CONLON AND BROWN GOALS ENSURE SURVIVAL
Mansfield Town 2 - 1 Barnet
Conlon 45+6, Brown 66. Birchall 68
Nervous Stags are safe at last
MANSFIELD TOWN 2 BARNET 1
By John Lomas
MANSFIELD Town made themselves safe at long last with this first win in nine games at Field Mill this afternoon.
But, after easing into a 2-0 lead, they immediately let Barnet back into the game and had home nerves in tatters by the end.
The injury-ravaged home side had lost four games on the trot and their last four home matches before this one.
However, Barry Conlon's goal deep into first half stoppage time put them in the driving seat.
And there was huge relief when Conlon sent Simon Brown clear for the second on 66 minutes.
But Mansfield rarely do things the easy way and within 60 seconds former Stags striker Adam Birchall pulled one back after they had hit both posts in a scramble and it was game on again.
It wasn't the best of games - the first half was awful to watch.
But at least Stags know the spectre of being dragged into the relegation picture at the last minute like Oxford last season is gone.
Barnet will feel hard done to as they were the better side on the day. But Stags will not care a jot.
Amazingly, the injuries continued with Callum Lloyd limping off in the first half and John Mullins finishing the game with eye closed after a nasty bang to the head midway through the first half.
Stags, still missing six key players through injury, made two changes from the side beaten at Swindon last week.
Inexperienced midfield duo Sleath and Wood were dropped to the bench.
In came Arnold and, surprisingly, Dawson, who had passed a late fitness test on the groin injury that manager Billy Dearden had said would keep him out.
Before kick-off, as at all other League grounds, there was a one minute of applause in memory of England World Cup hero Alan Ball, who died in midweek.
Both sides started in businesslike fashion in the strong wind. And Brown put in the first on-target shot on five minutes though it was tame and easy for Harrison.
White had a much harder save to make on nine minutes as Hatch's firm pass into the path of Puncheon put his team mate in space on the left of the box. But his low shot was kicked out
by the legs of White for a corner.
Stags broke from that and Dawson fed Brown into space only to see the striker screw his shot high and wide.
Mansfield then forced their first corner which Arnold floated too close to Harrison who safely gathered.
Barnet then produced a spell of pressure which included White having to kick away a backpass under pressure from ex-Stag Birchall. But the goal survived intact.
At the other end King got a block in on a low Brown drive.
Stags physic Paul Madin was twice in the pitch in quick succession to tend injuries to first Lloyd and then Mullins.
Mullins eventually went of to have a head wound strapped and Stags continued with 10 men for a short time.
However, Lloyd was clearly struggling on his return and on 29 minutes he limped off to be replaced by Sleath.
In the meantime an increasingly scrappy game had seen a succession of poor passes and loose balls and only Hjelde blocking a Birchall shot on the turn had given us anything resembling goalmouth action.
Hatch tried to get Sinclair away on 33 minutes. But his attempt to control on his chest saw the ball bounce away towards White who was able to grab it off his toe as he tried to poke a finish goalwards.
A half clearance reached Bailey over 30 yards from the Mansfield goal but he hurriedly dipped a shot back on the wind which dipped just over White's crossbar.
But the game was largely awful and the crowd groaned as one when it was announced they would have to sit though five minutes of stoppage time.
It did quickly produce a couple of half chances, though. Warhurst was booked for a foul on Brown and Arnold floated the free kick onto the top of the net.
Then a superbly propelled header from Conlon set Arnold into space but he pulled a tame shot well wide.
But, out of the blue, in the sixth minute of added on time, Stags grabbed the lead, perhaps undeservedly.
Mullins found Brown on the right. He spotted the run of Conlon and sent a cross onto his head. Harrison managed to get a block on the header but could not prevent Conlon making sure from close range.
Early in the second half Kitchen had to get himself in the way of a Puncheon shot at the far post.
The youngster also did well to head out for a corner at the far post as Hatch rose behind him. The corner was cleared out to Puncheon who hooked an 18-yard volley inches wide of White's left hand post.
Hatch was well wide with a misjudged overhead kick on the hour mark. Then White palmed away a Bailey corner under pressure as Barnet continued to press for an equaliser.
But it was the home side who gave themselves a two-goal cushion on 66 minutes.
Barnet were caught defending too high and square and Conlon's glorious through ball sent Brown clear on goal and he kept his head to steer a cool finish past Harrison.
But the Bees were back in it within a minute. There was a frantic goalmouth scramble during which Cogan and Sinclair both struck the woodwork before Birchall forced the ball home from close range against his old employers.
Two minutes later it was almost all square again as Bailey, spotting White out of position, hurried an effort at the net from 30 yards and White did superbly well to get back across his goalmouth and claw the ball away full stretch.
On 72 minutes when White and his defenders failed to deal with a handing left wing cross, Sinclair volleyed over from close range.
Gritton joined the action two minutes later in place of Arnold.
On 76 minutes Harrison was fully extended, diving to his right to keep out a first time blast from Sleath after good work from Conlon had set up the chance.
There were nervous moments at both ends in the closing stages but the final whistle brought huge relief and the inevitable final home game of the season pitch invasion
Mansfield Town 2 Barnet 1
Experienced striker Barry Conlon bowed out of Field Mill with the goal that banished nervous Mansfield's worries of a first ever relegation from the Football League.
Conlon, released by the Stags earlier in the week, headed a vital breakthrough six minutes into first half injury-time – only Mansfield's second goal in six games.
And he then set-up a second for Simon Brown in the 66th minute to clinch the Stags' first win in nine matches and avoid a club record fifth successive home defeat.
The Bees, fresh from a five-goal mauling at Grimsby and without a win in three games, staged a late fight back when former Mansfield striker Adam Birchall tapped in a minute later.
But two dramatic saves from home keeper Jason White preserved the Stags' lead as they held on for the vital victory.
The Stags, desperately fighting a crippling injury list which robbed them of six first teamers, were given a massive boost just before kick-off when influential midfielder Stephen Dawson made a surprise return after a late fitness test.
But their search for the elusive point to banish any relegation worries began badly with passes going astray and few chances created in a nervous opening half devoid of any home goalmouth action until six minutes into first half added-on time.
At the other end Jason Puncheon almost gave Barnet the perfect start, his low 20-yard drive kicked away by keeper White after a flowing cross-field move also involving Liam Hatch.
Nick Bailey's speculative, dipping 40-yard shot almost caught out keeper White as Barnet continued to look the better side.
However, the Stags grabbed their precious lead in first half added on time. Barnet keeper Lee Harrison beat away Conlon's close-range header from a deep Brown cross, but the rebound was bundled in by the striker in his last home game for the club.
Nine minutes into the second half Puncheon again went close for Barnet, hooking his drive through a crowded goalmouth and narrowly wide.
The Stags doubled their lead in the 66th minute when Conlon's clever touch put Brown clear of the defence and he coolly rolled the ball past keeper Harrison.
That should have secured their first win in nine games, and their Football League status, but within 60 seconds Barnet grabbed a lifeline. Barry Cogan and Dean Sinclair both hit the post in a goalmouth scramble before ex-Stag Birchall tapped in from close range.
Two minutes later only a fine save by White denied Bailey an equaliser as the nervy Stags started to panic. Alex Baptiste's poor clearance fell straight to Bailey and his first-time shot had the keeper scrambling across his line to save.
Danny Sleath's acrobatic 75th minute drive forced Harrison into a flying fingertip save as the Stags looked to make the points safe, and that stop almost proved vital in injury time when Barnet substitute Oliver Allen stretched to head wide with home keeper White beaten
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