUSED SUBS: Pryzbek, Smith, Tomkinson
REFEREE: James Linington
ATTENDANCE: 6,863 (384 Stevenage fans)