Late hero Rhead puts Christmas party on ice
CHRISTMAS is cancelled.
Well, for a week anyway.
Not that the Stags players care, after all, they are still in the FA Cup and a replay away from a potential third round tie with Liverpool.
As they made their way to their cars at Lincoln on Saturday, a few of the lads joked to Matt Rhead how he was their 'hero' following his last-gasp header making it 3-3 to force an FA Cup second round replay.
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But they also ribbed him for ruining their night out this coming Saturday as their Christmas bash has been cancelled to allow them to prepare for the replay a few days later. It will now go ahead the following weekend.
However, they were just delighted the FA Cup dream lives on after a pulsating encounter at Sincil Bank.
In fact, by the time Paul Cox pulled up at the One Call Stadium this morning, his blood pressure might just have returned to normal.
The Mansfield Town manager could easily have been sat in his office ruing how basic errors had seen his side dumped out of the FA Cup by Lincoln in a see-saw game.
But thanks to his old faithful Rhead, the adventure is not over just yet.
It was pure FA Cup with goals, mistakes by both sides, a great atmosphere, a stunning goal and twists and turns until the last whistle.
But Cox and his players knew that, backed by almost 1,200 fans, a poor performance and defeat could have turned things ugly following scenes at Matlock a few days earlier when his side crashed out of the FA Trophy to a late goal in their replay, the Stags fans behind the dugout venting their vitriol at Cox, one escorted away by police.
Any kind of slip-up or poor showing is leading to fierce criticism, despite Stags sitting seventh in the league and in a local derby, with a highly-charged crowd, Cox knew the pressure-levels would be cranked up another notch on Saturday.
And heading for defeat as the game went into stoppage-time, the manager would have wondered what he had to do, given the goals conceded were easily avoidable.
But the burly figure of Rhead, his trusted striker at Eastwood who has joined him in north Nottinghamshire, did what he did best by causing a nuisance after coming off the bench, putting his head where it hurts and taking his chance.
From frustrated Stags fans to sheer jubilation in the far corner of the ground. No abuse, just smiles as it set up their weekend nicely, knowing they were in the hat for the big third round draw the following day.
The truth is, this was a much-improved performance, as Cox made eight changes and reverted back to the side that had been serving him so well before the Matlock debacle. It was just a shame that basic defensive errors almost became their undoing.
The lead came on 21 minutes for Mansfield as Matt Green hustled last man Andrew Boyce and the defender played a short back pass which Green ran onto, beat goalkeeper Paul Farman to it, tapped it around the goalkeeper and then kept his composure to slot home.
Minutes later another defensive lapse saw Farman race out but he did not get to the ball and, wide on the left, Green fired first-time but the ball struck the bottom of the far post and went behind.
But instead of seeing out the half, Stags gave away a free kick on the edge of their own box on the stroke of half time.
And midfielder Alan Power curled the free kick beyond the wall and into the bottom corner with his former Nottingham Forest colleague Shane Redmond at full stretch to his left.
It was a huge blow but it got worse as, two minutes after the break, Stags were behind as Dan Gray's long throw-in from the left caused problems again and after Jamie Taylor's first shot was saved by Redmond, he followed up, scrambling across the floor to score.
But Stags were level shortly after when Chris Clements' free kick was headed out but only as far as Louis Briscoe and as it bounced, the winger struck it left footed from 20 yards straight into the top corner. It was a screamer to level matters against the club managed by David Holdsworth, the ex-Stag boss who have him his chance with Mansfield.
But on 65 minutes, Lincoln scored on the break from a Stags throw in. Taylor broke at pace, skipped between two Stags players and darted down the entire pitch, into the box but Redmond, diving to his left, palmed away his shot only for Power to pounce on the rebound and put Lincoln ahead.
It led to a spell of pressure from the hosts, with Redmond keeping out Power's free kick and Tom Miller rattling the crossbar.
But in stoppage time came Rhead's equaliser, heading home Briscoe's cross but there was more drama at the death, as Briscoe cleared Vadaine Oliver's header off the line.
It was not one for the feint hearted, that's for sure.
While Christmas celebrations have been put on hold, at least their FA Cup dream is not over.
And, when it comes to the players' delayed festive bash, they will hope it's a double celebration, with a date with Liverpool also in the bag.