THOUSANDS stayed behind to accord a standing ovation for the season's efforts. What a pity it wasn't a promotion party!
The final home game of the regular campaign drew the biggest crowd in the lower divisions (18,633) and the highest at the McAlpine since Birmingham City shunted Town out of Division I in front of 19,290 three years ago.
Everything was set-up for Peter Jackson's battlers to add another win to their 16 previous three-pointers on home soil, especially after John McAliskey fired them into a 14th-minute lead with his fourth senior goal, but it was Mansfield who stole the show.
Liam Lawrence ran riot for the visitors and, when he drilled in the final goal with 16 minutes to go, he left almost 17,000 Town fans feeling completely deflated.
They had just heard that Torquay had drawn 1-1 at home in their game with Kidderminster.
Town were only a goal adrift at the time and it meant that if they could fathom a revival along the lines of the one which sunk Scunthorpe, Town would be up.
Lightning doesn't strike twice, however, and those hopes were crushed by Lawrence's raking drive in front of 1,745 travelling Stags.
The result and performance was a huge disappointment for Town, who sadly missed Danny Schofield's trickery and workrate and the tough defensive leadership of Efe Sodje.
The first two goals conceded were calamitous, the third just bad.
Firstly, Andy Booth made a rare marking lapse to allow Rhys Day to head Mansfield level from Wayne Corden's corner on 19 minutes.
Then, with 37 minutes gone and Mansfield swarming all over Town in midfield, David Mirfin dallied on the ball, was robbed by Junior Mendes and, despite brave efforts to cover, saw the speedy frontman score.
At half time, with Torquay leading at Plainmoor, it looked particularly bleak for Town, but the scoreflash of Kidderminster's equaliser on 54 minutes breathed new life into the crowd and, briefly, into Town.
They had been lucky to survive a frenetic start to the half when Steve Yates headed against his own bar and when Corden's shot was cleared from the line by Mirfin - who emerged as Town's best player - but Town surged back with purpose.
Booth, who was desperately unlucky to have a sixth-minute header ruled out for the ball going dead, pumped up the pressure with a couple of headers.
McAliskey flicked a Mirfin volley just wide on the hour and then, four minutes later, Town went closer still. Lee Fowler - on as a surprise sub and seeing his first action since March 2 - caught Mansfield cold with a quick free-kick and keeper Kevin Pilkington did brilliantly to block Booth's downward header with his outstretched left hand.
Then, when McAliskey pounced on the rebound, he teed up Pawel Abbott for a low drive which hit Alex John-Baptise near the line and bounced wide.
There was more agony, too, on 71 minutes when Abbott released Holdsworth down the right and his pull-back was volleyed across goal by Jon Worthington.
It needed only a touch from the sliding substitute, Iffy Onuora, to level the scores but, with Pilkington struggling to cover, he was just a stud-length from making contact.
Those efforts, however, did not disguise the fact that Mansfield could easily have scored five or six and Town owed a huge debt to keeper Paul Rachubka for denying sub Colin Larkin, the dangerously strong Mendes and star man Lawrence when they were all clean through on goal.
It all left Jackson with plenty of food for thought on his selection and formation for Saturday - Abbott and Paul Scott were promoted for suspended Sodje and Schofield for this one - and it would be no surprise to see the odd change or two. The encouraging thing is that Town still have control of their own destiny, but they will have to play much better than this.
Next: How they rated >>>
HOW THEY RATED: Paul Rachubka Made some excellent saves to prevent the scoreline becoming even worse. No chance with any of the goals Rating: 7/10
Andy Holdsworth Unlucky to have a great cross for a Booth header ruled out of play by the linesman. Battled hard against the tricky Corden Rating: 5/10
Anthony Lloyd Put in two or three good crosses but unable to raid forward much in his usual style as Lawrence was a constant danger Rating: 5/10
David Mirfin Made a horrible mistake to gift Mendes the second Mansfield goal but, after that, was a real tower of strength Rating: 8/10
Paul Scott Played just in front of the back line with an eye on marking Disley. Tackled well but Town got overrun in the middle Rating: 5/10
Steve Yates Headed against his own bar in the opening few moments of the second half and looked to miss Sodje alongside Rating: 5/10
Pawel Abbott Returned on the right of a front three and, while he crossed for the Town goal early on, he became isolated Rating: 5/10
Jon Worthington Not his usual influence in the middle as Mansfield called the tune. His day improved with Player of the Year award from fans Rating: 5/10
Tony Carss Caused some problems for Mansfield with his long throw-ins but couldn't get on the ball enough to really tick Rating: 5/10
Andy Booth Robbed of a 100th goal by a dodgy decision and, later, a great save. Played well apart from his marking at first goal Rating: 7/10
John McAliskey Scored yet again to make it four goals in four starts and three sub appearances. Gave his all to the cause Rating: 6/10
Man of the Match: David Mirfin
Just shaded it from Paul Rachubka despite making a blunder for the second Mansfield goal. Bandaged to protect stitches from the previous week, he made some tremendous headed clearances and a goalline stop to deny Corden on 49 minutes
The 65th minute when keeper Kevin Pilkington saved superbly from Andy Booth's header before Pawel Abbott's follow-up was blocked. An equaliser then might well have set Town on the road to victory
Subs used: Town: Fowler for Scott 56, Onuora for Lloyd 71. Mansfield: Larkin for Disley 61, D'Jaffo fro Mendes 84, Dimech for Williamson 90.
Subs not used: Town: Senior, Edwards, Brown. Mansfield: White, Artell.
Scorers: Town: McAliskey 13. Mansfield: Day 19, Mendes 37, Lawrence 74.
Referee: Steve Tanner (Gloucester).
Bookings: Mansfield: Lawrence.
Shots on target: Town 3, Mansfield 8.
Corners: Town 6, Mansfield 8.
Caught offside: Town 4, Mansfield 3.
Free-kicks awarded: Town 11, Mansfield 8.
Attendance: 18,633 (Away: 1,745).