Exeter City 2-3 Mansfield TownLine-Ups
EXETER CITY: Olejnik, Woodman, Noble, McAllister (Ribeiro 62'), Harley, Holmes (Nicholls 62'), Moore-Taylor (capt), Watkins, Stockley, Taylor, Brown.
SUBS: Davies, Reid, McCready, Tillson, Pym.
Goals: Watkins 64', Ribeiro 79'
MANSFIELD TOWN: Shearer, Benning, Rose (McGuire 69'), Collins (capt), Chapman, Green (Dieseruvwe 84'), Daniel, Tafazolli, Blair, Lambe, Thomas (Baxendale 46').
SUBS: Jensen, Beardsley, Yussuf, Shires.
Goals: Tafazolli 10', 82', Benning 56'
Referee: Charles Breakspear
DESPITE A TREMENDOUS second-half fightback, Exeter City were beaten by Mansfield Town at St James Park, leaving their play-off push looking a very steep task with three games left.
Ryan Tafazolli gave the visitors the lead before Malvind Benning doubled it in style, leaving City looking down and out. But they looked to have salvaged a point after Ollie Watkins and Christian Ribeiro (another screamer) drew them level. They were on terms for just three minutes, however; Tafazolli volleyed the winner with eight minutes to go.
Lee Holmes came in for Alex Nicholls in the one Exeter City change from the weekend, while Mansfield made two alterations from the side which beat Notts County 5-0 on Saturday; Mitch Rose and Colin Daniel the players coming in.
With just two home games remaining and two winnable games on paper coming with them, City looked to fly out of the trap here. David Noble set Jake Taylor free to force a corner minutes after the start, only for Ryan Tafazolli to head clear from Lee Holmes' corner. Tafazolli would prove an even bigger nuisance to the Grecians' play-off aspirations after ten minutes, when out of nowhere, his side-footed strike went through the crowd and rolled past Bobby Olejnik on its way into the net for the opener.
While City did struggle to get their usual passing game going in the opening exchanges, they did have a few decent chances. Jayden Stockley curled a free-kick just over the bar, and a Lee Holmes cross hung in the air, inviting the City striker, only for the AFC Bournemouth loanee to head well off-target.
HALF-TIME: EXETER CITY 0–1 MANSFIELD TOWN
The half-time team talk in the bag, Jayden Stockley almost gave Jake Taylor the perfect opportunity to level the scores when he found him wide-right five minutes into the second period. The Welshman burst into the box, only to shoot wide of the far post. But the task became even steeper for City when, after a wonderful save from Bobby Olejnik to keep out Matt Green, Malvind Benning unleashed a screamer which flew past the Austrian to make it two.
Christian Ribeiro and Alex Nicholls were introduced on the hour as City desperately looked for a way back into the game, and that was looking more likely when Ollie Watkins beat his man to fire in just a few minutes later. It was poignant that academy graduate Watkins got his name onto the scoresheet on a night where City welcomed all of the club's academy age groups and their sponsors as special guests.
Despite the suddent new hope, Mansfield should have killed the game off fifteen minutes from time, with Matty Blair going through one-on-one, only to blast the ball at Bobby Olejnik's face. The visitors were made to pay for that wasted opportunity: substitute Christian Ribeiro produced a thirty-yard screamer to deliver a dramatic leveller for City.
But City were on terms for just three minutes. Tafazolli proved the thorn in the Grecians' side once again as he drilled a half-volley in past the helpless Olejnik, stopping the City comeback in its tracks. It was a real shame, as City were realistically on the verge of a memorable salvage.
FULL-TIME: EXETER CITY 2–3 MANSFIELD TOWN
Attendance: 3,407 (77 away)
Man of the Match: Jordan Moore-Taylor