Lightning can strike twice as Mansfield Town hit goal trail again
IT WAS a day that started with Paul Cox warning his Mansfield Town players to forget about thumping victories – they come round once in a blue moon.
Yet it ended with him roaring his way out of the One Call Stadium in a new Aston Martin – a gift from the Stags chairman John Radford – after his side plundered eight goals past Barrow.
Talk about a strange afternoon.
The fact is Cox has always talked about finishing well, coming around the bend well placed to motor through the gears and take the flag first.
Last season, the Stags did that to fire themselves up to third in the Blue Square Bet Premier only to miss out in the play-offs.
This time round, they can now smell the top-five again. But tomorrow night, they could be in there. And top spot is far from out of sight.
Saturday's emphatic 8-1 win has simply stoked the fire when it comes to the promotion talk that has so often been way off the agenda, given the early season struggles.
In the last campaign, the Stags recorded their biggest-ever win under Cox, thumping Barrow 7-0 on home turf as they went on that amazing run. Fast forward to this season and nine days ago, the Stags had beaten Dartford 5-0 at home to finally raise expectations.
But despite Barrow being in the bottom four, they had seen off promotion hopefuls Luton and Newport in their previous two matches.
Could there be a repeat of last year? Cox had warned his men to forget it. It did not matter if it was ugly – they just had to grind out a win even if it was not to the taste of the home crowd.
Yet his players had other ideas as, from the off, they took the game to their shell-shocked visitors and the Stags were at their clinical best in front of goal.
At the forefront was Lee Stevenson. The midfielder has had to wait 18 months for his chance since following Cox from Eastwood.
But in four consecutive starts, he has now scored five times and is growing more and more dangerous by the minute while last season's Matt Green is oozing confidence and his hat-trick, including two penalties, showed just how confident he is as he took his season tally to 14.
It was Stevenson who got the ball rolling, his stunning 22-yard rifled effort rising into the top corner. It was the perfect start but a foolish tug of the shirt by John Dempster on Danny L Rowe's shirt gifted the visitors a penalty and Rowe duly obliged from the spot.
However, despite the scare, Stags were rightly awarded a penalty of their own when Luke Jones was shoved to the floor by Matt Flynn and Green sent the goalkeeper the wrong way.
Skipper Murray then turned provider for Colin Daniel, whose strength came to the fore to see off his marker before firing in off the post from the edge of the box.
Two minutes later, it was 4-1. Daniel was chopped down in his own half by Flynn but the referee played a great advantage and Stevenson broke down the left, played in Green who burst into the box before chipping over Pearson.
Louis Briscoe, the man who bagged a hat-trick in this fixture last season, was denied by a one-handed save from Pearson, before Murray made it 5-1 just before the break – smashing in from a corner after the ball dropped invitingly.
Within seven minutes of the restart, there was another penalty and another goal for the hosts as Mike Pearson was adjudged to have pulled Jones to the ground in the box and Green stepped up to complete his hat-trick.
Substitute Matt Rhead then threaded a pin-point ball through to release Stevenson beyond the back four and he slammed home his second of the game.
And, two minutes later, it was eight as a ball back into the box saw Anthony Howell leap, spot the goalkeeper off his line, and looped a header into the back of the net.
Coming around the bend, Mansfield are now on a run of seven wins in nine league games and with matches every Saturday and Tuesday into April, there is no better time to be the form team hitting the fast lane.
But it is more than form. The mentality suddenly seems not only confident, but ruthless.
And the trip to Newport, who sit in fifth in that final play-off place, has extra incentive tomorrow night. Stags need to close the three-point gap and victory will do that and see them leapfrog their Welsh opponents on goal difference.
Not only that, Stags are just three points off third with three games in hand and 11 points off leaders Grimsby with three games to play catch up, not to mention a meeting with them next month on home turf.
Thanks to the chairman's generosity, Cox is now driving a supercar many can only dream of owning.
But it is not the only thing hitting top gear. His side are too.
Tomorrow, he swaps his new swanky motor for the team bus to south Wales.
Yet, if they head back to north Nottinghamshire on that coach in the play-off places late tomorrow night, you get the impression there would be nowhere else he would rather be.
Not even his flash Aston Martin.