Imps thwarted by last-gasp Rhead
The spoils of war were cruelly snatched from Lincoln City's grasp in the dying embers of a pulsating FA Cup second-round clash as sub Matt Rhead's header deep into injury-time denied the Imps a definite place in the third round and salvaged a 3-3 draw for Mansfield.
The 4,000 patrons crammed into Sincil Bank witnessed a blood and thunder Cup tie that ebbed one way and then the other as honours were ultimately shared in a six-goal thriller that saw the Stags let off the hook.
Mansfield gained the upper hand midway through the first half through a sloppy piece of defending by Andrew Boyce, who sold goalkeeper Paul Farman short with a back pass that was latched on to by Matt Green. He knocked the ball round the City keeper and ran on to slot it into an empty net.
City huffed and puffed for the most part in the first half, seemingly unable to come to terms with the enormity of the task in hand, the side looking a pale shadow of the one that recently enjoyed a 10-game unbeaten spell.
Lincoln boss David Holdsworth, formerly of Mansfield's fair parish, reverted back to the starting XI that had served him so well during that unbeaten run, with Boyce, Jamie Taylor, Gary Mills, Dan Gray and Jake Sheridan all returning to the side after being left out for the FA Trophy clash at Tamworth.
But City's hearts and minds were elsewhere for much of the first half as they struggled to produce any creativity, although ex-Stag Adam Smith should have done better with an early effort that he scuffed into the ground when well placed in the visitors' box. With a point to prove against his former employers, that effort about summed up the winger's afternoon.
The Mansfield goal hardly brought City to life and they continued to toil, being overrun in the centre of the park, while the two widemen in Smith and Sheridan couldn't get a foot on the ball for long enough to spark any momentum.
Mansfield should have been reduced to 10 man before the break, but defender John Dempster somehow evaded even a caution for two cynical fouls, the first of which saw him and Sheridan square up after the Imps winger had been scythed down in full flow.
Taylor was doing his best up front against the man mountain figure of Exodus Geohagon, winning headers, harrying, chasing and holding the ball up, but carving a lone furrow as his colleagues failed to give him the support he needed.
But just as a half-time rollicking from Holdsworth appeared imminent, City won a free-kick just outside the Stags box and up stepped Alan Power to drive a shot through the wall and into Shane Redmond's bottom left-hand corner to haul the Imps level in a match they had failed to get out of third gear in.
A rejuvenated City came out like hungry wolves at the second half and within two minutes took the lead when Taylor notched his 12th goal of the season with a header from close range after a ball was slung into the box.
From playing like paupers, City were now in a princely position, but the goal stung Town into action and they hit back minutes later with Louis Briscoe delivering a rocket of a shot into the top corner, with Farman helpless. On another day, Briscoe's shot would have sailed over the bar and Stacey West stand, but his luck was in on this occasion and he saw the net bulge.
Both sides upped the tempo and City especially were looking a much improved outfit from the one that had limped in at half-time. With a backline looking increasingly susceptible, Lincoln sensed they could grab another goal and it came from a wonderful piece of play from Taylor.
Picking the ball up just outside his own area, Taylor went on a mazy run that saw him run the length of the field. With Sheridan in support and unmarked, he opted to shoot across goal, with Redmond diving to his left to keep the ball out. He could only parry Taylor's effort, though, and there was a grateful Power on hand to hit the rebound, albeit unconvincingly, into the ground and towards goal with just enough power and venom to beat the Stags defender who had got back on to the goalline.
Ciry sensed a fourth to kill Paul Cox's men off and it nearly came. After Boyce had nodded narrowly wide, Power tested Redmond with a low, vicious free-kick, that the Town keeper did well to save. Tom Miller then crashed a header against the Mansfield bar as the visitors' defence threatened to buckle once more. With the minutes beginning to tick down, City fans began to cast their minds forward to Sunday's draw and entering the four minutes of added-on time, Lincoln were almost home and dry.
Mansfield, though, pushed forward one last time and it seemed like Farman had averted the danger when saving well from Rhead after a free-kick was delivered into the box following a foul by Mills. But the ball came straight back into the box and it was met by the rotund Rhead who thumped his header into the back of the net to draw the visitors level once more.
Even then there was still time for City to nearly win it, when sub Vadaine Oliver's header was hacked off the line by John Thompson, before the derby encounter came to an end, with both sides having to do it all again in just over a week's time.
So, for the third round in a row, City have been taken to a reply after drawing the initial match at home and they will be looking to secure a third away win in the competition and hopefully set up a dream tie against a Premier League giant.
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