LUKE Joyce was something of an unlikely hero at Mansfield with his early spot-kick winner but he deserved all the accolades he got.
The Stanley skipper is not one to usually get the limelight as the strikers or defenders steal the weekly headlines for the Reds.
The midfielder is more likely to be one who grafts in the background, not doing anything overly spectacular but also not doing anything overly wrong, keeping things ticking over.
But on Saturday it was the 27-year-old’s turn to shine and he seemed to enjoy finally having his moment.
With Kal Naismith having missed a penalty at Cheltenham in August and James Gray serving the last game of his three-match ban, it was the captain who bravely took the ball and secured the third win on the bounce for Stanley.
“I always knew I was on penalties and I was always confident,” said Joyce, who insists he will be on spot-kicks from now on despite Gray’s return from suspension this week.
“I do usually score them and I had already decided I was going to smash it. The keeper did guess the right way but I had hit it high enough.
“It’s a great win and it’s nice to be in the top half of the table.”
Stanley moved to the lofty heights of 11th with five wins in their last six games, which is a remarkable turnaround after going five league games without a win at the start of the campaign.
But no-one is getting beyond themselves as the table is so tight.
“You can’t get carried away,” said the Reds’ boss John Coleman. “It’s early days, we are only around a quarter of the way through the season.
“There is a lot football to be played but what we have got to do is give ourselves a fighting chance to compete in the top half.”
In Stanley’s last trip to Field Mill last season, it was all about two stoppage-time goals which secured victory for the Reds but this time it was a scintillating start which had Coleman delighted.
“I thought in the first half hour we were absolutely magnificent,” he added. “We were playing like a team at the top of the league and had a swagger and belief about us.”
The Reds were attacking at will with Marcus Carver, recalled to the starting line-up, having one early effort blocked while he drove another just wide of the far post.
Loanee John O’Sullivan burst into the Mansfield box, only for keeper Sascha Studer to produce a good save to deny him, but then the Stags keeper brought down Carver in the area in the 10th minute.
It was a question of who would take the penalty in Gray’s absence but up stepped Joyce, who despatched it with precision for his second goal this season, doubling his tally for last term.
Stanley could have added to their lead as they increasingly frustrated the Mansfield players, who couldn’t have been helped by the boos and comments coming from their own fans.
O’Sullivan’s 20th-minute cross set up West Ham loanee Sean Maguire but his shot bounced down and over. Minutes later Maguire tried to chip the keeper but Studer managed to catch the ball.
It was so one-sided that under-pressure Stags boss Paul Cox had to change things around after the break and Mansfield did come out meaning business.
Captain Adam Murray, at the centre of the resurgence, turned and fired just wide after the restart. Murray also crossed for Rakish Bingham, who should have done better just six yards out but he ballooned his effort well over the bar.
Stanley were still dangerous on counter-attacks and Coleman freshened it up by bringing on Lee Molyneux, signed on loan the day before for a third spell with the club, and later Josh Windass.
But still Mansfield hunted for the leveller with substitute Ollie Palmer only denied at the near post by a Rob Atkinson block with 10 minutes to go.
Then, with eight minutes left, Mansfield were shell-shocked when Murray was sent off. The Stags’ skipper tackled Atkinson as the defender shielded a long ball out for a goal-kick and most people, even Stanley fans, were stunned when referee Scott Mathieson produced a red card, meaning Mansfield had to battle on with 10men.
That sense of injustice got the home fans behind their team and there were several goalmouth scrambles where the Reds were forced into last-ditch clearances, with defender Tom Aldred losing one of his teeth - and not for the first time.
Then Stanley fans had their hearts in their mouths in stoppage time following Molyneux’s late tackle on Jamie McGuire in the Stanley half. After Murray’s red card, the winger might have considered himself lucky to come away with a yellow.
However, it ended all smiles for the Reds as they held on for their second successive clean sheet, although Coleman admitted it could have been different.
“To be fair to Mansfield, they have reacted well and made it a lot more even game for the last hour and, if anything, probably shaded it,” he said.
“We were dangerous on the counter but we rode our luck a little bit towards the end. But we showed big hearts and defended magnificently.
“We are still a work in progress and we will learn from the experiences we are having. At this moment, though, Accrington is a good place to be.”
STANLEY: Chapman, Hunt, Aldred, Atkinson, Winnard, O'Sullivan, Joyce, Procter, Naismith (Windass 73), Carver (Molyneux 59), Maguire. Subs: Bowerman, Hatfield, McCartan, Mingoia, Simpson.