MATLOCK thoroughly deserved this hugely impressive result against their Conference Premier neighbours and were probably unfortunate not to come away with a shock win.
Memories of 1976 and a famous FA Cup 2nd Round giantkilling came flooding back as the present day Stags and Gladiators prepared to do battle on a filthy wet day.
And Mark Atkins’ men could claim a moral victory on the day at times outplaying and certainly looking the fitter of the two teams despite the seventh placed Conference side being full time.
Adam Murray gave he hosts a 24th minute lead but Matlock came roaring back to level through Lewis McMahon seven minutes before half time.
Mansfield had goalkeeper Shane Redmond to thank for not being on the end of another upset, his repetoire including not only a fantastic penalty save from McMahon, but an even better stop to keep out the follow up from James Ashmore.
The Stags all too often gave the ball away with alarming ease as they failed to match Matlock’s top class workrate and energy, the Gladiators showing an enthusiasm which delighted their 250-strong following who sang throughout the 90 minutes.
Laurence Gaughan came in for his first start of the season as with Martin Foster suspended, Phil Roe was pushed on to the left of midfield and Glyn Cotton reinforced the engine room at Joe Leesley’s expense.
Leesley was a substitute on a bench which included under 19 star James Travis and goalkeeper Matt Leese. Nick Buxton was at his daughter’s wedding and both Oscar Radford and Anthony Griffiths-Junior were cup tied.
Mansfield worked an opening in only the third minute as Murray drove a foot past Jon Kennedy’s right hand post, the referee wrongly awarding a corner which was cleared.
But shortly afterwards Redmond had to dive bravely at Massiah McDonald’s feet in a one on one from Cotton’s through pass, the goalkeeper recovering after treatment.
Then on seven minutes came the penalty when John Thompson’s lunge wiped out McDonald, the Stags defender escaping with a yellow card when some referees would have shown a red.
Mcmahon’s penalty was firmly struck, but Redmond dived acrobatically to his right to block and then spectacularly denied Ashmore on the rebound.
Redmond held his ground to deny McDonald on 13 minutes after the number nine had again been eased through by a precision pass from Cotton.
Gaughan limped off on 21 minutes with what looked to be a reoccurrence of his hamstring complaint, so with Brad Grayson sent on, Roe reverted to left back.
Three minutes later Mansfield went in front as Louis Briscoe’s well struck drive bounced awkwardly in front of Kennedy and from the goalkeeper’s parry, Murray had the relatively simple task of pushing home the loose ball.
That should have been the signal for Matlock to perhaps capitulate. Certainly it looked as if an over confident Mansfield thought so. The Gladiators had other ideas.
They battled and chased and Mansfield looked nervous. The hosts simply could not retain possession and on 38 minutes a deliciously constructed goal saw Matlock back on level terms.
An exquisite and intricate passing move ended with a cheeky and superbly disguised back heel from McDonald to McMahon who calmly sidefooted home from the edge of the box.
The expected surge from Mansfield after the break failed to materialise and Matlock had a good chance on 47 minutes. A probing individual run from Grayson ended with Redmond holding the substitute’s shot which was straight at him.
Kennedy saved well from Matt Green at the other end before Briscoe’s header fell across the face of the goal but there was nothing of any substance from the Stags to seriously trouble the underdogs.
Matlock remained calm and composed on the ball, playing in neat little triangles and outpassing their opponents in a style which looked pleasing on the eye.
Gareth Davies broke into the box on the left but Thompson deflected his cross behind with both McDonald and McMahon waiting to pounce.
Grayson had a shot blocked before Ashmore found McMahon on the left whose low cross was superbly grasped at full stretch by Redmond, saving probably a certain goal with McDonald waiting for the scraps.
McDonald fired high and wide after another break down the left and certainly Matlock had done enough not only to force a replay but they might even had won it.
Substitute Matt Rhead might have done better with two late chances for the hosts but that would have been tough on a resilient and skilful Gladiators.
Right at the death though Grayson could have been the hero. With Redmond off his line, Grayson slipped as he prepared to pull the trigger to shoot, but he still managed to find a shot. But defender Luke Jones was there to boot clear with the ball heading goalwards and save Mansfield’s blushes.
A delighted Mark Atkins said afterwards “It was a good performance and that’s what we came here to do.
“We’re disappointed not to win the game but overall we’re very happy and I’m delighted with the way we tried to play the game. Now we have another great game on Tuesday and it’s a reward for our supporters who were fantastic today.”
MATLOCK: Jon Kennedy, Micky Harcourt, Phil Roe, Laurence Gaughan (Brad Grayson 21), Adam Yates, James Lukic, Glyn Cotton (Joe Leesley 90+2), James Ashmore, Massiah McDonald, Lewis McMahon, Gareth Davies.
Subs not used: Will Dennis, James Travis, Matt Leese.
REFEREE: C Kavanagh (Ashton-under-Lyne).
STAR MAN: Lewis McMahon.