On the hottest day of the year so far, Mansfield Town fell to a narrow 1-0 defeat to Premier League outfit Hull City.
Following Saturday’s 2-1 success over League One side Bolton Wanderers, a balmy summer evening at One Call Stadium provided the stage for Adam Murray’s squad’s highest profile challenge yet, with an admiral unbeaten pre-season record still intact ahead of a game against a side peppered with international and top-flight experience.
Striker Pat Hoban shone in the early exchanges and as the first half developed, there were strong signs from each of Murray’s new recruits just two-and-a-half weeks ahead of their first competitive fixture of the 2016-17 season, which will see the Stags travel to Newport County on 06 August.
There were several positives in a sun-baked affair low on physicality but high on eye-catching ball-work; Hoban’s early drag-backs accompanied by midfielder Kevan Hurst’s productive runs into space that led to spells of possession for deep-lying midfielder Adam Chapman to spray the ball wide for an un-named trialist and the impressive full-back Rhys Bennett.
The first notable chance for either side came after the referee blew for a foul by defender Krystian Pearce on Hull midfielder Mo Diamé for a block on the edge of the area.
Hull’s interchanging wide midfielders Shaun Maloney and Robert Snodgrass lined up behind the ball before the ex-Wigan man hit an attempted plant into Mansfield’s centrally-positioned wall for a corner.
Moments later, Mansfield’s excellent retention of possession after further attempts from distance by the Tigers saw midfielder Mitch Rose get a shot at Tigers’ ‘keeper Dusan Kuciak from 30 yards, but it was deflected behind for a corner.
Shortly afterwards, Hoban managed to pull off another successful pull-back that allowed Chapman space in midfield to switch play from left to right.
The East Yorkshire side’s relatively low-profile pre-season, aside from a training camp on the Portuguese Algarve, meant tonight’s meeting represented their toughest test yet in terms of league standing, and despite reports of an injury depleted squad, their 142 travelling fans were given cause for optimism ahead of their Premier League return which will see them meet unexpected defending Champions Leicester City at the KC Stadium in just over two weeks.
After just 15 minutes had elapsed, Hull’s two corners and deflected free kick from 19 yards out suggested the Championship play-off winners were the better side, though Mansfield were the most creative side.
Shortly after, winger CJ Hamilton was found by the impressive trialist after a smart dummy, followed by Rose’s low struck effort which was met by Kuciak in the City goal.
Former Nottingham Forest and England defender Michael Dawson was forced off injured on 28 minutes to add to Hull’s growing injury list.
His replacement, the lively and effective Jarrod Bowen, a 20-year-old striker, meant a switch in City’s tactics, as midfielder Tom Huddlestone sat alongside centre-half Curtis Davies and former Stags’ midfielder Sam Clucas slotted in deep in midfield.
Shortly after a neat piece of individual skill by the impressive Diame was well saved by Stags’ stopper Brian Jensen, skilful work by Shaun Maloney found the former Hereford player in space for another effort at goal, though Mansfield’s veteran Dane again kept the game scoreless.
Hoban’s excellent half continued on 26 minutes, as the new signing was found by fellow new addition, CJ Hamilton.
The Irishman then went close with a shot from 20 yards, narrowly missing Jakupovic’s post.
Snodgrass managed to break the Stags’ steely defence with a poke through to Maloney, though Jensen was a match for the Irishman’s effort just ahead of the interval, making a great save from just eight yards out.
Following this, Jensen again saved from a dangerous Hull attack, as Snodgrass was found in space in the box and the stopper flew to his right to beat away his powerful drive.
Growing into the game ever more, the skilful Bowen had an effort firmly cut out by the versatile Mitchell Rose, as Stags held an impressive defensive shape during a dominant spell for the Tigers as the game remained poised heading towards half-time.
Hull lived up to Murray’s expectations of a defensive test; dominating the beginnings of the second half, as Bruce withdrew Maloney for the trial debut of former West Brom, Cardiff and Stoke attacker Peter Odemwingie.
Shortly after entering the fold, Odemingie hit the post after being found in space, then winger Greg Luer’s follow-up effort was blocked on the line by George Taft.
The lively Bowen, who had settled immediately after replacing Dawson, broke the deadlock after a neat attack.
Maloney’s perfectly-weighted pass into the danger area allowed the youngster to finish emphatically in front of Hull’s 142 travelling supporters on 55 minutes.
After a first half of frequent attempts from distance, it appeared that Tigers’ manager Bruce was hoping for more penetration from their forays forward.
Hull’s international class became more apparent in the second period with the introduction of Uruguayan forward Abel Hernandez providing a speedy challenge for the Stags’ replacement rearguard of George Taft and Corbin Shires.
Creativity and endeavour were never lacking from Murray’s evolving XI as the final whistle drew closer as they continued to punch at City’s experienced defensive backline throughout.
Also, the appearance of last season’s top scorer Matt Green in the second half provided Stags with a different option as he almost caught out Davies in the chase for a loose ball in with fifteen minutes remaining.
The Stags remained solid throughout the closing stages and manager Adam Murray will be able to take plenty of positives from tonight's promising performance against a side three leagues above them in the footballing pyramid.
Stags' XI: Jensen, Bennett (Taft 46), Collins (C) (Healey 58), Pearce (Shires 64), Chapman (Clements 46), Hoban (Trialist 2 62), Baxendale (Hemmings 46), Hurst (McGuire 67), M. Rose (Bloor 69), Hamilton (Green 46), Trialist 1.
Unused subs: Shearer (GK), D. Rose,
Hull XI: Kuciak (Jakupovic 46), Robertson, Davies, Huddlestone (Tymon 46), Snodgrass (Hernandez 75), Clucas, Maloney (Odemwingie 63), Diame (Olley 71), Dawson (Bowan 30), Luer, Elmohamdey.
Referee: Darren England.
Attendance: 1,585 (142 away).