Mansfield Town picked up another pre-season win thanks to Matt Rhead’s close-range strike after 43 minutes at Blundell Park this evening.
It was a hard-fought win for Paul Cox’s side in a hum-drum affair which saw few goal mouth chances.
From an entertainment perspective, the encounter did little to warm the cockles on a chilly night in Cleethorpes but Cox hailed the match as a ‘great exercise for his players’ in his post match interview.
In a gritty and evenly-matched 90 minutes, it was Grimsby who carved out the first opportunity of the match inside the opening 10 minutes when Scott Brown took aim towards the top corner of the goal but new Stags’ goalkeeper Sacha Studer, who put pen to paper with the club only yesterday, got across his line quickly to make the stop.
At the other end, Stags’ striking pair Matt Rhead and Ollie Palmer combined to good effect on 19 minutes, when the former flicked the ball into Palmer’s path inside the penalty area. But Palmer’s audacious attempted lob was saved one handed by a back-tracking James McKeown to prevent the ball from crossing the line.
New signing Fergus Bell, playing in behind the front two as part of a 3-5-2 formation, then struck into the side netting as Stags searched for the opener.
Mansfield custodian Studer was called into action mid-way through the first half when he got down low to fingertip a shot wide from Grimsby’s Patrick McLaughlin.
Despite the tag of ‘friendly’, the contest was, at times, played with no such spirit, sparking three yellow cards by the referee; the first of which appearing to be most harsh as Mansfield wing-back Lee Beevers entered the notepad for failing to retreat 10 yards from a free-kick.
The Mariners may have taken the lead three minutes before the break, but McLaughlin saw his cheeky lob come back off the woodwork.
But it was Paul Cox’s men who headed into the interval with the breakthrough. Palmer created space on the right of the box, only for his low effort to be kept out by the home glovesman, but the ball ran loose in the centre of the goal, leaving Matt Rhead to apply the finish.
Studer twice denied the hosts in a five minute second half spell as he punched away crosses from Grimsby’s flanks, wasting no time in racing off his line to clear the danger.
On 64, Mansfield front man Liam Hearn, on his return to Blundell Park, received a rapturous reception from both sets of supporters as he took to the field.
Stags’ player/assistant manager Adam Murray was in the thick of the action during the second half. After 70 minutes, he won a free-kick following a strong challenge from Grimsby’s Scott Brown, who picked up a yellow card.
Murray soon followed his midfield counterpart into the referee’s book after an ill-timed challenge mid-way inside the Stags half.
Grimsby tried, without ultimate reward, to restore parity in the closing stages. Stags’ goalkeeper Studer was in fine form and made his best save of the match with ten minutes remaining as he pushed a well-hit shot from Ross Hannah around the upright.
On 82, Amari’i Bell kept Stags’ clean sheet intact by sliding along the six yard box to prevent Hannah’s effort from crossing the line. Bell showed his attacking qualities minutes later when he cut infield from the top of the Grimsby penalty area to open fire, but the home ‘keeper was well behind it.
Former Stags favourites Nathan Arnold and Craig Disley tried in vain to test Studer in the closing stages as Stags held out to claim their second win in four days.
ATTENDANCE: 871 (79 Stags fans)
FIRST HALF: Studer, Tafazolli, Riley, Sutton, Beevers, Trialist 1, McGuire, Trialist 2, F. Bell, Rhead, Palmer.
SECOND HALF: Studer, A. Bell, Riley, Dempster, Sutton, Marsden, Heslop, Clements, Murray, Rhead (Hearn 64), Fisher