Stags' under-18s made the perfect start to their EFL Youth Alliance Cup campaign, as they beat Burton Albion under-18s 3-1 on Wednesday evening.
Mansfield put in an excellent performance with Jimmy Knowles scoring in either half to earn himself a brace, and Kamen Cashmore netting with a cool finish at the end of the first half.
Burton certainly played their part in the tie, demonstrating a never-say-die attitude and made the game a spectacle right up until the final whistle. Their goal came midway through the second half, when Jordan Armsden’s attempted clearance found its way past his own goalkeeper.
John Dempster and his coaching staff are likely to be delighted with the performance from his players, who were at it from the word go and never allowed the opposition to get a foothold in the game.
The Mansfield starting XI was unchanged from the side that narrowly lost 2-1 to Scunthorpe United last time out.
The Stags began the game as though they had a point to prove, as they flew out of the traps and had the ball in the net after only two minutes, when Rhys Sarson headed home a Tyrese Sinclair freekick.
The goal was immediately ruled out by the referee though, who had spotted an infringement in the area and awarded a free-kick to Burton.
The action in the opening minutes was the start of things to come, in what was a terrific open game, with both teams, at times, producing some top-quality football. The only thing that was surprising about the encounter is that it took as long as 18 minutes before the first goal arrived.
Cashmore, on the edge of the opposing area, collected the ball with his back to goal, and on the half-turn he flicked a ball over the top of the defensive line which was immediately latched onto by Knowles, who, through on goal, showed great composure to slot the ball beyond the Burton goalkeeper for 1-0.
Shortly after the Stags had taken the lead, a breathtaking counter-attack almost saw them score a second.
Armsden started the move, delivering the ball forward to Sarson who was positioned on the half way line. His control was immediate as he laid it off to Cashmore, who carried the ball down the right-hand side, deep into the opposition half. Almost reaching the byline, he cut the ball back inside to Sarson, who had continued his run on into the box. Sarson’s first touch fed Sinclair – who’d joined the attack from the left – taking his shot first time, bending the ball right footed back across the keeper, only to see the ball brush the wrong side of the far post and go wide.
The Stags seemed on top, yet with just under half an hour gone, they nearly had a moment to forget. Keaton Mars’ kick was quickly closed-down, and cannoned back off Kyle Camp - the Burton number nine – and back to Armsden. His attempted clearance was also blocked and the ball fell directly into the path of Camp, who found himself clean through on goal. However, before the striker could pull the trigger, the referee blew his whistle as the official running the line had flagged for offside.
The game carried on with the same, high intensity, when Sinclair whipped in a free kick, which was met by the head of Jamie Chisholm. He nodded the ball down for James Tague on the edge of the area, who drove the ball towards goal only for a Burton defender to block the shot with what was deemed by the referee to be use of the hand.
The Stags were awarded a penalty, and Sinclair, who missed a spot kick last time out against Scunthorpe, placed the ball on the spot. He fired the ball straight down the middle, but the ball lacked the elevation to beat the keeper’s trailing legs as he dived to his left.
Moments later, Sinclair was inches away from atoning for the penalty miss. From the edge of the area, he lined up a free-kick. He sent the ball dipping over the wall, but unfortunately for him, the ball bounced off the top of the crossbar and went behind.
With half time approaching, Sarson collected the ball and played an incredible reverse ball through which seemed to deceive everybody except Cashmore, who ran beyond the defensive line and through on goal. The Stags’ forward kept his cool and prodded home, doubling the Stags’ lead as the referee blew the half time whistle.
There were a couple of penalty appeals in the second half, one for either side, but the referee waved away the protests as the game continued to be played out at a fast pace.
Just under the hour mark, came a terrific team goal for the Stags. Matty Langton curled in a cross from deep which Sarson met at the back post, and pulled back to Knowles in the centre who slid in to grab his second goal of the game, and his third goal in as many matches.
Stags almost got a fourth when Mars’ distribution released Sinclair down the right, who carried the ball deep into the opposition half. His pass inside found Sarson, who nearly capped a splendid performance with a goal of his own, only for the defender to get in front and manage to block the incoming shot.
Albeit 3-0 down, Burton showed no signs of giving up the game. With 67 minutes on the clock Jack Holmes – fresh on as a substitute - drilled in a cross that was collected by Ciaran Gilligan. The Burton forward found himself in a great scoring position, but will be disappointed not to have hit the target, as Mars gratefully watched the ball go wide of his near post.
Holmes’ pace was beginning to cause one or two problems for the Stags, as Burton continued to push forward. It was Holmes who drove into the box, before firing a shot across the goal, which Armsden did well to block, but saw the ball loop up and across the goal-line, past a helpless Mars. It was unfortunate for the Stags’ centre half, who had otherwise put in a solid defensive performance.
Burton were piling on the pressure but at times their forward players seemed reluctant to pull the trigger, instead looking for a pass to a teammate, when a shooting opportunity arose. Good chances fell to James Melhado and Holmes who perhaps will think they could have done a little better.
After 83 minutes, Knowles had the chance to complete his hat-trick. Sarson again was the creator, delivering an inch perfect pass to thread Knowles through one-on-one with the Burton goalkeeper. The ‘keeper remained upright for as long as possible, forcing Knowles to go low, but the goalie got down well to save his effort.
There were late chances for Burton’s Camp and Holmes, who narrowly missed the target, but after over six minutes of added-on time were played, the referee finally blew his whistle to bring an end to an enthralling game of football.
It was the Stags who claimed a 3-1 victory in the opening fixture of group 4, as sides compete for a place in the next round of the EFL Youth Alliance Cup. Last season the Stags reached the semi-final of the competition, and if they continue to put in performances like this one, they’ve every chance of successful campaign this time around also.
BURTON XI: Hawkins, Lal, Morley, Bromfield, McDonnell, Cooke (Ganley 45’), Shittu (Holmes 51’), Melhado, Camp, Gilligan, Vale (Hewlett 70’).
SUBS NOT USED: Fairbrother, Carter.
STAGS’ XI: Mars, King, Davis, Langton, Armsden, Chisholm, Sinclair, Tague (c), Sarson, Cashmore (Molyneaux 79’), Knowles (Darby 90’).
SUBS NOT USED: Boyle, Purvin, Saunders.