Match report: Mansfield 2 Exeter City 3A topsy-turvy fixture at Field Mill saw Exeter City come out on top in a five-goal thriller with Mansfield Town – ultimately triumphing 3-2.
A breathtaking game saw action aplenty at either end of the field – it was Tom Nichols’ tenth goal of the season that opened the scoring in the first half.
However Mansfield got back ahead after the break as Billy Kee and Vadaine Oliver put the home side into the ascendency.
But the tide was turned back once again when Scot Bennett swept in, before David Wheeler won a penalty in the final ten minutes to allow Alex Nicholls to win it from the spot.
Two changes were made to the Grecians’ line-up ahead of kick-off – Christian Ribeiro’s training ground injury kept him sidelined completely, while Danny Butterfield took a seat among the substitutes.
That meant Scot Bennett came into defence, as did Jordan Moore-Taylor, making his first start since picking up an injury against Coventry City in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy clash in October. Mansfield began with five home debutants.
It was the hosts that registered the first effort – Junior Brown slipped clear of his marker to square a ball from the left, and Billy Kee slashed his effort wide from the edge of the area.
Arron Davies, playing in a right-sided wing-back role, was on hand to clear off the line. After he had headed a Callum Elder throw behind for a corner, Chris Clements picked out defender Martin Riley’s head and Davies was alert to away from under the bar.
Davies then came close to making an impact at the other end too – striker Tom Nichols was played in and just onside and managed to find Ryan Harley, who in turn found Davies, but his shot from 12 yards was blocked.
Scot Bennett, back at centre-half as part of a back three, then made an all-important touch to deny Junior Brown a tap-in as Reggie Lambe delivered a dangerous low cross from the right.
It was Liam Sercombe that was next to have a pop – he received on halfway from a Nichols lay-off, drove goalwards, but could only find the gloves of Adam Smith.
Nichols then won a free-kick in Stags territory, and after some nice interplay around the area by David Noble and Harley, Sercombe pulled the trigger and found the side netting.
City were growing into the game more and more but goalkeeper James Hamon had to claw as Vadaine Oliver headed goalwards – the follow-up was blocked out by a mass of bodies as Kee shot.
Both goalmouths were seeing plenty of action and as Nichols broke, he found Davies inside the area but the City man’s shot bounced clear off the legs of Smith. City then went close as Bennett headed a yard wide when he arrived unmarked on Harley’s corner.
But the first goal finally came – David Wheeler, who had replaced the injured Clinton Morrison on the half-hour mark – linked up with Davies the right for the latter to put in a delightful cross and allowed Nichols to head in his 10th goal of the season.
Mansfield came close to levelling before the interval as Michael Raynes’ header was saved instinctively by Hamon, and then Kee’s follow-up was cleared away and hadn’t crossed the line, according to the assistant.
Half-time: Mansfield Town 0 Exeter City 1
Mansfield were the first to register a chance after the break as Oliver launched a shot from distance, which was deflected wide. From the resulting corner, Riley – much like the first half – saw a header cleared off the line, but this time it was Oakley that denied the Stags man.
Then Hamon got down well to pull off an instinctive save from Kee as a low cross found him in the six-yard box, and the forward could only poke onto the roof of the net as he stretched on the follow-up.
However the scores were tied up 10 minutes after the restart – persistent pressure from Mansfield was finally merited with a goal as Kee escaped his marker from a Clements corner.
It could have been a full turnaround within two minutes as Brown received in the box, dummied to make space, and then hit right-footed only to be blocked as Moore-Taylor appeared from nowhere.
City were being pinned back by a resurgent Mansfield side but a good turn by Nichols allowed the striker to burst to the edge of the box and draw a foul – it was Harley that hit the free-kick but Smith held well.
However the Stags got in front midway through the half as Kee headed down from Clements, and Oliver – who arrived unchallenged in the area – took one touch to set the ball and another to fire in from eight yards.
Wheeler came close to getting a leveller of all his own making – he raced onto a Craig Woodman ball down the left, cut inside his man and smashed on his right – only to see a palm of Smith denied him.
But when Sercombe’s shot was turned behind for a corner, it was he that sent in a low cross from the flag to the near post where Bennett arrived unmarked to sweep in an equaliser for Exeter.
And City then took the lead again just minutes after – Alex Nicholls, on as a sub, pressured defender Riley into a blind backpass for the goalkeeper – but Wheeler arrived first and got tripped by Smith. Nicholls stepped up to take it and hit low to the goalkeeper’s left and into the net.
The Stags, again trailing, kept trying to pressure Exeter but the visitors were seeing well to the late offensive efforts. Graham Cummins replaced Wheeler in the final minute to help see out the game, City did with composure.
Full-time: Mansfield Town 2 Exeter City 3
Mansfield Town: Smith; Sutton (Rhead 85), Riley, Raynes, Elder; Lambe (Blair 63), Clements, Ravenhill (McGuire 69), Brown; Oliver, Kee.
Unused subs: Studer, Fisher, Heslop, Beevers.
Goals: Kee (56), Oliver (68).
Exeter City: Hamon; Bennett, Oakley, Moore-Taylor; Davies, Noble, Sercombe, Woodman; Harley, Nichols (Nicholls 74), Morrison (Wheeler 30 (Cummins 89)).
Unused subs: Pym, Butterfield, Keohane, Tillson.
Goals: Nichols (38), Bennett (76), Nicholls (82 pen).
Attendance: 3,881 (267 away).
Referee: Nicholas Kinseley