It was a game of high drama at the Forest Town Arena on Saturday (October 1) as plucky AFC Mansfield were defeated by Stamford in an Emirates FA Cup 3rd Qualifying Round tie.
AFC had proven themselves to be giant killers in the previous two rounds, with victories over clubs two levels above them on the pyramid, first with a win over Stratford Town and then a smash and grab away win at fancied Coalville Town. So with Stamford playing in the Premier Division of the Northern Premier League, one level above their hosts, another potential shock was on the cards. And despite AFC taking an early lead, it all unravelled in bizarre fashion.
Mansfield went ahead after Matt Plummer’s downward header from a floated free kick was well saved by the Stamford ‘keeper only to rebound to in-form Oli Fearon, who planted the rebound firmly into the back of the net.
Stamford, backed by a large following that gave the hosts their biggest attendance of the season by far, were a disappointment in the first half. They found it hard to make their loftier level of football be told.
So, in desperation, Stamford boss Graham Drury used all three of his subs by the hour mark and it was one of those subs, striker Ryan Robbins, who drew the tie level with a smart finish low to Jason White’s right-hand post.
Then things began to turn on Mansfield. Goal scorer Fearon was given a straight red for retaliation after he thought he’d been unduly dealt with by a Stamford defender. The referee was given no alternative but to send him off after he raised his hands to the defender’s face.
That should’ve been Stamford’s cue to take the game by the scruff of the neck but instead, Jordan Smith used his elbow to flatten Mansfield’s Jimmy Ghaichen in an off the ball incident which resulted in him following Fearon down the tunnel early. 10 aside now, and all to play for.
In what had become an end-to-end, spicy affair, Mansfield were denied by the woodwork twice and the tie looked to be heading to Stamford for a replay. A fair result perhaps.
But with just seconds remaining, Mansfield’s Jimmy Ghaichen had a moment of extreme madness in his own box when he inexplicably lashed out at a Stamford man who was going away from goal. The referee had no option but to point to the spot. Quite what Ghaichen was attempting only he will know. There was no danger. Whether he was still fired up from being elbowed, or whether he panicked we’ll never know, but it was a crazy challenge.
With time ticking on, Ollie Brown-Hill stepped up to the plate and fired home. Huge cheers – largely in relief – were heard from the strong travelling support.
As the game commenced, the ball was touched a mere two times before the ref signalled the end of the game. Stamford had progressed with a 2-1 victory which was handed to them on a plate.
It means that my allegiance switches from AFC Mansfield to Stamford and a mouth watering tie against National League side Wrexham now awaits The Daniels.
Before I wrap up, I’d like to say how much I’ve enjoyed my three visits to AFC Mansfield. They’ve been a joy to watch, and some of their players could certainly play at a higher level. I wish them all the best for the season ahead.
For me, I now go to the Zeeco Stadium in south Lincolnshire later this month – if I can get a ticket; it’s rumoured to be an all-ticket match that will be in high demand.
Stamford celebrate their equaliser
Full time scenes
More scenes after the final whistle
My last look at the Forest Town Arena. For this season at least. Who knows, it may just be au revoir.