Mansfield Town’s under 18s moved four points clear at the top of the Football League Youth Alliance with a comprehensive 4-0 victory over Oldham Athletic on Saturday.
Striker Tyler Blake netted an impressive hat-trick with captain Morgan Ratcliffe getting the other goal as John Dempster’s young side claimed the three points in ruthless style at Clipstone.
Second-placed Scunthorpe United lost to Hartlepool United, meaning that the Stags’ destiny is in their own hands and even if the Iron win their two remaining games, a Mansfield victory at Grimsby Town next Saturday will see them crowned as champions.
Inside the opening ten minutes, the hosts took the lead. Mansfield launched a quick attack from Ratcliffe's clearance and Blake did well to bring a bouncing ball under control just outside the visitors’ goal area and he found the bottom corner of Callum O'Neill's net with a crisp half-volley.
The title-chasers were proving to be a real handful for the away team as the forwards were joined by full-backs Teddy Bloor and Louis Danquah on the flanks, with midfielders Cain Smith and Cameron Healey pushing up behind them, while Ratcliffe and Kieran Harrison stayed back to sweep up any traces of attacking intentions from Oldham.
Another Stags goal was almost inevitable and it nearly arrived after 19 minutes when striker Zayn Hakeem glanced the ball narrowly wide from Bloor's left-wing corner. Soon after, Cain Smith saw his long-range shot clear the bar after another searching cross into the goalmouth had been half-cleared.
The Stags’ next attack was halted by Latics’ ‘keeper Callum O’Neill and as he bounced the ball on the edge of his area, striker Blake was on him in an instant and stole the ball as it hit the ground and steered it into the unguarded goal to double the lead.
As the first half reached its conclusion, midfielder Ali Smith rolled the ball into the path of Hakeem, but he leaned backwards as he connected with ball and his effort when high and wide.
Half-time: Stags 2-0 Latics
Ten minutes into the second half, Mansfield were carrying on in the same manner as they were prior to the break, but with just a two goal cushion, the next strike would be vital.
Oldham defender Rory Middleton conceded a free-kick just outside the visitors’ area, earning himself a yellow card. Stags’ winger Tyler Johal knocked the resulting set-piece towards a crowded six-yard-box and Ratcliffe wrestled free of his marker and got his head to the ball, flicking it just inside the left-hand upright for the third goal of the contest.
As the half progressed, Cain Smith pushed forward from his holding midfield role and arrowed a pass to Tyler Blake who flicked it on to Hakeem. The striker drilled the ball goal-bound but O'Neill had positioned himself well and gathered the ball to his chest.
Looking to provide gloss on the occasion, Blake's close-range thumping shot was deflected wide, but Bloor's corner kick was then punched away by O’Neill.
Cain Smith charged right through the middle of the visitors’ defence in the next attack, but as he steadied himself to place the ball past O'Neill, he was tripped from behind. Two-goal Tyler Blake stepped up and made no mistake as he claimed his hat-trick from the penalty spot.
Seeking a fifth goal, Harrison ghosted in on the blind side of Oldham's defence, but could only direct Danquah's right-wing corner wide of the back post as he met the left back's in-swinging flag kick.
With full-time approaching, Nyle Blake, brother of hat-trick hero Tyler, drew a defender towards him and slipped the ball into the space he'd left for Tom Marriott to run on to, but his attempt rolled wide of the mark.
Full-time: Stags 4-0 Latics
Mansfield Town: Adam Bishop, Teddy Bloor, Louis Danquah, Cain Smith, Morgan Ratcliffe (C), Kieran Harrison, Tyler Johal, Cameron Healey, Tyler Blake (Nyle Blake 63), Ali Smith (Tom Marriott 69), Zayn Hakeem (Devante Reittie 63)
Unused subs: Kane Baldwin, Charlie Shaw
Oldham Athletic: Callum O'Neill, Tom Hamer, Rory Middleton, Dylan King, Tom Lent, Ryan Leonard (C) (Harry Norris 73), Ronaldo Brown, Francois Antoine, Bailey Whaley, Brendy Glackin (Max Norman 70), Ned Dry (Festus Arthur 64)