Mansfield Town were left to rue missed chances as they lost ground in the race for the League Two title as they drew 1-1 at home to bottom of the table Sutton United.
Mansfield’s recent poor form continued and are now without a win in their last three matches, failing to capitalise on their game in hand on Wrexham to climb into second.
Yellows boss Nigel Clough criticised Sutton’s tactics and was left feeling bitter about refereeing decisions and expressed his desire to put things right at the weekend.
Clough was forced into making an early change, removing Lewis Brunt from the field after just 24 minutes whilst on a yellow card.
He said: “When you’ve got a young player on a yellow card and you’ve got a referee who I really couldn’t understand a lot of things happening out there, it would’ve been too much of a risk.
“They added nine minutes up but I think we could’ve had nine minutes from throw-ins – their goalkeeper is holding it for 15 seconds and the fourth official said ‘he never gives it.’
“If it’s a rule then why don’t you – if you’re not going to apply that rule, which ones will you apply?”
Sutton made a strong start to the game and should’ve taken advantage of a driven Ryan Jackson cross to Oliver Sanderson who fired wide from close range.
Sutton did make their early pressure count though after Mansfield full-back Brunt played a loose pass across his own box which was pounced on by former Stag Lee Angol who fired into the bottom right corner past.
A frustrated Clough added: “The message obviously is not getting through to a couple of people about not giving goals away – it was a blatant mistake.”
Mansfield grew in to the game and their pressure nearly showed as Stephen Quinn floated a left footed cross into the box just begging for any form of contact.
Clough wasn’t the only one at odds with the referee as the home crowd’s fury was ignited when the lively Quinn was hauled over in the box only to be booked for dissent after no penalty was given.
Stags pressure finally paid off in the 35th minute when Quinn flashed a low ball across the face of goal met by George Maris with a deft touch into the far corner.
Mansfield went into half time deservedly level and all was set for a high tempo second half and an inevitable flurry of goals from League two’s top scorers.
The 40 travelling Sutton fans could be proud of their team’s resolute defending, blocking every ball and frustrating Mansfield who were intent on playing the ball on the floor but struggling to execute their style.
Clough’s second half changes almost made an instant impact as substitute Will Swan missed a guilt edged chance, firing wide from Ollie Clarke’s blocked shot.
It wasn’t to be on the night as a defiant Sutton denied Mansfield a sure fire win and ensuring their long standing record of never losing at the One Call Stadium was upheld.
Mansfield remain in the automatic promotion push, three points from top spot but only a point clear of Crewe who occupy the first play off place.
Sutton United managed to climb off the bottom above managerless Forest Green Rovers to earn a much needed point in their bid to survive.