Match report: Mansfield 2, Grimsby 0
MANSFIELD Town powered to a club record eighth consecutive victory as they edged out promotion rivals Grimsby Town. But it was not enough to carry them to the top of the table.
Goals from substitute Matt Rhead and Adam Chapman steered Paul Cox's side to a hard-fought but deserved 2-0 win over the Mariners.
But with Wrexham claiming a 2-1 win at struggling Lincoln City, the Welsh side continue to keep the Stags in second place, albeit only by a matter of goal difference.
Still Mansfield will have been buoyed by a record-breaking victory at the One Call Stadium, along with another performance that was full of promise, as they look to secure a return to the Football League.
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It was no surprise that Stags manager Cox named an unchanged side following their 4-1 demolition of Stockport at the weekend.
One player in particular, Chapman, could have been certain of a starting place after netting a hat-trick from midfield on his home debut after being allowed to join the Stags from Oxford.
Mansfield were always going to face a tough battle against a Mariners side who boasted the best defensive record in the division.
But it was Mansfield who carved out the first opening of the game – and it was a good one – as Lindon Meikle sprinted into space down the right before delivering an enticing ball into the centre, where Matt Green failed to make proper contact with a shot from eight yards.
It was Meikle's turn to put the Grimsby defence on the back foot with a flurry of probing runs down the flank, although he could not find the same quality of end product to match his early cross.
The two sides both started the evening with promotion aspirations, so it was no surprise that it was an evenly contested opening period, with former Stag Craig Disley forcing an awkward save from Alan Marriott with a powerfully driven shot from the edge of the box.
A flowing move that culminated in a fine ball from Adam Murray out to James Jennings wide on the left might have carved out a chance for the home side, but the defender's cross was too strong for Meikle.
Marriott had to make a strong save again when Ross Hannah powered down the centre before letting fly with a rising shot, which the keeper pushed away strongly. While, following a high ball into the Grimsby box, Meikle stabbed a close range, instinctive effort just the wrong side of the post, after McKeown had stretched himself to save a header from Green.
Chapman was the first player booked after he had rather cynically hauled down Jamie Devitt as the Grimsby man launched himself into a probing run.
Marriott made hard work of saving another crisp shot from Grimsby, this time from Devitt, with his effort almost deceiving the keeper after bouncing awkwardly in front of him.
But, when Naylor lifted a fine cross to the far post from the right, the keeper did well to force a header from Andy Cook around the post.
When Lee Stevenson was fouled 22 yards from goal, a curling Chapman free kick took a deflection that sent it looping just the wide of the angle of post and bar.
Then Green put Ian Miller under pressure as the duo chased a long ball, and though the Grimsby man clearly put the ball out for a corner, referee Graham Horwood gave a goal kick.
John Dempster was the second Stags player to be booked, after pulling back Hannah as he threatened to progress into the box. But Grimsby's Sam Hatton followed him into the book almost immediately for a foul.
Chapman's long throw-ins had been a feature of the first half – and another huge, looping throw into the penalty area from the midfielder almost saw Mansfield take an early lead after the break but, after the ball fell to him in the box, Meikle saw an instant shot well blocked.
But Grimsby too almost went in front when Devitt drove to the by-line and cut the ball into the centre where Shaun Pearson somehow managed to direct a header narrowly over, from close range.
Sam Hatton had already come close with one driven free kick, pushed away by Marriott – and a second effort from the defender had to be scrambled away, as Mansfield battled to keep a clean sheet.
Mansfield added some physical presence to their front line when Cox introduced Rhead off the bench in place of Stevenson.
And the big striker did not take long to make an impact as he rose to plant a towering header into the back of the net from a Jennings corner and put Mansfield ahead in the 64th minute.
It was a powerful, strong effort from Rhead, who leapt into the crowd in celebration.
Devitt had a reasonable opening from which to pull Grimsby level, but lifted a shot high over the bar to cap off a decent move in disappointing fashion for the travelling fans behind the goal.
Stags brought on Louis Briscoe to add some guile and he had a shot charged down as the home side pushed for a second goal to ease the pressure.
That goal came in the 82nd minute as Chapman added another one to his Mansfield tally, making it four goals in three games since joining the Stags, with Green cutting the ball back for the midfielder, who sent a powerful, bending shot into the corner of the net from the edge of the box.
In the final stages, Stags took off striker Green and replaced him with Anthony Howell as they looked to hold out until the final whistle for three points that were not only vital, but also historic.
Man of the match: Alan Marriott. Made a number of saves to keep Grimsby at bay and help Mansfield to secure a vital three points against one of their promotion rivals.
Referee: Graham Horwood, Luton. Made some odd – and clearly wrong – decisions at times, but generally let the game flow and got most of the important decisions right.
Mansfield: Marriott, Dempster, Jones, Meikle (Briscoe 72), Green (Howell 86), Beavers, Murray, Stevenson (Rhead 57), Chapman, Jennings, Daniel. Subs: Sutton, Wright.
Grimsby: McKeown, Hatton, Thomas, Pearson, Miller, Disley (Thanoj 45), Cook, Devitt, Hannah (Brodie 81), Marshall (Colbeck 69), Naylor. Subs: John-Lewis, Wilson.
Attendance: 3,896 (806 away).
Other Blue Square Bet Premier results: Alfreton 3 Ebbsfleet 0; Barrow 0 Stockport 2; Dartford v Braintree ppd; Lincoln 1 Wrexham 2; Luton 1 Hyde 2; Macclesfield 0 Woking 0; Southport 1 Forest Green 2.