Kaid Mohamed’s first half strike proved to be the difference as Mansfield Town were consigned to defeat at Northampton Town on the opening day of the new campaign.
Mohamed was left unmarked to head home from Darren Carter’s cross, but it was a controversial strike as debutant ‘keeper Sascha Studer looked to have been blocked in the build up.
Studer’s opposite number, Matt Duke, who was voted as the sponsors’ ‘Man of the Match’ made several good saves – including one from a bullet-header by Ryan Tafazolli on the brink of half-time.
The Cobblers, who narrowly avoided relegation last term, would have won by a greater margin had both Marc Richards and Ivan Toney not spurned gilt-edge openings late on.
Paul Cox’s team will be hoping to bounce back from today’s disappointment when they host Oxford United, who also lost this afternoon, at One Call Stadium next Saturday.
The Stags began with a real purpose and were camped inside their opponents half in the early exchanges, though clear-cut chances were few and far between.
Gregor Robertson produced a timely interception after just two minutes when he hooked the ball away from the feet of Fergus Bell inside the area, after Simon Heslop’s ball released Lee Beevers.
Heslop was again the provider just a few moments later with a long ball over the top. Alex Fisher managed to creep between a defender and goalkeeper Matt Duke to meet the ball, but his lofted effort was off-target.
The Cobblers then created their first opening on seven minutes when Ritchie Sutton miscued a clearance out on the left flank and fouled Chris Hackett, who otherwise would have been able to break clear.
Sutton was cautioned for the offence and from the resulting free-kick, Hackett’s cross was mis-judged by Sascha Studer at his far-post and Lee Collins slid the resulting loose ball into the side-netting.
At the other end, Ryan Tafazolli’s tame-header from a Fergus Bell free-kick drew Duke into action at the other end, before Rob Taylor’s long-throw caused a few issues for the Cobblers defence.
The Stags remained on the front-foot and Fisher received a simple pass from Adam Murray and tried his luck with a speculative 25-yard effort, which flew over the woodwork.
After a quiet opening quarter-of-an-hour from their perspective, Chris Wilder’s team gradually began to start dictating play and ask questions of the Stags’ defence.
Studer did well to cut-out a teasing by-line cross by Kaid Mohamed on 18 minutes, before the hosts wasted a chance to create danger after Adam Murray fouled Marc Richards in a central position, 25 yards out.
Northampton continued to press forward and pose danger and went close again when Hackett played a teasing cross from the right flank through the six-yard box, but nobody could connect.
The Cobblers then made a decisive breakthrough in controversial fashion on 25 minutes.
In the first corner of the afternoon – Darren Carter’s clever set-piece towards the back-post was headed home by an unmarked Mohamed, but Studer looked to have been blocked in his efforts to claim the ball.
The Swiss shot-stopper raced from his line to remonstrate with referee Andy Davies, but it was in vain as the goal stood and the hosts now had a lead to protect.
Mansfield threatened an instant response and when Bell looked as if he was going to break clear following some quick passing play, he was hacked down by Ricky Ravenhill who was booked for the offence.
Bell’s subsequent set-piece cross into the area reached Tafazolli, whose looping header with his back to goal drew a potentially difficult save from a back-peddling Duke.
Tafazolli went close again less than 60 seconds later with a scruffy shot from the edge of the area that called Duke into a more routine save, following Beevers’ right-sided cross.
The Cobblers went close to doubling their advantage on the half-hour mark when John-Joe O’Toole crept into space and saw a 25-yard snap-shot saved by Studer.
However, the visitors finished the first period quite strongly and created a flurry of openings, but couldn’t find a way past the excellent Duke.
In a quick counter-attack on 36 minutes, the Stags couldn’t take advantage of a three-on-two situation in their favour as Fisher played a low ball just inches behind an accelerating – and unmarked – Murray.
Moments later, Beevers delivered a great ball in from the right channel which bounced up and over Fisher, before the pace on the ball was too much for Ollie Palmer who was also inside the area.
Duke then thwarted Tafazolli in spectacular fashion during three minutes of additional time as he produced a spectacular one-handed save to palm away a bullet-header by the Stags’ centre-back.
The Stags began brightly following the re-start and bombarded Northampton’s area with several crosses, which the Cobblers dealt with relatively well.
Fisher had a speculative shot-on-the-turn from a tight angle saved by Duke, before the hosts wasted a good chance as Richards headed wide from five yards following a cross by Danny Alfei.
Just shy of the hour mark, the Stags made a bold double substitution in an effort to get back into the game as both Liam Hearn and Sam Clucas were thrust into the action in favour of Palmer and Bell respectively.
The withdrawal of Palmer was enforced, because of a knock that he picked up just a few seconds earlier.
Hearn almost made an immediate impact as he raced onto a low through ball by Fisher that split the Northampton defence, but the linesman raised his flag for offside.
Only two minutes later, Fisher headed over after another right-sided cross by Beevers and at this point the Stags were looking by far the more likely team to score next.
However, Northampton began to enjoy another spell of sustained pressure which forced the Stags back as Hackett drilled an attempt into the side-netting and Toney had a deflected shot gathered by Studer.
A 20-yard attempt by Fisher at the opposite end also caught a deflection which did enough to take the sting out of the shot and leave Duke with a simple save.
Carter blazed over from 25 yards in one of his final contributions on 71 minutes. The evergreen midfielder was replaced by Ian Morris just a couple of moments later.
The Cobblers should have sealed the points with just a quarter-of-an-hour left to play when Toney’s presence distracted Sutton following a long-ball forward and the youngster slipped a pass through to Richards.
Richards had the goal at his mercy, both time and space in his favour and only the ‘keeper to beat, but his scruffy effort went horribly wide of Studer’s left-hand post.
The miss should have proved costly as straight up at the other end, Murray blazed an effort from close to the penalty spot into the packed away end after a ball in from the left flank.
Chances continued to be created – mainly by Northampton – who again let slip another great opening when substitutes Morris and Toney combined, with the latter unable to pick his spot from six yards.
The Stags threw the proverbial kitchen sink at their counterparts during five minutes of injury-time and Chris Clements delivered one corner into the mix which caused a goalmouth scramble.
Nevertheless, Northampton survived and held on to get their campaign off to a bright start.
Attendance: 5,202 (900 away supporters).