JUNIOR MENDES silenced the Field Mill boo boys with a sweet stoppage-time winner for Town last night.
Given a hostile reception at his former club when replacing Andy Booth with 12 minutes left, Mendes had the last laugh with a classy strike from Gary Taylor-Fletcher's pinpoint low cross.
The goal, exactly a minute into added time at the end, spared Town's blushes for a very patchy display in which they were pushed all the way by Carlton Palmer's fit-looking League II battlers.
Town seemed comfortable enough in the first half and were desperately unlucky not to lead as David Mirfin had what looked a perfectly good goal wiped out for offside and Pawel Abbott had a 31st-minute penalty saved by Kevin Pressman.
Peter Jackson's side also had two clear penalty claims turned down in their first meeting with Mansfield since the play-off final and had to wait until the 70th minute to take the lead.
At that stage, Mansfield were getting well on top with their neat passing and lively movement, but Town's goal against the run of play was also superbly created.
Andy Holdsworth and Chris Brandon started the move down the right and, when skipper Jon Worthington switched the play to the left, Tony Carss - operating at left wing-back - provided the ideal cross for Booth to score with a trademark close-range header which gave Pressman no chance.
If Town thought that would be the end of Mansfield's challenge, they were sadly mistaken.
Six minutes after the strike, substitute Adam Rundle could hardly believe his misfortune when a crisp rising drive beat Paul Rachubka only to bounce out off the angle of bar and post.
The chance came from Town's sloppy defending, but the lesson wasn't learned and Mansfield didn't have to wait long to level.
Only 10 minutes were left when pacy substitute Simon Brown - who scored against Town for Kidderminster a couple of seasons ago - sprang Town's woeful offside trap and sprinted clear to round Rachubka and score. It was no more than Mansfield deserved and, after an encouraging display in a 1-0 defeat at Derby last weekend, it seemed they would go one better in front of a crowd of 1,562 (including 141 hardy travelling souls).
Home hopes were crushed, however, as Mendes slid home the winner to a crescendo of boos, although there was still time for one last Town scare.
Once again Brown was the tormentor, catching Martin McIntosh on the wrong foot for the only time in the game and firing a fierce near-post shot which Rachubka did well to block.
Minus Nathan Clarke (thigh strain) it was left to McIntosh to marshall the defence - a job he did with plenty of solid quality - but Town failed to match the sharpness they've shown so far against the likes of Coventry and Harrogate Town.
Booth showed his value when meeting Carss' cross to set up the disallowed Mirfin goal and, later, when netting the first to count, and his build-up play was, as ever, very reliable.
There wasn't the same punch from midfield, however, where Mark Hudson was recalled to the senior ranks to play alongside Worthington and Brandon and Town appeared ponderous as Mansfield got to grips in the second half.
Former Arsenal youngster Adam Birchall, in fact, caused plenty of problems with his speed and trickery on the ball and he was inches away from teeing up Richard Barker with an opening goal on 54 minutes.
Town, for some reason, lost shape and rhythm and were horribly exposed on a number of occasions.
They even messed up a free-kick when Andy Holdsworth tapped and no-one responded - almost presenting Mansfield with a breakaway goal which would have been hugely embarrassing.
At least it happened in a pre- season workout, and while Jackson was unhappy with the overall display, he may well have learned more last night than in all of the games so far.
Town - Rachubka, Holdsworth, Carss (Adams 71), T Clarke, McIntosh, Mirfin, Brandon, Booth (Mendes 78), Abbott (Taylor-Fletcher 64), Worthington (Schofield 71), Hudson (Collins 64). Subs not used: Senior, McAliskey.