Mansfield Town Reserves slipped to a narrow defeat against their Port Vale counterparts in the opening fixture of their Central League campaign.
Despite dominating the game from start to finish, the Stags were left to rue a series of missed chances on what was a chilly night at One Call Stadium.
However, it wasn’t all bad news for reserve team boss Andy Todd, as influential midfielder Adam Murray lasted the full 90 minutes on his return to action after nearly four months on the sidelines.
Skippered by Murray, the Stags enjoyed plenty of early possession and created the first opportunity on 11 minutes when Matt Rhead powerfully headed straight at Port Vale shot-stopper Sam Johnson, following an out-swinging right-footed corner from the Mansfield captain.
However, the Valiants won their first corner less than 60 seconds later and subsequently scored what proved to be the only goal of the game. Kingsley James and Tom Morris combined as Vale employed the short corner routine, before the latter of the two delivered a cross into the six-yard box which evaded everyone apart from Gareth Owen, who tapped the ball into the net at the back post to put the visitors ahead.
Lee Beevers came close to equalising shortly afterwards when his effort from ten yards out was superbly tipped round the post by Johnson and the Stags continued to see much more of the ball than their League Two opponents, but struggled to create many clear cut chances.
Rhead connected with a back-post cross from Nick Wright but saw his looping header comfortably dealt with by Johnson on 27 minutes, moments before Lee Stevenson whistled a shot only inches over the woodwork after a fine attacking move which involved Jamie Hand, Rhead and the former Eastwood Town midfielder.
The next chance arrived on 35 minutes and once again it was for the home side. Wright once more delivered another fine ball into the six-yard box from the right channel, with Rhead again connecting only to be denied by the impressive and commanding figure of Johnson.
In the next attack, recent signing Ryan Tafazolli combined with Rhead as Mansfield again enjoyed another foray deep into the Port Vale half. The Stags target man played an intricate lay-off to Hand who was stationed on the edge of the box, but the experienced midfielder lacked accuracy with his first-time shot and failed to find the target.
Beevers and Stevenson combined in a well-worked one-two move down the left flank on 41 minutes, but having received the ball inside the area, Stevenson scuffed his attempt straight into the arms of Johnson. Then, on the cusp of half time, Rhead lashed a swerving effort the wrong side of the left-hand post as the hosts finished the half in dominant fashion.
The Valiants could have doubled their lead soon after the re-start when James pounced on a loose ball in the centre of the park and played a defence-splitting pass towards Rob Taylor who had galloped on ahead of him to his left-hand side. The Vale winger advanced into the area and unleashed a low left-footed shot which beat Shane Redmond and clipped the outside of the post on its route out of play.
The Stags then made two changes in quick succession with Tafazolli and Rhead being replaced by Godfrey Poku and Louis Briscoe respectively. The quick-fire substitutions almost proved to be inspired, as Poku unleashed a 20-yard shot that caught a deflection off a defender and trickled the wrong side of the woodwork.
Mansfield continued to enjoy plenty of possession as the game passed the hour mark and Briscoe fired over the target from a tight angle when he exploited empty space inside area, which was left through Valiants captain Joe Davis being caught out of position.
Right-back John Thompson was shown a yellow card for a strong tackle on Taylor on 66 minutes, and chances had become few and far between by the time Wright flashed a right-footed shot wide of goal from eight-yards out on 77 minutes, with the former Kidderminster Harriers man being put through on goal by the mercurial Briscoe.
The Stags continued their search for what would have been a deserved equaliser in the final 10 minutes, but the closest they came was when Murray powered a 20-yard shot straight at Johnson.
Ryan Lloyd almost doubled the Valiants lead in the penultimate minute of the encounter with a shot from the six-yard line that Redmond had to save with his legs. Ultimately though, Vale remained resolute and did enough to hold onto their lead and claim all three points.