Mansfield Town 1, Forest Green Rovers 0: Rovers feel the force as Stags strike late
THE Blue Square Bet Premier's answer to Stoke City inflicted a third straight defeat on Forest Green – a triumph of force over finesse.
A mostly drab game was settled in the 89th minute by Matt Rhead, converted from an Exodus Geohaghon long throw that would have given Rory Delap an inferiority complex.
Talk of bubbles bursting is surely premature, but the promotion champagne some may already have put on ice has turned decidedly flat since the onset of October.
Rovers suffered late disruption to their preparations, Chris Stokes injuring his thigh during the warm-up to usher in Jared Hodgkiss for his first appearance of the season.
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Jamie Collins was also missing with a knee problem, meaning a midfield role for Paul Green, with Jamie Turley donning the captain's armband alongside the recalled Aarran Racine.
A shaky start was therefore not wholly surprising, and a Mansfield free-kick in the second minute was scrambled frantically clear as Jake Speight prepared to pull the trigger.
Eventually the visitors settled, and James Norwood had two shots blocked before a golden chance went begging in the 14th minute.
Yan Klukowski was the culprit, the normally clinical midfielder racing clear in the left channel and dragging wide of the far post with Steve Brogan screaming for a pass in the middle.
The Stags responded in the shape of a spectacular 25-yard volley from wing-back Colin Daniel, which had to be helped around the post by the alert Sam Russell.
Green and Kieron Forbes both chanced their arms from similar range but were unable to direct their efforts on target.
Rovers looked much the likelier side to break the deadlock as the first half drew to a close, and Norwood was disappointed to head over from a deep Hodgkiss cross.
The second period was a much scrappier affair, the home supporters' frustrations abundantly clear from the groans and jeers which greeted every misplaced pass and substitution.
Forest Green needed to make the most of that, but they did not seriously threaten until the 63rd minute when Matty Taylor met Hodgkiss' cross with a header that brought a sharp low save from Liam Mitchell.
Set plays always looked like Mansfield's best route to a breakthrough, and there was a scare when John Dempster got on the end of an Adam Murray free-kick and nodded over.
Stags substitute Lindon Meikle was a whisker wide with a curling shot from the edge of the box, while Taylor could only blaze over when handily placed at the other end.
The game looked to be drifting to an unremarkable stalemate, but it was the hosts who snatched all three points when Geohaghon's long throw into the area was headed past the helpless Russell by Rhead from close range.
Mansfield Town: L Mitchell; E Geohaghon, J Dempster, R Sutton; A Todd (L Briscoe 78), G Roberts, A Murray, J Speight, C Daniel; M Green (L Meikle 64), M Rhead. Subs not used: A Howell, L Beevers, L Stevenson.
Forest Green: S Russell; J Hodgkiss, J Turley, A Racine, E Asafu-Adjaye; K Forbes, P Green (M Vieira 65), S Brogan (B Wright 76); J Norwood (O Koroma 88), M Taylor, Y Klukowski. Subs not used: J Rowe, R Styche.
Referee: R Joyce (Billingham)
Star man: Jared Hodgkiss: Thrown into the team at the last minute but as assured as ever at right-back.