Championship Leeds United struck down by Liam 'the hitman' Hearn.Liam ‘the hitman’ Hearn enjoyed an emphatic debut as he stepped off the bench to fire Mansfield Town to a deserved 2-0 victory over Championship giants Leeds United at One Call Stadium.
The 28-year-old changed the course of what had been a dour match when he capitalised on some atrocious defending by the Whites to win a penalty, which he venomously netted for 1-0.
Hearn then doubled our lead with a predatory and precise chip-shot over an advancing Marco Silvestri, after Matt Rhead had carved the visitors’ back-line apart by heading on a long ball forward.
The result was thoroughly merited and the Stags will now go into Friday’s pre-season clash at Grimsby Town, ironically Hearn’s previous club, buoying with confidence.
The weather conditions were quite pleasant for this encounter as the evening sunshine in North Nottinghamshire caused part of the One Call Stadium surface to be partially shaded.
Mansfield handed a debut to box-to-box midfielder Simon Heslop, signed only a few hours before kick-off, whilst the visitors included ex-England international Stephen Warnock in their line-up.
The Whites attacked towards the North Stand, housing the 1,000-strong noisy travelling contingent, and Leeds dominated the very early exchanges.
Only three minutes had elapsed when the West Yorkshire giants created their first chance.
Noel Hunt, in what proved to be his only contribution, acrobatically swung his foot at a high loose ball on the edge of the six-yard box following some static defending by the home team.
The Irish talisman couldn’t connect properly and Matt Smith, who was positioned just a couple of yards away at the back-post, was unable to turn the ball goalwards and it eventually went wide.
New signing Heslop hit a 30-yard free-kick harmlessly over the woodwork in the Stags’ first venture forwards, before Rodolph Austin did likewise at the other end.
By the quarter-hour mark, Mansfield were starting to ask a few more questions of their Championship counterparts and had a good spell of possession inside the visitors’ half.
The Stags almost caught a glimpse of goal, but Alex Pearce did well to foil the lightning-quick Alex Fisher and then produced a perfectly-timed tackle to deny Ollie Palmer.
Leeds then suffered a big setback when Hunt went to the ground on the left-flank clutching his hamstring in clear and quite evident discomfort.
The Irish international received treatment from the physio, but, unable to continue, he walked gingerly back to the dugouts and was replaced by Tommaso Bianchi.
Leeds’ injury woes then deepened midway through the first half when Lewis Walters sustained a knock in an attacking situation and also required treatment for what seemed to be another hamstring injury.
The promising youngster recovered temporarily and spent enough time on the pitch to head wide from the subsequent corner, before he collapsed in a heap and was helped off by the physio.
Mansfield went close just after the half-hour mark as Alex Fisher whipped a cross-cum-shot through the six-yard box from out on the left flank, which forced Stuart Taylor into a reaction parry save.
From the resulting flag-kick, an unknown trialist saw his back-post delivery headed away by Byram, but the Stags managed to recycle the ball and won another corner which ultimately came to nothing.
Fisher and Fergus Bell, both signed from A.S. Monza during the summer, caused the visitors problems throughout the match and the two linked up to almost-devastating effect just before half-time.
In one promising move, Fisher ran at two back-peddling Leeds defenders and managed to hold the ball up, before playing a great pass out wide to another un-named trialist.
The trialist balled inside to a centrally-positioned Bell, who looked up and unleashed a speculative shot from 25 yards which bounced up and went narrowly wide of Taylor’s left-hand post.
Leeds then had a bright spell of pressure prior to the break which began when Byram was released down the right channel and crossed for Bianchi, who stabbed the ball wide from a few yards.
The Whites then had a couple of corners in quick succession, but Mansfield’s un-named shot-stopper showed safe hands and looked comfortable in claiming the ball.
The trialist custodian from Switzerland repeated the trick when he took Warnock’s deep left-wing cross towards the near-post into his grasp shortly after the re-start.
Immediately, the ‘keeper launched the ball downfield and created a counter-attack which saw Fergus Bell slam the ball wide of Taylor’s left-hand post from close-range.
At the other end, Leeds then created their best opening when Luke Murphy threaded an inch-perfect pass through towards an advancing Matt Smith who was entering the area.
Despite having the goal at his mercy, Smith scuffed a low shot straight at the ‘keeper and White’s subsequent rebound attempt about five seconds later went harmlessly wide.
Leeds then took the rituals of pre-season to a whole new level when they made substitutions en masse, 10 to be precise, on the hour mark – with only Bianchi remaining on the pitch.
Mansfield began to seize the initiative as they shaped up against their new counterparts and were mainly the better team until the final whistle.
What proved to be the game-changing moment occurred when Hearn was brought on for his debut, and the striker, plagued by injuries over the last two seasons, demonstrated his potential.
Hearn had only been on the field for a few minutes when he intercepted an horrendously sloppy pass-back and drew an untidy challenge from Leeds ‘keeper Marco Silvestri, which resulted in a penalty.
Hearn grabbed the ball and following a short delay, stepped up and emphatically rammed the ball into the net, with the ‘keeper diving in the opposite direction, as the Stags went 1-0 up.
Leeds threatened a quick-response and David Norris latched onto a left-sided cross from Zac Thompson, but his close-range header was off target and the Stags’ ‘keeper was untroubled.
Mansfield’s joy was increased with less than 10 minutes remaining when ‘the hitman’ struck again to end Leeds’ hopes of an unlikely comeback.
Rhead guided on a long downfield ball which put Hearn clean-through and the forward, with time and space on his side, picked his spot perfectly, placing the ball over an advancing Silvestri to make it 2-0.
The result was highly-deserved for Paul Cox’s team and will give the Stags confidence going into the next two friendlies against Grimsby Town and Lincoln City, respectively.