Mansfield moved three points clear at the top of the League Two table with a 1-0 win at Newport but Nigel Clough warned his side that they will have to improve to stay at the summit.

George Maris scored the only goal of the game five minutes into the second half but the visitors wasted a host of chances to make the three points secure.

Maris could have doubled the Stags’ lead, while Hiram Boateng, Davis Keillor-Dunn, Ollie Clarke and substitutes Jordan Bowery and Aaron Lewis all failed to kill off the battling hosts.

And Clough warned his side, who scored 20 goals in five matches last month, that they will have to be more clinical if they want to earn automatic promotion.

“We controlled the game but we weren’t very good in the final third – especially in the first half,” said Clough.

“We got the goal and we had chances to kill the game off. We couldn’t quite do it, so the clean sheet was by far the most important thing.

“The two centre-halves and the back four as a whole were very good and protected Christy (Pym) brilliantly – I don’t think he had a shot to save, which is some going against Newport, who put a lot of balls into the box.”

Mansfield host fifth-placed MK Dons at Field Mill on Tuesday and Clough wants to see an improvement from his team.

“We’re not getting carried away,” he added. “We’re under no illusions that if we don’t play better than that in the next few games then we’ll lose one or two.

“We’ve done enough today but I want us to be better over the next 12 games.

“We’ve got more; we can play better than that. So, it’s a good lesson, but it’s nice to get the three points while having that lesson.”

Exiles boss Graham Coughlan was convinced that referee Adam Herczeg should have awarded his team a free-kick in the build-up to the winning goal.

“It was two really good teams going head-to-head, both cancelled each other out and in these big games you are always going to get those moments,” said the Irishman.

“When it comes to big games you need people in charge who understand and know the game. Unfortunately, the game hinged on a refereeing decision.

“Other than that, there wasn’t a lot between the teams, there wasn’t a lot to get excited about to be honest.

“It’s sad after all the hard work that we have put in and you come away from the game talking about decision-making.

“We got beaten 1-0 and the game hinged on a moment that should have been a free-kick, but the referee decided to give the advantage to Mansfield.”