Our fantastic youngsters extended their lead at the Football Conference Youth Alliance summit to eight points, following a hard-fought 1-0 victory at Ilkeston this afternoon.
Midfielder Jack Thomas struck the winner, which simultaneously consigned the hosts to their first defeat of the league campaign, just three minutes after the interval.
In what was a superb team performance, centre-back Jason Gregory was a colossus figure in defence alongside Ben Birch, who has already netted five goals this term.
Skipper Kurtis Turner produced an assured display in the Stags engine room, whilst match-winner Thomas and Jack Hawkins were both allowed the freedom to roam dangerously.
The Stags dominated for lengthy spells on a chilly afternoon at Ilkeston’s New Manor Ground, but were put on the back foot by their second-placed counterparts in the early exchanges.
After Danny Gordon scuffed a low shot into the grateful arms of Ryan Hopkins, striker Dereece Gardner saw his looping effort cleared off the line by Birch.
Mansfield’s first chance fell to Turner on 21 minutes, whose shot from a Flint lay-off was tipped round the post by Robins ‘keeper Ryan Swift, only for the referee to bizarrely award a goal-kick.
The Stags gradually began to up the ante, and Akil Wright’s well-timed intervention denied the tireless Flint an opportunity to test Swift on the half-hour mark.
Nevertheless, Flint had a well-struck drive saved by the Ilkeston shot-stopper moments later, following a fine passing move and beautiful combination play involving Gregory and Jordan Vilums.
But Mansfield finally established a deserved lead shortly after the re-start.
The Robins disastrously failed to deal with Jordan Jones’ routine throw, which allowed Thomas to collect play on the edge of the area and venomously fire home.
Mansfield soon came within inches of doubling their lead when substitute Ross Lamb, who just minutes earlier had replaced Vilums, was put clean through by Flint.
However, an advancing Swift just did enough to distract Lamb, whose looping attempt clipped the post, before the full-stretch Ilkeston defence managed to bundle the ball away.
Despite an attempt from Birch, which flew narrowly wide of Swift’s left-hand post, the hosts slowly crept back into the encounter as it meandered towards its conclusion.
Wright blazed high into the Derbyshire skies following a clever pull-back from Kane Richards with five minutes left, as the Stags were forced to defend deep inside their own six-yard box.
And deep into six minutes of added time, it seemed that heart-break would be bestowed upon our youngsters as Ilkeston were awarded a highly controversial spot-kick.
Hopkins tangled with an on-rushing Gardner inside the area, to which the referee waved play on, but when the Robins striker was denied by Gregory’s brave goal-line clearance, a penalty was awarded.
Long protests followed, with questions even being raised as to why the game had not already finished, but the referee was defiant and refused to change his decision.
Ultimately, the 12-yard responsibility fell to Richards, who possessed an air or arrogance as he strode forward to take the spot-kick and earn Ilkeston an undeserved point.
But instead of finding the target, Richards unleashed an absolutely horrendous effort that sailed woefully over the target, over the stand and eventually out of the stadium.
The Stags had been truly let-off the hook, and after a few more minutes of a game which seemed destined not to end, the referee finally blew his whistle for full-time.
Stags: Hopkins, Marsden, Gregory, Birch, J.Jones, Chambers, Thomas, Turner (c), Vilums (Lamb), Hawkins, Flint.