Mansfield Town fail to build on recent good results
IT WAS always going to be a great opportunity for Mansfield Town.
As the form team of the division, and riding high on the back of two emphatic home wins, a trip to fifth-placed Newport gave them the opportunity to leapfrog their opponents into the play-off places with victory.
But Justin Edinburgh's side, in front of a vocal and somewhat hostile crowd in south Wales, were always going to prove a different proposition to Stags, compared to Dartford and Barrow in their previous games.
And, in the end, Andy Sandell's second-half penalty and Christian Jolley's well-taken 78th-minute strike ensured that chance slipped from Mansfield's grasp as they made the long trip home late last night with no points and still hunting down the play-off pack after this 2-0 defeat.
There did seem to be hope, as after a full-blooded opening half where the Stags had been up against the ropes, they managed to go into the interval with the game goalless.
But Sandell's 66th-minute spot kick made the breakthrough and Jolley added to the woes to end Paul Cox's men's recent excellent run, one that had seen them take seven wins from nine league games prior to last night.
Cox made no changes to the starting line-up or bench, following the 8-1 demolition of Barrow at the weekend.
The rugby at Rodney Parade was cancelled at the weekend, due to a waterlogged pitch, and although it had been rolled, it was in a poor condition as the game got underway.
A few meaty tackles were put in by both sides early on, as you would expect between two sides sitting fifth and sixth in the table going into this match.
And the atmosphere heated up early on when former Notts County man David Pipe whipped in a dangerous cross from the right and the hosts felt there was a nudge in the back of striker Danny Crow in the six-yard box that put him off course to pounce.
Stags forced their first corner of the game on 12 minutes, after Lee Beevers had caused problems with a long throw but Lenny Pidgeley stood strong to pluck James Jennings' inswinger out of the air.
It was Newport who were maintaining the upper hand and when Pipe crossed again from the right, Crow showed his class to chest back into the path of Scott Donelly but the midfielder fired his 18-yard effort wide of the target.
Crosses into the box were causing the visitors problems and after Jennings did well to clear one, it came back in for Ismail Yakubu to shoot but John Dempster made an instinctive block to turn around for a corner.
It took until midway through the half for Mansfield to really threaten, when a couple of slick interchanges opened up space and after one, Adam Murray pounced on a loose ball but, despite scoring three in as many games, the skipper blazed over the bar from 20 yards.
At the other end, Luke Jones, so impressive in recent weeks, showed his strength again in the six-yard box to hold off Jolley and deny him a shot on goal after a mistake by fellow defender Dempster.
Alan Marriott then got down to deny Crow from a tight angle. And on 29 minutes Stags survived as Yakubu got the better of Anthony Howell to get to the right byline and delivered a deep cross to the back post, where Sandell met it only to see his header cleared off the line by Jennings.
The hosts were shouting again for a penalty, when Crow went down in the box under a challenge from Jones but nothing was given and then five minutes before the break, Sandell curled a free-kick just over.
Two minutes into the second half, another deep cross from the right picked out Lee Minshull but his half-volley across goal was turned away by a Stags defender.
Six minutes in, Stags forced a superb save from Pidgeley as Lee Stevenson met Jennings' corner at the near post and his glancing header was dipping under the bar until the Newport goalkeeper's acrobatics turned it over for another flag kick.
At the opposite end, Jolley looped a cleverly-struck shot on the turn just over the crossbar, before Sandell opened up from 20 yards after being afforded space but put his low effort too close to Marriott.
In the 66th minute, the hosts had a penalty when Jolley was fouled in the box and Sandell stepped up to slot home to make the breakthrough.
It prompted a change from Cox, with Matt Rhead replacing Louis Briscoe on 71 minutes.
But seven minutes later, Jolley darted forward to meet a cracking low through ball, as Newport broke two-on-one and, once down the right of the box, he kept his composure to fire beyond Marriott into the far corner.
With that act, the game was finished, Mansfield deflated as the home crowd continued to find their voice as their own promotion hopes took a big boost, after some indifferent form of late.
Jolley could have added to his tally when another superb ball down the right put him through, beyond Dempster, but Beevers got across to make a timely intervention to save any further damage.
Although defeat last night is a setback, the bigger picture is still bright.
Stags fans will remember this fixture from last season, played at a similar time in mid-February. That day, a dreadful showing and defeat left the Mansfield fans thinking what next?
What followed was a run of 13 wins, a draw and just one defeat to finish third in the Blue Square Bet Premier.
Such a run might be hard to replicate but given the recent good form, there is still plenty to unravel in Mansfield Town's promotion ambitions, despite last night's loss.
Man of the match: Adam Murray. The captain was industrious in his efforts in midfield and probably edged Luke Jones, who was solid in the first-half at the back. But it was an evening when there were no stand-out performers in a real battle, where Mansfield were on the back foot for long periods.
Referee: Charles Breakspear (Surrey). Stood strong to the vocal home crowd as he turned down two Newport penalty appeals in the first-half. But he called in the hosts favour in the second half, paving the way for their opening goal.
Attendance: 1,902 (90 visitors)
Newport: Pidgeley, Pipe, James, Yakubu, Anthony, Sandell, Minshull, Flynn, Donelly, Jolley, Crow (Washington, 88). Subs: Julian, Thomson, Willmott, Evans.
Mansfield: Marriott, Beevers, Jennings, Jones, Dempster, Briscoe (Rhead, 71), Howell, Murray, Daniel, Stevenson, Green. Subs: Sutton, Meikle, Clements, Wright
Other Blue Square Premier results: Telford 1 Hyde 3, Cambridge 0 Alfreton 3, Dartford 1 Luton 0, Forest Green 4 Braintree 1, Hereford 0 Wrexham 1, Southport 5 Barrow 2, Stockport 2 Lincoln City 0, Tamworth 0 Macclesfield 0