NO goals but plenty of action on yet another intriguing afternoon at Planet Plainmoor.
Mansfield came to spoil and the Gulls were determined to end a difficult recent run, but the final, vital component of luck once again refused to fall United’s way.
After hitting the post and heaping on the pressure, the Yellows had to change their philosophy in the final 20 minutes when Krystian Pearce was dismissed for two cautions and the point, in the end, was better than nothing.
United manager Alan Knill made three changes from the side that lost 3-2 at Wycombe last weekend. Billy Bodin returned from international duty to replace Elliot Benyon in a slightly amended attacking formation that saw the Welsh youngster operating in a more central role.
In midfield, Jak McCourt made his full debut in place of Damon Lathrope and Anthony O’Connor also came back from international duty. The Irish youngster slotted in at centre-back, dropping Tom Cruise down to the bench.
Mansfield boss Paul Cox also made three tweaks to his team after the home draw with Bristol Rovers seven days ago. Jamie McGuire, James Jennings and Matt Rhead were the new faces for the Stags, who were just relieved to be wearing their normal away strip at the start of the game after the shirts had been left at Field Mill by the kitman.
A trundling start in the October sun enabled both sides to settle, as the early action was limited to an exchange of set-pieces easily cleared by two well-marshalled defences.
When the Gulls did construct a flowing move, the instigator was Bodin surging through the middle to supply McCourt for a whipped cross. Karl Hawley muscled the Mansfield defence and Lee Mansell came steaming into the box to lash the loose ball at goal, but his opposing skipper, John Dempster, was on hand to produce a superb block-tackle.
Moments later, Dempster was at the other end to rise highest from a Sam Clucas corner and Yellow goalkeeper Martin Rice was more than relieved to see the header drift narrowly wide.
The game was slowly sparking to life and Bodin had Plainmoor cooing with appreciation on 20 minutes, as he danced into space on the edge of the area and cracked a terrific low shot past the dive of Alan Marriott.
The ball, however, decided to add its own twist on United’s recent misfortune by smacking against the inside of the far post, across the face of goal and away to agonising safety. To their credit, the Gulls continued piling forward and Hawley came close with an improvised flick from a Jordan Chapell cross that floated just over.
There was a pleasing sharpness and tempo to United’s work in forward areas, and Mansfield supported that theory by conceding a number of needless fouls in dangerous positions.
The next Yellow move saw McCourt racing down the right to deliver a cross for Pearce, who was beaten to the ball by Ritchie Sutton but Bodin was perfectly placed to send in a first-time volley that was deflected wide.
After a brief lull, Ade Azeez sought to inject some pace back into the game with a jink inside and shot from distance, but a Mansfield foot took all the venom out of the effort to make it a comfortable save for Marriott.
As the game meandered toward half-time, United could rightly claim they had done more than enough to be in front but the Stags were able to resist for a goalless first period.
The second half started with the Gulls again asking questions of the visitors but Azeez was unable to steer the ball past Marriott after tidy work down the left channel from Bodin and Kevin Nicholson.
Mansfield responded with a low cross from McGuire that forced the huge figure of Rhead to stoop when cushioning a clever header toward the near post but Rice got down quickly to conjure a terrific save in his first real action of the afternoon.
The game had definitely increased a notch and huge Yellow praise to Bodin, who was enjoying an impressive afternoon playing in the hole behind Hawley. Yet another twisting run had Mansfield chasing shadows but Hawley was just muscled out of the final threaded pass.
Cox had seen enough and dipped into his replacements with the introduction of Ben Hutchinson for Stevenson to add a fresh impetus to their attack, although United were the side with real momentum.
Knill turned to his bench just after the hour, removing Chapell for Nathan Craig, while Mansfield’s next change was to bring on Calvin Andrew for Rhead. Moments later, McCourt found Azeez in the left channel but the final shot dribbled wide.
The Stags came back with a dart down the right from channel and his pass inside found Hutchinson for a snap-shot, but Pearce was alive to the danger and did well to throw his body in front of the effort.
Nicholson then stepped forward for a 30-yard free-kick and came within a inch of capping an excellent individual performance for the left-back, as Marriott could only watch the curling shot shave his crossbar.
Disaster then struck with a loose pass in midfield allowing Clucas to get the wrong side of Pearce and when the big defender tugged on the shirt of his man, referee Mick Russell had no option but show a second yellow card, and the inevitable red.
The departure of his centre-back forced Knill to sacrifice Bodin for Cruise and reshuffle his troops, although a rare lapse of concentration from Rice almost compounded the concern, as United’s custodian failed to collect a long throw and needed O’Connor to spare his blushes with a hurried clearance.
Oliver Palmer replaced Ritchie Sutton in a move that showed Mansfield’s attacking intent with the extra man, but Rice was quickly back to his best with a full-length save to deny a long-range drive from Andrew.
Everything had changed, and Mansfield were now cranking up the pressure with a series of crosses into the Yellow box, and United responded by removing Hawley for the fresh legs of Benyon.
O’Connor was the Yellow hero on 88 minutes, bravely sliding in to thwart Palmer after a swift break down the left from Mansfield and it would prove to be tackle that earned United a welcome point in the circumstances.
United [4-4-2]: 13 Martin Rice; 2 Dale Tonge, 5 Krystian Pearce, 29 Anthony O’Connor, 3 Kevin Nicholson; 12 Jordan Chapell [20 Nathan Craig 64], 7 Lee Mansell [capt], 17 Jak McCourt, 10 Billy Bodin [21 Thomas Cruise 70]; 9 Karl Hawley [26 Elliot Benyon 82], 23 Ade Azeez. Substitutes [not used]: 6 Damon Lathrope, 11 Courtney Cameron, 31 Daniel Sullivan, 34 Daniel Lavercombe [GK].
Booked: Pearce 16, McCourt 39
Sent-off: Pearce 69
Mansfield [3-5-2]: 1 Alan Marriott; 2 Ritchie Sutton [36 Oliver Palmer 74], 4 John Dempster [capt], 6 Martin Riley; 16 James Jennings, 23 Jamie McGuire, 11 Sam Clucas, 8 Keiran Murtagh, 17 Lee Beevers; 9 Matt Rhead [24 Calvin Andrew 64], 10 Lee Stevenson [18 Ben Hutchinson 56]. Substitutes [not used]: 13 Anthony Howell, 20 Lindon Meikle, 26 Jack Blake, 30 Colin Daniel.
Referee: Mick Russell
Attendance: 2,473 [347 away].