MENDES AND LARKIN ON FORM AS STAGS CRUSH OXFORD
Mansfield Town 3 - 1 Oxford United
Mendes 16, Larkin 19, Day 37. Whitehead 34
Match Statistics (Stags/Oxford)
18 Goal Attempts 4
10 On target 4
8 Off target 0
0 Woodwork 0
4 Corners 6
11 Fouls 10
3 Offside 0
Stags beat Oxford 3-1 to return to promotion hunt
Mansfield Town's first three-goal salvo of 2004 put them right back in the hunt for an automatic promotion spot against close rivals Oxford at Field Mill last night.
Stags jumped into fifth spot to breath down the necks of those above them after scoring three goals in a game for the first time since 16th December in the FA Cup and 29th November in the League.
Oxford, like Stags, have suffered a bad spell in recent weeks and had just one win in nine games to their name.
A good crowd took advantage of the reduced admission prices for this game which had been controversially abandoned at half-time last month due to high winds.
The interval score then had been 0-0 but it was a different story last night as Stags roared into an early two-goal lead for the second successive Tuesday, again through in-form Junior Mendes and Colin Larkin.
Oxford pulled one back on 34 minutes through a superb strike by Dean Whitehead only for Rhys Day to grab a crucial third within two minutes.
That proved enough for Stags to make it seven points out of nine in their three successive home games and set them up for a potentially happy Easter.
Stags made one change with Lee Williamson drafted in at left back for the suspended Tony Vaughan.
Mansfield almost made a disastrous start as they survived two Oxford chances in the first two minutes.
Firstly Day failed to cut out a long ball down the left and allowed Rawle to take control and get in a low shot which was thankfully straight at Pilkington.
Then a Hunt through ball released Basham who dipped a rasping half-volley from 18 yards which Pilkington did well to turn round for a corner.
The visitors threatened again shortly after as the ball ran loose from a charged down cross and Basham picked out the run of Whitehead with a neat reverse pass that saw Whitehead poke just wide.
At the other end a Williamson free kick was headed across goal by Day, but Mendes couldn't get the crucial touch in front of goal.
It had been a shaky start for Mansfield as the visitors made their extra midfield man count. But Stags roared ahead on 16 minutes through Mendes' third goal in as many games.
Hassell's long free kick was nodded down by John-Baptiste for Day.
He looked up and laid a superb ball into the path of Curtis who, from 18 yards, sent a powerful low shot on target. Coxall dived to his left to parry but could only watch as Mendes swept the loose ball home from eight yards.
Three minutes later it was 2-0. Larkin was sharp as a knife to punish Ashton for a poor backpass as he ran in, took the ball wide of Coxall and, from a tight angle, he crashed the ball home high into the roof of the net in spectacular fashion.
Oxford replied with two successive corners and flashed a warning as Crosby rocketed a free header wide from the second of those when he should have hit the target.
The game was now beginning to really hit up and Coxall did well to race out his box and tackle Larkin as he chased onto a through ball behind Ashton.
On 25 minutes Stags were denied a blatant penalty as Mendes' arm was held by Ashton in the box as he tried to wriggle clear.
However, there was controversy on 34 minutes as Oxford pulled one back.
Stags fans were screaming the ball had gone out for a throw in, but play continued and Oxford won a corner.
That was taken short and worked to Whitehead 25 yards out to the left of the box and he produced an absolute stunner of a shot to send the ball bulging into the top far corner with Pilkington helpless.
Mansfield needed a quick reply and it came within two minutes as Day's sixth goal of the season quickly restored their two-goal cushion.
MacKenzie blasted a free kick into the Oxford wall from outside the box and central defender Day reacted quickly to sweep the ball first time just inside the left post as sweetly as any striker could have done from 12 yards.
A lightning breakaway almost produced a fourth as Lawrence's pass inside was touched by Mendes for Larkin to shoot first time straight at Coxall.
Hackett was being allowed to cross at will from the right and another of his centres found Basham who cushioned a diving header on target but straight at the keeper.
Lawrence tried a cheeky effort from just inside the Oxford half in stoppage time with Coxall off his line, but the ball dropped wide.
