Winger Jordan Vilums scored a dramatic last minute equaliser as our youngsters battled courageously to earn a hard-fought 2-2 draw with Ilkeston at Coronation Park this afternoon.
Vilums slotted home following Jack Thomas’ defence-piercing through ball to earn us a deserved point, which maintained our grip on top spot in the Football Conference Youth Alliance.
However, there was so nearly a gut-wrenching late twist, as Ryan Osborne’s vicious stoppage-time drive had to be superbly saved by Ryan Hopkins.
On a dreadful, dry pitch, Mansfield dominated the early exchanges and went ahead when Joe Flint converted a spot-kick after Jake Green was fouled inside the area.
The Stags almost doubled their lead immediately, as Liam Marsden picked out Flint with a looping long-throw into the six-yard box, which forced a back-peddling Matt Baker into action.
Ben Wallace should have done better with Ilkeston’s first chance, as his long-range strike was comfortably held by Hopkins, an ever-present figure this season, on the quarter-hour mark.
Nevertheless, Mansfield looked dangerous in possession and twice came close to adding a second, in separate moves, midway through the first period.
Skipper Kurtis Turner instinctively pounced on some slack defending and flashed a low shot wide, before Thomas, who condemned the Robins to defeat last week, also blazed over.
The Stags soon went even closer when Jack Hawkins released Ross Lamb with a sumptuous ball down the left, but Lamb’s chipped effort over an on-rushing ‘keeper agonisingly clipped the post.
Ilkeston gradually came out of their defensive shell in the approach to half-time and equalised on 43 minutes, with a goal that owed a little to a slice of good fortune.
A long punt forward initially posed minimal danger, but Hopkins’ miss-hit clearance fell fortuitously for Wallace, who hit a remarkable 35-yard snap-shot into the bottom corner.
Buoyed by their leveller, the Robins completed an astonishing turnaround eight minutes after the break, which left their counterparts utterly stunned.
After a through ball, Hopkins forced Paris Pereira wide in a one-on-one, yet from an acute angle, and despite Ben Birch’s desperate last-ditch attempts, the Ilkeston frontman squeezed his shot home.
Trailing for the first time, a nervous anxiety crept into Mansfield’s overall play, as opportunities proved to be at a premium, and came along at infrequent intervals.
The Stags’ frustration only grew even further when Keiran Coupe’s right-sided delivery reached an unmarked Lamb, who powered a close-range effort against the woodwork.
Lamb also had a separate shot bravely blocked by a back-tracking Akil Wright, whilst Birch, scorer of five goals this term, headed over from Turner’s right-sided corner.
The Robins continued to look solid defensively as the game approached its climax, whilst Mansfield thrust both Vilums and Matt Harris into the action.
However, just when it seemed Ilkeston had done enough to earn a vital win, the Stags struck a dramatic late equaliser and clinch a hard-earned point.
Following Thomas’ low inch-perfect through ball, substitute Vilums wrestled past his marker and advanced into a one-on-one with Baker, where he brilliantly retained his composure to finish.
But with pure elation in one dugout and utter misery in the other, the pendulum of this topsy-turvy encounter so nearly swung back in Ilkeston’s favour deep into added time.
Turner gave the ball away on the cusp of his own area, which allowed Osborne to rifle a shot goalwards and force a full-stretch Hopkins into a superb diving save.
Stags: Hopkins, Coupe, Marsden, Gregory, Birch, Turner (c), Green, Thomas, Flint (Harris), Lamb (Vilums), Hawkins. Unused Subs: Fell, Simpson, J.Jones, M.Jones.