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Stags win in goal glut

8 August 2012

Mansfield Town rounded off their pre-season campaign with a thrilling victory over Evo-Stik League Division One side Sheffield FC.

Goals from Jake Speight (2), Andy Todd, Chris Clements and Ben Hutchinson looked to have put Paul Cox's side in cruise-control at the half-time interval, but three goals from the hosts after the break ensured a highly nervous finale.

On a warm evening in Derbyshire, the Stags got off to a perfect start when they grabbed the lead after only three minutes. Gary Roberts picked out Todd from the middle of the park with a delightful chipped pass, and the veteran midfielder rifled an angled right-foot volley beyond the helpless dive of Nicky Draper.

Ash Worsfold saw his powerful shot fly only inches over the woodwork at the opposite end in what was Sheffield's first chance of the game, before magnificent Mansfield doubled their advantage on 11 minutes in what was only their second shot on target.

Roberts was again at the heart of the action, this time finding Speight with another nonchalant chipped ball into the area. The former Wrexham striker then fooled Jamie Hadfield with a quick turn, before firing a low shot that squirmed under the body of Draper and into the net.

The Stags continued to press forward at every given opportunity and nearly managed a third goal on the quarter-hour mark when Draper bundled Jamie Hand's swerving 25-yard shot straight into the path of Speight, who beat the offside trap but somehow failed to find the net with his follow-up attempt.

Shane Redmond saved from Canadian striker Jared Stevens as the hosts enjoyed a rare foray up field, but the Stags continued to create the better opportunities and Speight soon forced a fine save from the Sheffield goalkeeper after he once again linked up with the industrious Roberts.

With 30 minutes on the clock, the Stags added a deserved third goal to further enhance their superiority. Draper parried a long-range strike from Hutchinson straight into the path of Clements who finished with ease from only a few yards out.

However, Sheffield hit back instantaneously. Mat Roney delivered a superb right-wing cross which caught Jobe Shaw slightly out of position and allowed an unmarked Worsfold to comfortably head beyond Redmond from only a few yards out.

Nevertheless, chances continued to flow at the opposite end with the magnificent Roberts being a mercurial figure in every Stags attack. Hutchinson saw a tame header saved by Draper and a penalty appeal from Speight was turned away by the referee, before the Stags added a fourth goal on 41 minutes.

Roberts found Speight with a delicate low ball through the middle and the bustling striker used all his upper body strength to hold off a challenge from Warren Burrell. In a one-on-one with the keeper, Speight retained his focus as he advanced towards goal and calmly fired into the roof of the net to extend the lead.

Hutchinson then capped off an amazing first-half performance as he added a fifth goal only seconds before the interval. Speight showed some beautiful footwork to cut inside from the left flank and fend off a challenge from Charlie Anderson. Once in the area, an intelligent reverse ball found Hutchinson unmarked and the former Celtic striker made no mistake as he hammered his shot past the despairing Draper.

The Stags created two chances in quick succession straight after the interval but failed to add to increase their advantage. John Dempster came close with a powerful header on 50 minutes, before Speight was even closer two minutes later with a low shot that had to be cleared off the line by Tyrone Thompson.

Hutchinson and Stevens enjoyed further attempts for their respective sides, before Sheffield reduced the deficit on the hour mark. This time it was Stevens who showed some clever movement to peel away from Pablo Mills and poke home a right-wing cross from Chris Adam.

Chances proved to be more elusive for both teams as the game grew old, but with 20 minutes remaining Sheffield's genuine hopes of staging a sensational comeback moved up a notch as they netted their third goal of the night.

Turner picked up the ball on the left flank and used his pace to cut inside towards goal. Having advanced into the area and with Redmond stationed at his near post, the full-back played a low ball through the six-yard box towards substitute Ellis Wall, who nonchalantly flicked the ball into the net off his heel to reduce the deficit to only two goals.

James Knowles fired over with a speculative strike with 15 minutes remaining, but the Sheffield substitute came much closer moments later when his shot from ten-yards out was expertly parried away by Redmond.

Speight could have put the game beyond doubt and restored the Stags three-goal advantage in the closing stages, but his shot from the edge of the box was comfortably gathered by Draper.

His miss almost proved to be costly, as with just six minutes left on the clock Sheffield jangled Mansfield Town nerves even further when they grabbed a fourth goal. Once again, the hosts used the wide areas to strong effect and Shaq McKenzie picked out Knowles inside the six-yard box, who comfortably slotted past Redmond to set up a tense finale.

In the final five minutes, Redmond saved separate long-range attempts from Knowles and Wall respectively, as Sheffield threatened to round-off their dramatic comeback with an equaliser, but the Stags somehow held their nerve and did enough to finish their pre-season campaign with another victory.

Speaking after the nine-goal encounter, manager Paul Cox said: "In the first-half I thought we were excellent, but in the second-half we probably let a little bit of arrogance creep in to our performance and we nearly paid the price.

"But overall, irrespective of the result, all tonight was ever meant to be about was ensuring that some players got essential game time ahead of the season-opener on Saturday against Newport County."

Sheffield: Draper, Turner, Anderson, Foster (c), Burrell, Hadfield, Adam, Thompson, Stevens, Worsfold, Roney. Subs: Woolley, Wall, Knowles, Gregory, McKenzie, Powell, Williams, Gascoigne, Cardwell.

Stags: Redmond, Shaw, Dempster (c), Mills, Hand, Roberts, Clements, Todd, Jake Green, Speight, Hutchinson. Subs: Somes, Rogers, Trialist.

Attendance: 165

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