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23 February 2013

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Hatters fall to last-minute defeat

The Town twice fought back from going behind but a last-gasp winner from Mansfield substitute Lindon Meikle stole three points for the visitors in an enthralling contest that saw five different scorers.

A quiet opening was put to bed by three goals in fifteen minutes with Mansfield striking twice either side of a Scott Rendell strike. Andre Gray had levelled soon after the break but Meikle snatched a winner in the 90th minute as the Hatters piled forward looking for maximum points.

Caretaker boss Alan Neilson elected an attacking eleven as they looked to re route their path to the Play-Offs. A home début was awarded to Wayne Thomas after his international clearance issues were put behind him as he slotted in alongside Steve McNulty for a brand new central defensive partnership. Dave Martin and Scott Neilson provided the width with Rendell and Gray up front.

It didn't take long for Thomas to affirm his presence, bullying a path to the ball as he rose highest to meet Ronnie Henry's floated dead ball. One swift shove gave him space to nod home but the referee took exception to his physicality and penalised the débutante.

A well worked corner routine nearly brought about its own rewards when hesitant defending from Lawless' cross saw the ball bobble up for Smith on the edge of the area. Close control allowed Smith to volley goal wards and his effort bounced inside the six yard box and agonisingly wide of the far post.

Instant response from the Stags as Briscoe broke the offside trap on the left corner of the box before cheekily trying to slide the ball underneath the onrushing Tyler. Big and strong from the keeper who was down early to nullify the effort.

A quiet opening half an hour at Kenilworth Road for both sides and Mansfield felt aggrieved not to put an end to that silence when Thomas sent Daniel sprawling. The Hatters central defender when to slam the ball to safety when Daniel nipped in front and prodded the ball away from the toes before falling to the ground. Heavy appeals from the Stags players and staff were waved away by the referee uninterested in their complaints.

Minutes later and it was a carbon copy appeal, this time the official pointed to the spot. The ball bobbled across the centre of the area when McNulty intercepted. His heavy first touch bounced away from him and Daniel, again alert to the situation, got his body in front and went to ground. Matt Green converted low into the bottom corner of Tyler's goal to give the visitors a 1-0 lead.

After 37 minutes, and after a lengthy stop for Beevers' injury, the Hatters capitalised on Mansfield only having 10 men on the field with Scott Rendell slamming home from close range. A quick throw in saw Smith invited to shoot, his effort looped up off of a flailing Mansfield leg, dropping kindly for Rendell who crashed home at the far post.

The Hatters, buoyant from their equaliser, pressed for a second. Smith continued to drive his team on as he found himself out wide and swung a low cross in to the area. His cross just evaded Rendell and was cut out before Martin could fire goal wards at the far.

Seconds later it was Martin's turn to provide as his jinking run worked his own angle to loop in an inviting cross. As played loaded the box for Martin to aim for and just as it looked Rendell would head home for his second Marriot darted off his line to pluck the cross out of the air.

As the first half drew to a close Mansfield struck to nab the Stags back in front. Intricate football on the edge of the area between Green and Stevenson before the latter slid the ball into the path of Daniel who coolly slotted the ball past Tyler to retain the lead at the half time interval.

Mansfield have won a reputation for starting quickly in the second half of Blue Square matches this season but the Hatters were the architects of the early action as Andre Gray netted three minutes after the interval. Rendell won the flick on and gave Gray the opportunity to race away. Keeping his composure when in on goal Gray dinked the ball into the far corner over the onrushing Marriott for his 14th of the campaign.

The Hatters continued on the offensive as Martin took his plaudits for a tireless performance and was replaced by fans favourite Stuart Fleetwood who was greeted with whole hearted cheers. A second change soon followed as Jake Howells replaced Neilson and slotted infield as the formation switched to 4-3-3.

Rendell, playing at the point of a front three, was hauled down on the edge of the area by Dempster allowing Howells the chance to make his mark on the game. He and Fleetwood stood over the set-piece before shifting it neatly between themselves and allowing Howells to search for the top corner with a left footed curler. Charged down by the Mansfield wall, Howells was forced to aim high and couldn't find the target.

Both sides looked dangerous as they searched for the all important three points. Mansfield retaliated with efforts of their own as Green's clever flick on the edge of the area sat up sweetly for Clements who dragged his shot wide of the post.

Seconds later Green stretched the back line again as he strode away from McNulty's challenged before cutting back at the byline. His cross flashed across the face of the goal with Jennings busting a gut to meet it at the far post but unable to make any contact.

Then the Hatters launched their own barrage on Marriott's goal as Fleetwood, Rendell and Henry all came close within seconds of each other. Smith's deep cross caused Briscoe to tangle up at the far post and with Rendell lurking the ball popped up for the Town forward to strike. His effort cannoned into the air off Marriott and as Fleetwood looked set to acrobatically convert Dempster slammed it away.

His clearance only halted the danger for a split second as Henry drilled a shot back into the mix. Through a flurry of players it deflected up off Fleetwood and Marriott clung on to keep the game all square.

The Hatters looked the more threatening as they continued on the front foot but were caught out in the final  minute by Mansfield substitute Meikle. McNulty's header could only drop as far as Ben Hutchinson who rolled Clements in on the left. His early cross forced Tyler to fly to his left but his strong palm could only fall as far as Meikle who turned home from close range to snatch three points for the Stags.

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