Stags finished the half playing keep-ball to the delight of the home fans who gave them a rousing ovation at the whistle.
Stags created the second half's first danger as Larkin spun well to find Mendes who also turned sharply and fired wide from 18 yards.
Mendes again came close with a first time shot straight at Coxall after good work from MacKenzie and Larkin in the build-up.
Pilkington was a relieved man when MacKenzie eventually hooked clear after the keeper had caused danger by spilling a left wing cross.
A clever pass inside from Corden again invited a run from Mendes who, with sky-high confidence, took on three defenders and pulled a shot just wide.
Day conceded a free kick 35 yards out which Whitehead drilled well over.
Stags pressed for a fourth and Coxall did well to keep out a close range Mendes effort after a tackle on Larkin saw the ball run loose, while, moments later, MacKenzie whipped the ball narrowly wide from 18 yards.
Larkin received warm applause for one of his best displays of the season when replaced by teenager Beardsley for the last 12 minutes.
Livewire Mendes again came close as he jumped well to head a Corden cross onto the roof of the net on 82 minutes.
Then Lawrence was inched wide of the far post with a 20 yard rocket and Corden also went close from distance as Mansfield ended the night on a high.
STAGS: Pilkington, Hassell, Williamson, Day, John-Baptiste, Curtis, Lawrence, MacKenzie, Larkin (Beardsley 78), Corden, Mendes (A. White 90). Subs not used: J. White, Beardsley, Disley, Artell.
OXFORD: Coxall, Crosby, Basham, Robinson, Whitehead, Hackett, Waterman, Wanless (Pitt 69), Rawle, Hunt, Ashton. Subs not used: Woodman, Bound, Walker, Steele.
REFEREE: Howard Webb of South Yorkshire.
SCORERS: Mansfield - Mendes 16 ; Larkin 19; Day 36. Oxford - Whitehead 34.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Junior Mendes
In-form striker Junior Mendes struck his third goal in a week to put Mansfield on the road to a vital victory against promotion rivals Oxford.
Mendes, without a goal in 19 games just a week earlier, could have had a hat-trick in a one-way second half as the Stags leap-frogged United into fifth place.
Afterwards manager Keith Curle, who had seen his side clinch only their second win in seven games said: "Junior was at his best, that's what you get from him all the time.
"Great commitment, great energy and a desire to win. Overall the performance was spot on." Oxrford, with just one win in ten games, were punished for wasting three great chances in the opening five minutes.
New United boss Graham Rix, still looking for his first win at the club, had kept faith with young keeper Simon Cox.
And the keeper was unlucky to concede after just 16 minutes as Mansfield took the lead against the run of play.
Bobby Hassell's deep free-kick was eventually knocked back by Rhys Day to Tom Curtis whose powerful low drive was only parried by the unlucky Cox for Mendes to rifle in the rebound.
Three minutes later, Cox again had no chance as the Stags doubled their lead.
Jon Ashton's back-pass fell short and Colin Larkin nipped in, rounded the keeper and bent the ball into the roof of the net from an acute angle.
Earlier hesitancy by Day had almost let in Mark Rawle in the first minute, but the striker's low shot was easily held by Kevin Pilkington.
Less than 60 seconds later the U's again got behind the home defence, Chris Hackett's lobbed pass picking out Steve Basham whose half-volley was acrobatically tipped around the post.
Incredibly Oxford then squandered their third clear chance in the opening five minutes, Basham's clever pass releasing Dean Whitehead who prodded wide.
They were punished for the profligacy in front of goal when Mansfield then struck twice in four minutes.
However the visitors continued to play the better football and were rewarded in the 34th minute when Whitehead unleashed a 25-yard screamer into the top corner from a short corner routine.
But just two minutes later Mansfield restored their two-goal advantage, Day rifling in from six yards after Neil Mackenzie's 25-yard free-kick was blocked.
From then on Mansfield dominated and at the start of the second half Mendes wasted three golden opportunities to make the game safe, the best coming in the 65th minute when he was foiled by Cox's tremendous point-blank save.
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