Late goal denies Town victory
MANSFIELD 2 (Hutchinson 7, Green 85)
TOWN 2 (Gray 26, 67)
Two goals from Andre Gray were not enough for the Town at bogey ground Field Mill as a goal five minutes from time denied Paul Buckle’s side all three points.
Gray’s double had put the Hatters ahead after they had trailed to Ben Hutchinson’s eighth-minute header. Gray’s first from an acute angle before the break was followed by a second half-way through the second half.
The Hatters had chances to extend their lead but were punished when they failed to defend another ball into the box and Matt Green finished from close range to deny the Town a first league win at Mansfield.
Buckle made two changes to the side that beat Nuneaton in the week with Simon Ainge and Jonathan Smith restored to the line-up in the place of JJ O’Donnell and Dan Walker – the former dropped to the bench.
Gray had the first effort on a bright but cold November early afternoon when he saw his shot blocked on five minutes having taking Alex Lawless’ pass, but three minutes later disaster struck when Mansfield took the lead.
Geohaghon’s long throws has caused problems for defences up and down the country and the Hatters were the big defender’s latest victims when his first throw of the afternoon was hurled in from the right and glanced home by Hutchinson giving Mark Tyler no chance.
Buoyed by that the Stags poured forward in search of doubling their tally early doors as the Town struggled to cope with Geohaghon’s huge, deep throw-ins arrowed into the six-yard box.
On 11 minutes a quick throw from Tyler – after he’d clung onto a dangerous Mansfield corner – released Gray down the left. He swapped passes with Jake Howells to hare into the box but, after jinking past one challenge in the penalty area, the striker was unable to pick out partner Scott Rendell.
Mansfield were looking for more goals but their threat to the Town goal only seemed to stem from set-pieces – other than one right-wing raid from Louis Briscoe that saw the winger drag a shot-cum-cross wide of the mark.
There was no doubt that the Stags were enjoying the better of proceedings but the Town, against the run of play, levelled things up with a strike of real quality from Gray on 26 minutes. Janos Kovacs’ long ball over the top didn’t seem dangerous at first but Gray got ahead of marker Ritchie Sutton, burst into the box and drilled a low shot beyond home stopper Shane Redmond for his fourth of the season.
With their tails up the Hatters began to play some of the best football of the game, and two minutes later a Jake Howells header was stopped by Redmond after Ronnie Henry’s right-wing cross.
Now it was end-to-end as back came Mansfield and the Hatters indebted to Tyler for punching clear an in-swinging left-corner with Geohaghon flying into the six-yard box at pace.
However, since the equaliser it was the Town playing the better football, and they should have taken the lead five minutes before the break after winning their first corner of the half. Swung in by Howells the flag-kick was half-cleared by the hosts to Arnaud Mendy who’s piledriver from the edge of the box was blocked back into the path of Howells. He in turn drilled a hard, low cross that found Gray two yards out with the goal at his mercy but the pace on the ball gave the Hatters’ goalscorer little time to react and a great chance went begging.
The Town almost made a bad start to the second half when Nick Wright’s header floated over Tyler a minute after the restart, but to the goalkeeper’s relief an offside flag was raised.
Tyler almost gifted the Stags a chance a minute later as the hosts piled on the pressure early in the second half but Hutchinson failed to hit the target 45-yards out with a first-time strike having seized on a low poor kick from the Town number one.
The hosts were enjoying much the better of the play as the Hatters continued to struggle with set-pieces and long throws and on 53 minutes Anthony Howell blazed over the crossbar when well-placed after the Town had let an Geohaghon long-throw travel dangerously close towards goal.
In truth the Town were finding it difficult to threaten the hosts but Lawless came close to making it 2-1 on 57 minutes when his shot from the edge of the box after a Howells free-kick was half-cleared.
However, five minutes later, on 62, a towering, goal-bound header from Kovacs from a left-wing corner from Lawless was hacked off the line by a combination of several men in yellow.
But the Town were not to be denied on 67 minutes when Gray got his second. Mendy did well to break up play and set Howells away down the left. He looked up and spotted the run of Gray to play the pass perfectly into the young striker’s feet to latch onto 10 yards out and poke a fine finish home to send the 522 in the away into raptures.
Behind, the hosts brought on forward duo Jake Speight and Green in a bid to find an equaliser but a super break from the Town on 76 minutes could have fashioned a chance for a 3-1 lead when a magnificent cross-field pass from Howells fed Gray but, unselfish though it was, his pass back to Rendell was cut out and chance was gone.
Two minutes later another fine counter-attack from the Town saw Howells warm Redmond’s finger-tips after Gray’s pace and a pass from Smith created the opening.
The Hatters were looking a threat on break but, with five minutes left on the clock, they were undone again by a set-piece when Mansfield equalised. A lofted high ball into the box from a free-kick was headed across goal and Green was hand to tap home unchallenged from close range to make it 2-2.
Both sides pushed for a third goal in the final few minutes, and the Town almost grabbed a last-gasp winner when a low cross from Gray was cut-out by a last-ditch tackle with Lawless ready for a tap-in. The Hatters couldn’t force home the resultant corner and that was the last action as Buckle’s men had to settle for a point.