Two goals in last 10 minutes see Stags slip to defeat in last FTD League Cup group game.
A youthful Stags second-string slipped to an agonising defeat as Doncaster Rovers struck two late goals to win 2-1 in the Final Third Development League Cup (Group Stage).
The Stags, who more than matched their more experienced opponents, took the lead midway through the first half when Anthony Dwyer capitalised on a defensive mix-up and finished from a few yards.
Donny struggled to create much for a lot of the game, but got back on level terms with 10 minutes remaining when Joey McCormick’s low drive beat Adam Bishop.
The visitors then struck in the first of four minutes added time to grab a win which retains their slim hopes of progressing to the knockout stage as Liam Wakefield headed home from a corner.
On a freezing cold night at Kirklington Road, the visitors got proceedings underway and had the lion’s share of possession in the early exchanges, but didn’t trouble the Stags’ defence that often.
Rovers’ first opening came after five minutes when Harry Middleton picked up the ball inside the area, and cleared the target from a tight angle under pressure from Stags’ centre-back Elliot Holmes.
Mansfield almost got an attack of their own going a few moments later, when Tom Slone got the better of Aron Gordon and broke away down the right channel inside his own half, but his ball through towards the attack lacked accuracy and Donny’s defence mopped things up.
On the quarter-hour mark, the Stags created the first clear-cut opening of the night when Rory Thomson’s long-throw caused confusion in the Doncaster defence, and the ball dropped to Charlie Brownlie, whose effort from about eight yards was blocked bravely by Rob Jones.
The Stags also had a couple of corners midway through the first half, but instead it was Doncaster who broke away and squandered a golden opportunity to take the lead, as Harry Middleton got clean through on goal, but saw his attempt saved by the trailing legs of Adam Bishop as the game remained goalless.
Despite most of Doncaster’s team having two or three years more experience than the Stags’ line-up, the younger side grew in confidence and began to ask some meaningful questions of their counterparts.
Donny wasted a corner on 24 minutes and quickly found themselves called into action at the back as Dwyer embarked on a slalom run, bamboozling two or three defenders with some tricky footwork.
The 18-year-old ran at a back-peddling Rovers defence, then hit a shot straight at Marko Marosi, before his second attempt was cleared off the line with the visitors’ defence wide apart and all over the place.
Rovers couldn’t regain the ball and after giving away possession, they were almost punished less than 30 seconds later as Dwyer let fly with a curling effort from the edge of the area, which narrowly went wide of Marosi’s left-hand post.
At this point, Doncaster started to become frustrated and Mitchell Lund was deservedly shown a yellow card for a late challenge on Stags’ left-back Asa Shelton just shy of the half-hour mark.
Mansfield continued to enjoy the better of proceedings and went close again on 33 minutes when Slone got into a good position on the inside-right and met an over-hit cross, but his half-volley lacked accuracy and went harmlessly over.
Straight up at the other end, Rovers also had a near-miss as Lund whipped in a teasing left-footed cross from the right channel, but nobody inside a packed area was able to get a touch on the ball and call Stags’ keeper Bishop into action.
On 38 minutes, Mansfield finally got a reward for their endeavour when they took complete advantage of a bad mistake in the Rovers defence.
Jones tried to shield the ball under pressure inside his own area, but didn’t hear a call from his ‘keeper and was caught out, as Dwyer nipped between the two and poked the ball around Marosi, before finishing with ease from a couple of yards.
Remarkably, Marosi was nearly punished again just three minutes later as Dan Fletcher let fly with a dipping half-volley from 20 yards, which cleared the upright with the Slovakian Under 21 international slightly out of position and forced to watch closely as the ball went only an inch or so over the target.
Rovers then went within a whisker of an equaliser before half-time as Billy Whitehouse delivered a good ball into the area towards Lewis Ferguson, who wastefully hammered the ball high and wide from about eight yards.
The only other incident of any note in the first half came during two minutes of injury-time as Shelton was cautioned for a late foul on Whitehouse, but Ferguson’s resulting free-kick failed to beat the one-man defensive wall and the whistle subsequently went for half-time.
Mansfield retained their shape well in the second half and Bishop was called into action for the first time since the re-start when he claimed a high cross by Whitehouse at his near-post.
Both teams struggled to generate momentum and create openings and instead the game became a scrappy contest with extremely little in the way of goalmouth action.
On 55 minutes, the visitors made their first change as Kevin Mbuti replaced centre-back Jones, and the next incident of any note wasn’t until the 65th minute when a player from either team, Marosi and Dwyer, were cautioned, after a coming together.
A fifth booking was then dished out to Middleton less than three minutes later, after the Rovers skipper came out with some ill-judged words in the direction of the referee.
Donny knew that nothing other than a victory would see them retain their hopes of qualifying for the semi-finals and with time of the essence, they gradually began to enjoy more possession and push the Stags back more.
The visitors came within a whisker of an equaliser with a quarter-of-an-hour remaining, when Ferguson’s high corner towards the back-post picked out Michael Carberry’s, whose downwards header came back off the foot of the post.
Five minutes later, Rovers’ pressure eventually paid off as substitute Joey McCormick found the target with a bouncing drive from 15 yards, which was too much for Stags’ ‘keeper Bishop.
Rovers were extremely lucky to then keep 11 men on the pitch as straight from the re-start, Ferguson went in with a cynical late challenge on Thomson – for which he was deservedly cautioned.
The Stags were then dealt the ultimate sucker punch in the first of four minutes added time when Liam Wakefield came up from the back to meet a corner into the area by Ferguson and planted a firm header into the goal from five yards.