A late goal from Padraig Amond rescued a 1-1 home draw for Newport County to give them hope in their League Two play-off against Mansfield Town.
The Stags seemed destined to win thanks to CJ Hamilton’s fine first-half goal, plus goalkeeper Conrad Logan’s display.
However, Newport improved markedly after the break and Amond tucked in the rebound after Logan brilliantly saved his penalty, won by sub Adebayo Azeez.
The two sides meet for the second leg at Field Mill on Sunday, 12 May.
Mansfield missed out on automatic promotion on the final day of the season after being in the top three for most of the campaign, whereas for Newport the play-offs are a bonus after an incredible 10-game unbeaten run saw them sneak into seventh.
However, you would have never known which side was supposedly full of confidence based on the incredibly fast start made by the Stags.
The visitors were utterly dominant in the first period and undermined why they finished five points ahead of County, dispelling any suggestion of a hangover.
Newport heeded a warning on just five minutes when Tyler Walker burst clear and was hauled down by Mark O’Brien, with the County defender perhaps lucky to escape a straight red card from referee Charles Breakspear who instead reached for yellow.
Mansfield’s lightning fast counter-attacking was causing Newport all sorts of troubles and they deservedly went in front when Jacob Mellis and Danny Rose combined to tee up Hamilton, who lashed the ball into the roof of the net with Joe Day beaten at his near post.
Mansfield were in control and both Mellis and Walker missed opportunities to extend the lead.
The Exiles in contrast did not threaten Logan until the 33rd minute when Mickey Demetriou flicked the ball on and Jamille Matt headed at goal from close range, only for Logan to incredibly scoop the ball off the line to safety.
The home side also saw a penalty appeal for a Handball against Neal Bishop waved away.
Both sides exploded out the blocks after the interval and either team might have scored in 60 frantic seconds, when first Walker was denied by Demetriou’s clearance off the line after the pacy forward expertly rounded Day.
Newport’s chance was also gilt-edged, with Matt’s header finding Padraig Amond who was denied at point-blank range by another fantastic Logan stop.
The Exiles were pushing and pushing but an offside flag denied them on 70 minutes when Robbie Willmott fired home a rebound, only for the linesman to intervene.
Mansfield had the best defensive record in League Two in the regular season and worked incredibly hard to secure what seemed destined to be an 18th clean sheet, with Newport seeing efforts from Joss Labadie just miss the target in a frantic finale.
The impressive Mellis might also have taken the game away from Newport, but a fine stop from Day kept Newport in the tie before the thrilling late stages saw the Exiles earn parity.
The penalty was contentious with Logan clipping Azeez, though the goalkeeper very nearly made amends with a terrific penalty save only for the ball to fall kindly to Amond who smashed home to level.
Labadie had another chance in the last few moments to give Newport an unlikely lead, but saw his goal-bound effort blocked to leave the tie delicately balanced for the second leg.
Mansfield Town manager David Flitcroft said:
“There are some big decisions the referee has got wrong and it is a travesty because we’re professionals who worked really hard preparing for these games.
“Our fans travelled a long way and I feel we’ve been let down.
You just want the best officials to referee these games, we’re not asking for a lot. There are plenty of great officials who will be on VAR duty this weekend they could have used.
“I’m just not sure how much they respect the League Two play-offs; we’ve been positioned on a Thursday which gave the Football Association an opportunity to give us a hell of a good referee.
“There are probably 60 to 70 higher ranking referees in this country that should have refereed the game tonight.”
- 25O’BrienBooked at 6mins
- 17BennettSubstituted forLabadieat 72′minutes
- 8DolanSubstituted forAzeezat 58′minutes
- 9AmondSubstituted forCroftsat 84′minutes
- 5PearceBooked at 54mins
- 32RoseBooked at 68minsSubstituted forBenningat 77′minutes
- Charles Breakspear
- Shots on Target
Match ends, Newport County 1, Mansfield Town 1.
Second Half ends, Newport County 1, Mansfield Town 1.
Ryan Sweeney (Mansfield Town) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Jamille Matt (Newport County).
Corner, Newport County. Conceded by Ben Turner.
Attempt missed. Joss Labadie (Newport County) left footed shot from the left side of the box misses to the right. Assisted by Dan Butler with a cross.
Hand ball by Joss Labadie (Newport County).
Foul by Alexander MacDonald (Mansfield Town).
Joss Labadie (Newport County) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Neal Bishop (Mansfield Town) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Adebayo Azeez (Newport County).
Offside, Mansfield Town. Tyler Walker tries a through ball, but CJ Hamilton is caught offside.
Foul by Alexander MacDonald (Mansfield Town).
Josh Sheehan (Newport County) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Attempt blocked. Alexander MacDonald (Mansfield Town) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked.
Attempt blocked. Jacob Mellis (Mansfield Town) right footed shot from the right side of the box is blocked. Assisted by Ben Turner with a headed pass.
CJ Hamilton (Mansfield Town) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Foul by Mickey Demetriou (Newport County).
Substitution, Newport County. Andrew Crofts replaces Padraig Amond.
Goal! Newport County 1, Mansfield Town 1. Padraig Amond (Newport County) right footed shot from very close range to the bottom left corner following a set piece situation.
Penalty saved! Padraig Amond (Newport County) fails to capitalise on this great opportunity, right footed shot saved in the bottom right corner.
Penalty conceded by Conrad Logan (Mansfield Town) after a foul in the penalty area.
Penalty Newport County. Adebayo Azeez draws a foul in the penalty area.
Corner, Newport County. Conceded by Gethin Jones.
Attempt missed. Joss Labadie (Newport County) right footed shot from outside the box misses to the left.
Substitution, Mansfield Town. Malvind Benning replaces Danny Rose.
Attempt blocked. Robbie Willmott (Newport County) left footed shot from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Jamille Matt.
Attempt missed. Joss Labadie (Newport County) right footed shot from the centre of the box is high and wide to the right.
Substitution, Newport County. Joss Labadie replaces Scot Bennett.
Offside, Newport County. Jamille Matt tries a through ball, but Adebayo Azeez is caught offside.
Danny Rose (Mansfield Town) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Regan Poole (Newport County) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Danny Rose (Mansfield Town).
Corner, Mansfield Town. Conceded by Joe Day.
Attempt saved. Jacob Mellis (Mansfield Town) left footed shot from outside the box is saved in the top left corner. Assisted by Tyler Walker.
Offside, Newport County. Mickey Demetriou tries a through ball, but Jamille Matt is caught offside.
Offside, Newport County. Jamille Matt tries a through ball, but Robbie Willmott is caught offside.
Attempt saved. Jamille Matt (Newport County) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the bottom left corner. Assisted by Regan Poole.
Attempt saved. Tyler Walker (Mansfield Town) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the bottom left corner. Assisted by Danny Rose.
Offside, Mansfield Town. Tyler Walker tries a through ball, but Danny Rose is caught offside.