Despite staging a late comeback, Stags’ under-18s fell to a 4-2 loss against league leaders Doncaster Rovers at Cantley Park on Saturday afternoon.
Doncaster were four goals to the good early in the second half, but a late revival from the Stags saw them get back into the game and provide some nervy moments for the home side in the final few minutes.
Rieves Boocock grabbed himself a well-earned hat-trick, before a wonderful effort from Javed-Akhtar gave the hosts a 4-0 lead.
Jimmy Knowles scored a sensational solo effort, before setting-up Ryan Ingram for Stags’ second late in the game, making it an interesting last 10 minutes. Ultimately though, Doncaster Rovers held out for all three points and the deserved league-leaders remain top of the pile with four wins and two draws from their opening six fixtures.
John Dempster and his coaching staff will likely feel that the better side won the game, but will be keen to draw upon the positives – that of the way in which the players showed the heart and desire to continue the fight up until the final moments.
The Mansfield starting XI was unchanged from the side that beat Rotherham United 3-2 a week ago.
In the early exchanges, it was clear why both teams occupy first and second spot in the table; the quality of play by both sides was to be admired and it was evident that there was individual talent on display in either team that had the potential to cause problems.
In the sixth minute, Boocock, the Doncaster number 10, chased a hopeful ball over the top, and although second favourite, a slight misjudgement from a usually solid Keaton Marrs allowed the forward to get to the ball first. After rounding the goalkeeper, he rolled the ball into an empty net from the acutest of angles for 1-0.
The early goal was just the confidence boost that Mansfield would not have wanted to give the home side, who were beginning to put together some clever attacking moves to threaten Marrs’ goal.
A neatly worked corner between Boocock and Anthony Greaves allowed the latter to cut the ball back to Ben Blythe who was dangerously positioned on the penalty spot. As the number six struck the ball, he was well closed-down by a Stags’ defender, and fortunately his deflected effort went the opposite side of Marrs’ far post and out for another corner-kick.
With 24 minutes gone, a set-piece from the right-hand side provided Mansfield with their first clear sighting of goal. A flick-on at the near post dropped kindly for Sinclair, who, on the half-turn, took his attempt first time. Unfortunately for the forward, he couldn’t keep his attempt down as he watched the ball sail over the top of the crossbar.
Just under the half-hour mark, Boocock collected a forward ball to feet, turned towards goal and ran at the Stags’ back line. With defenders closing in from right and left, a clever burst of acceleration propelled the Rovers’ forward through the middle of the defence and through one-on-one with the goalkeeper.
A brilliantly composed, side-footed strike saw the forward guide the ball beyond Marrs, low into the right-hand corner of the net, doubling the striker’s tally and giving his side a well-deserved two-goal lead.
With 32 on the clock, a half-chance fell to Jack Cornell as he carried the ball forward from deep and with a sight of goal, he took his shot from 25 yards, but wasn’t quite able to fully get hold of it as it drifted wide of the far post.
With half-time fast approaching, a Stags’ set piece led to the ball dropping for Riley O’Sullivan on the edge of the opposition’s area, but despite a clean contact, his strike was straight at the goalkeeper who collected his attempt.
Within minutes of the second half it was evident that Mansfield had come out from half-time with renewed impetus. The spaces out wide were no longer there for the home side, and Stags were quicker into the tackle than they had been in the opening 45. However, as is the case in football, things don’t always happen with the run of play.
A long cross-field ball was met out on the right-hand side by Jack Watson who cut the ball back to Cameron Barnett. He fired an attempt across goal and Boocock slid in to get on the end of it, sealing his hat-trick.
Less than five minutes later, another Doncaster attack led to another Doncaster goal. Javed-Akhtar collected the ball on the left, beat his man by cutting inside onto his right and whipped a stunning right-footed effort into the top far corner of Marrs’ goal.
With the home side leading 4-0, both sides made some changes from the bench as Mansfield began to demonstrate what they are capable of, with the pattern of the play firmly shifting into the Stags’ favour.
The game had yielded some excellent goals thus far, and Knowles was about to provide yet another moment of magic. A run from the right-hand touchline saw the Stags’ forward cut inside and squeeze his effort in at the goalkeeper’s near post from an almost impossible angle.
The Stags had earned themselves a lifeline, and just two minutes later, second-half substitute Noah Stokes rose well from a corner but couldn’t quite keep his header down as it shaved the top of the crossbar.
The character of the Stags’ players has been unquestionable so far this season, and although the game as a contest seemed all but over, the heart and determination of the players meant that they were able to find a way back into the game.
With 82 minutes played, Knowles used his pace to dart beyond the Doncaster back line and won the race to the ball, prodding it beyond the goalkeeper. Ryan Ingram had followed-up the attempt and a yard or so from the goal-line he smashed the ball into an empty net to ensure it crossed the line. Knowles settled for the assist and was first to congratulate his strike partner as they recovered the ball for the restart with the score-line at 4-2.
Although the Stags had begun to claw their way back into the game, the opposition still provided a real threat going forward, and twice Marrs was called into action as he tipped the ball over the top of his crossbar to prevent further goals.
Although the Stags continued to apply some late pressure, the home side held on to their two-goal cushion.
As the referee brought the game to a close, he resigned Mansfield to their second defeat of the season, and it meant Doncaster claimed all three points in a very impressive performance.
STAGS’ XI: Marrs, King, Davis, Cornell (Stokes 60’), Armsden, Chisholm, Sinclair, Tague (c) (Saunders 63’), Sarson (Ingram 50’), O’Sullivan (Langton 45’) , Knowles.
SUBS NOT USED: Boyle.
DONCASTER XI: Landers, Walker, Smith (Mcgowan 56’), Greaves, Horton, Blythe, Barnett, Husani, Watson (Gibbons), Boocock, Javed-Akhtar.
SUBS NOT USED: Dimou, Ravenhill, Derrett.