Dempster o.g. 13
TORQUAY United have been relegated out of the Football League.
Despite a superb 3-1 win at Mansfield, victory for Northampton at Dagenham made the chance of escape impossible and the reality we all have to accept is Conference football at Plainmoor next season.
On this decisive day, United did an excellent job to defeat the Stags with an own goal from John Dempster and further strikes by Ashley Yeoman and Shaquile Coulthirst sealed the win.
Mansfield got meagre consolation with a scruffy goal from James Jennings but the first-half dismissal of Matt Rhead completed a miserable afternoon for the home side, but nothing like the pain felt in the Yellow dressing room.
United manager Chris Hargreaves made just one change to the side that won so superbly at Exeter on Easter Monday. Yeoman was rewarded for scoring the winning goal with a starting place alongside Elliot Benyon in attack.
Nathan Craig was the man to make way and illness prevented the Welsh midfielder from making the trip, but striker Jayden Stockley was back from suspension to take his place on the bench.
Mansfield boss Paul Cox made five changes after a dismal home loss to Cheltenham five days ago. The players to come out were Ryan Tafaolli, Darryl Westlake, Anthony Howell, Jamie McGuire and Sam Clucas to be replaced by Dempster, Liam Marsden, Chris Clements, Colin Daniel and Ollie Palmer.
A notoriously big side, Mansfield quickly earned a free-kick for James Jennings to whip over but the offside flag spared United an early test. The next home attack was a shot deflected wide from Clements.
The Stags continued to be the more progressive side in the early stages and when Jennings drifted over a dangerous cross from the left, Palmer very generously headed wide when he should have scored.
United then suffered a body-blow 200 miles down the road, as Northampton took the lead at Dagenham, a goal that would send the Gulls down if that score remained the same at the end of the day.
A tough start almost got worse with another surge from Jennings and Baily Cargill did well, covering from left-back, to repel the cross. Bristol Rovers, meanwhile, were in front at Wycombe, another game that could send United down if ended in a draw.
The Gulls then snatched a lifeline by sneaking into the lead, as Cargill burst up the other end to flash over his own low ball across goal and Dempster stuck out a leg to deflect the ball past a stranded Lewis Price.
Sadly, Yellow celebrations were crushed by a second goal for Northampton and former Gull Ian Morris was the scorer. United obviously had to focus on the job in hand but survival hopes were now in the hands of Dagenham and Redbridge.
A leveller for Wycombe caused yet more United concern at a different stadium, while Mansfield made an early change by introducing Clucas for the injured Daniel on just 20 minutes. Dempster came forward in a bid to make amends for his error but Rice was equal to the header.
Mansfield were gradually trying to up their tempo but a strike from Palmer was held by Rice, and the Gulls were soon breaking forward to notch a crucial second at the One Call Stadium.
Cameron was the catalyst, dancing past his man on the left-wing and whipping over a cross for Yeoman, who reacted quickest after his initial header was blocked to force the ball over the line for a two-goal lead.
United were in rampant mood and it was great to watch. Benyon picked up the ball in midfield, surged forward and used the decoy run of Cameron to release Yeoman, who was denied another goal by Price racing off his line.
Heartbreak, however, at Dagenham, where Northampton had a 3-0 lead and it was looking very much like game over for the Gulls, with the Yellow Army painfully quiet amid the news from East London.
Back to Mansfield, and the home side were reduced to 10 men on the brink of half-time, as referee Gavin Ward showed Matt Rhead a straight red card for a hefty challenge on Dale Tonge.
The second-half started in a gloomy atmosphere for both sets of supporters but a goal from Jennings handed the home side an unexpected lifeline. A corner came over and the unfortunate ricochet had Mansfield back in the game, although it possibly hit Cargill on the way into the net.
Shaquile Coulthirst sought an immediate response with a run down the middle and pass wide for Yeoman, who instantly fired across the goal and narrowly wide of the far post.
Lee Mansell came within inches of restoring a more comfortable lead, fizzing an excellent drive inches over with Price at full stretch. United were turning the screw again and it was admirable stuff from players who were surely aware of events at Dagenham.
A determined run from Cameron should have resulted in a third for the Gulls after a clever pass by Yeoman, but the shot was tipped over when a square pass was probably the better option.
The subdued feel just seemed to get worse with the lack of positive news from Dagenham but an excellent corner from Cameron should have been converted by Krystian Pearce, who volleyed over from close range.
Hargreaves introduced Jordan Chapell for Benyon in the closing 15 minutes and the third goal arrived moments later, as a deep cross from the substitute was turned home by a downward header from the hardworking Coulthirst.
Mansfield reacted by removing Martin Riley for Howell, while Stockley came on for Coulthirst but the game understandably drifted to an unsatisfactory conclusion for everybody involved.
It was a courageous win for United and huge credit to everyone for ending the season with three successive away wins, but, sadly, it is too little, too late.
Mansfield [3-5-2]: 33 Lewis Price; 2 Ritchie Sutton, 4 John Dempster, 6 Martin Riley [13 Anthony Howell 79]; 29 Liam Marsden, 19 Chris Clements, 21 Adam Murray, 30 Colin Daniel [11 Sam Clucas 20], 16 James Jennings; 9 Matt Rhead, 36 Ollie Palmer [14 Jake Speight 85]. Substitutes [not used]: 7 Louis Briscoe, 10 Lee Stevenson, 20 Lindon Meikle, 23 Jamie McGuire.
Booked: Jennings 67
Sent-off: Rhead 43
United [4-4-2]: 13 Martin Rice; 2 Dale Tonge, 5 Krystian Pearce, 29 Anthony O’Connor, 30 Baily Cargill; 27 Shaquile Coulthirst [19 Jayden Stockley 83], 7 Lee Mansell [capt], 6 Damon Lathrope, 11 Courtney Cameron; 14 Ashley Yeoman, 26 Elliot Benyon [12 Jordan Chapell 76]. Substitutes [not used]: 1 Michael Poke [GK], 4 Aaron Downes, 8 Ben Harding, 15 Niall Thompson, 23 Danny Stevens.
Referee: Gavin Ward