Mansfield Town slipped to a 1-0 defeat against Wycombe Wanderers at Adams Park this afternoon.
In a game with very few goalmouth incidents, it was a 68th-minute strike from winger Michael Harriman which would prove the difference between the two sides on a bright spring afternoon in Buckinghamshire.
Mansfield typically battled and fought until the end, but it wasn’t to be in a frustrating encounter which sees the Nottinghamshire outfit sit eight points away from the top seven in Sky Bet League 2.
Manager Adam Murray made one change to the side who drew 1-1 with Portsmouth at One Call Stadium last week, with winger Matty Blair coming in to replace loanee Sean Kavanagh.
Before the game took place, an impeccable minute’s silence was held following the tragic events in Brussels earlier this week.
Lining up in a 4-1-3-2 formation, the Stags had to be alert in defence early on as the hosts put the visitors under pressure, but central defenders Ryan Tafazolli and Krystian Pearce were dealing with the dangers.
And that meant opportunities were few and far between in the opening stages with the contest taking a scrappy turn with neither side able to threaten in behind and subsequently test the respective goalkeepers.
The first chance fell to experienced striker Garry Thompson for the Buckinghamshire outfit, who chested and volleyed well from the edge of the penalty area but Scott Shearer claimed it with relative ease.
Up the other end, Stags’ frontline consisting of top scorer Matt Green and recent acquisition Manny Dieseruvwe were linking up shrewdly in glimpses, with the latter’s hold up play and physicality a key asset.
Shortly afterwards, Blair played midfielder Chris Clements through on goal, but Chairboys’ stopper Ryan Allsop was out smartly to deny him.
Mansfield grew into the encounter as the half progressed with Mitch Rose an energetic force on the right of the three midfielders positioned in front of skipper Lee Collins in front of the back four, and Blair having to be tireless on the opposite flank to combat the graft of Jason McCarthy from right-back.
It was that route that nearly handed the home side the lead when McCarthy sent in a cross for Thompson, whose header was tipped over the crossbar and landed on the roof of the net.
Flighted deliveries were a prevalent feature in the first 45 minutes, and Murray’s men came close to using it to their advantage in the next action.
Defender Tafazolli kept the ball alive from a set-piece and whipped the ball in towards the back post, where Blair was waiting in anticipation but couldn’t connect properly as Allsop watched the ball past his post.
With a combined age of 67, the nous of Wycombe strikers Paul Hayes and Thompson were regularly being aimed for in the final third, although the more youthful Green and Dieseruvwe were holding their own against the physical presence of Aaron Pierre and Anthony Stewart at the heart of the Chairboys’ defence.
The hosts were the quickest out of the blocks in the second period and Thompson had a sliced shot which swung just away from Shearer’s left-hand post. The Adams Park crowd were buoyant as they saw their team begin with purpose in a typically bustling manner, although the Stags were resilient in response.
However, they were nearly undone at the back when the ball was hooked back into the 18-yard-box after it was cleared, and full back McCarthy found himself in an unfamiliar position before his snapshot whistled wide of the mark from around six yards out.
Soon after, a long throw into the area found its way to defender Pierre, who was up from the back, but his header was tame and dropped comfortably past the post.
After much recognition in his new position just in front of the back four, Lee Collins was carrying on in the same vein, protecting his colleagues behind him brilliantly and looking comfortable in possession.
With a touch over an hour on the clock, Murray introduced Colin Daniel to the fray in place of Blair, and one of Mansfield’s best openings followed in the next action.
Green was threaded through down the channel and the ex-Birmingham City man pulled it back for Rose whose effort was blocked, before Clements followed up on his left foot, but Wycombe bodies were in the way again.
That signalled an upping of the ante from Mansfield, who were encouraging going forward in a new-look 4-1-2-3 system with Daniel hoping to make a quick impact alongside Green and Dieseruvwe.
But on 68 minutes, the hosts took the lead. Michael Harriman had been in a menacing mood all afternoon down the right wing, and his curling cross-cum-shot evaded members of both sides in the box and nestled in the net.
Despite Mansfield appearing hungry in the offensive positions, the final pass was the only factor missing as they endeavoured to find a cutting edge to find a way back into the tie.
The visitors were chasing an equaliser, and opted to bring on Sean Kavanagh to replace Rose in the midfield to try and help the creative engine on the left of midfield. And Murray completed his substitution allowance when midfielder Jack Thomas came on for left-back Mal Benning.
Wycombe could’ve doubled their lead but a string of fantastic saves from Shearer denied them a second with Luke O’Nien getting the best shot away, which the goalkeeper instinctively stopped on his return to his old stomping ground in Buckinghamshire.
Mansfield did their utmost to grab an equaliser as six minutes of injury time were indicated by the fourth official. Green pounced on a flick-on from a free-kick in the last 60 seconds, but Luke O’Nien just got a leg around to send the ball behind for a corner.
The resultant corner came to nothing, and the Chairboys were mature as they held their lead, efficiently running the clock down.
Wycombe XI: Allsop, McCarthy, Jacobson, Pierre, Stewart, Harriman, McGinn, O'Nien, Thompson (Sellars 77’), Hayes (C) (Kretzschmar 89’), Wood (Sellers 8’)
Subs not used: Siegrist, Jombati, Liburd, Ugwu
Stags’ XI: Shearer, Alfei, Pearce, Tafazolli, Benning (Thomas 84’), Rose (Kavanagh 77’), Clements, Collins (C), Blair (Daniel 62’), Dieseruvwe, Green
Subs not used: Jensen, Beardsley, Chapman, McGuire
Attendance: 5,003 (216 away)