The Hatters had to settle for a point against fellow play-off contenders Mansfield, after being pegged back in added time at a sold-out Edgeley Park.
Captain Paddy Madden’s first league goal since Boxing Day, and the Hatters’ first in SK3 for a month, had given County the lead on the half-hour – only for the ‘Stags’ to salvage the draw in the 93rd minute.
Following a week of miserably wet weather, County took to the field on a gratifyingly more Spring-like afternoon (albeit still with intermittent showers), and showing one change from the starting line-up at Colchester a week previously – with Akil Wright replacing the injured Fraser Horsfall. The visitors, for their part, included on the bench striker Rhys Oates, who had played a dozen times as an on-loan Hatter from Barnsley in 2014.
With just over three minutes played, a delightfully-chipped through-ball from Madden found Will Collar, whose initial shot was parried by visiting goalkeeper Christy Pym’s right hand – and follow-up blocked courtesy of defender James Perch.
Nine minutes later, the Stags went closer with their first chance, as their captain Ollie Clarke – who had scored Mansfield’s winner against County in the reverse-fixture at Field Mill seven months earlier – saw his shot from the edge of the box ricochet against Myles Hippolyte on to and over the crossbar.
The lively start to proceedings continued, as Kyle Wootton broke through on goal, before being denied by Riley Harbottle who slid in to put the ball out of play beyond the right post – and from Kyle Knoyle’s resulting corner, Neill Byrne’s header was caught by Pym.
Madden was next to try his luck, with a low shot from 20 yards that Pym dived to smother. But the skipper’s next effort, seconds away from the half-hour mark, was to break the deadlock and put County ahead, as Madden glanced home Wright’s cross from the right.
The visitors looked to get back on terms through Elliott Hewitt, whose angled delivery from the right by-line, 10 minutes before half-time, was deflected past the far upright by Byrne.
HALF-TIME: County 1 (Madden, 30), Mansfield 0.
For the second successive Saturday, County went close to netting with a free-kick just over a minute after the re-start. Antoni Sarcevic had hit the woodwork with one at Colchester, but, on this occasion, stood over the ball, before Chris Hussey’s in-swinging effort was tipped around the right post by Pym.
Five minutes later, the Mansfield ‘keeper was called into action again – blocking Sarcevic, who had been played through by Collar – and Madden had a shot deflected high into the Cheadle End, as the Hatters maintained the pressure.
But the visitors then enjoyed a good spell of their own – forcing a couple of corners in as many minutes, and seeing Alfie Kilgour’s diving header, following a Davis Keillor-Dunn chip from the left, fly past the near post. A further, subsequent corner was met by Oates, who, half a dozen minutes after his introduction, headed over.
County brought on Jack Stretton and Tanto Olaofe to freshen up the attack, and the latter showed an exquisite first touch in the visitors’ area to get past Jordan Bowery, before unleashing a shot that Kilgour deflected behind. Olaofe then did some immediate, but inadvertent, deflecting of his own, when, from the corner on the right, he was struck by a Wootton header that ended up the wrong side of the left post.
Five minutes were added on – and in the third of those, Hewitt’s cross from the left found Lucas Akins, who headed in the equaliser from close range to deny County maximum points and a first triumph over the Stags for 15 years.
FULL-TIME: County 1 (Madden, 30), Mansfield 1 (Akins, 90 + 3).
Team (3-5-2): Hinchliffe; Wright, Byrne, Hussey; Knoyle, Collar (Camps, 90), Croasdale, Sarcevic, Hippolyte (Stretton, 65); Madden (Capt.) (Olaofe, 71), Wootton.
Unused Subs: Jaros, R. Johnson, Rydel, Rowe.
Booked: Byrne, Sarcevic.
Man of the Match: Croasdale.
Attendance: 10,155 (1,407 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.