Mansfield Town’s under 18s climbed up to second in the Football League Youth Alliance table with a 1-0 victory over Bradford City at Rainworth on Saturday.Midfielder Cain Smith got the only goal of the contest seven minutes into the second half to ensure a vital victory for the young Stags, and they’re now level on points with league leaders Scunthorpe United with a game in hand.
John Dempster's side had to work hard to earn the three points, as Bradford flooded the midfield in an attempt to stifle the game and prevent the home side from getting their attacking rhythm going by smothering their supply lines.
But the biggest obstacle either team had to overcome was the strong wind which howled diagonally across the Rainworth pitch for the entire match, making life difficult for players of both sides.
The Bantams kicked off with the wind behind them, but it was Mansfield who launched the first attack when left-back Louis Danquah guided the ball into the path of Zayn Hakeem, who was thwarted by a last-ditch tackle visitors’ captain Kesi Omolokun, who played safe and put the ball behind for a corner.
Full-back Teddy Bloor swung the corner kick in, but it dipped sharply in the wind and centre-half Morgan Ratcliffe was unable to connect with his attempted header, having got in front of his marker but the ball bounced wide off his shoulder.
Soon after, striker Jason Law knocked the ball wide to Danquah, who played a 30-yard square pass into the path of Stags’ captain Cameron Healey, but George Kenworthy held onto his long range shot.
Bantams’ defender Tom Windle fouled winger Tyler Johal and Bloor's free-kick bounced unkindly for Hakeem, who got in a tangle with his feet but the loose ball fell to Law whose first time shot crashed against Omolokun's arm, but the referee ruled that it was 'ball to hand' and waved play on.
Striker Tyler Blake was battling to find a way through the away side’s defence, but they were defending valiantly to keep the score level. On the stroke of half time, Bloor's set-piece was headed away to the edge of the box and Cain Smith tried his luck from 18 yards, but Omolokun blocked the shot and deflected the ball away for a corner.
Half-time: Stags 0-0 Bantams
The Stags started the second half on the front foot and almost took the lead from a move down the left flank. Danquah picked out Law with a throw-in and Neil Patience shoved the Stags’ debutant in the back to concede a free-kick. Bloor whipped a cross in and Harrison headed the ball a fraction over the crossbar.
Shortly afterwards, Windle tried to play the ball forward out of defence, but Tyler Blake chased the ball down, took it past the Bradford right back and knocked the perfect cross to Cain Smith, who crashed the ball past Kenworthy, for what turned out to be the winning goal.
Johal almost added a second goal for Mansfield within two minutes of Smith's strike, but his 20-yard shot dipped narrowly wide of the upright.
Looking for a reply, Ellis Hudson crossed the ball into the Stags’ area but it was cleared as far as Danny Deane, and Law fouled him to break up the Bradford attack. Hudson picked out Omolokun with the free kick and thankfully, for the Stags, he put a foot wrong for the first time all afternoon and knocked the ball past the wrong side of the post.
Looking to double the advantage, the Stags won a corner through Tyler Blake's persistence and Omokolun had to head Bloor's delivery over his own bar to clear the immediate danger for the visitors.
Forwards Devante Reittie and Nyle Blake both came on late in the game to add some fresh legs and impetus to the attack, but although they both offered the Stags some fresh options and caused problems for the visitors’ defence, Mansfield had to settle for the solitary goal.
FT: Stags 1-0 Bantams
Mansfield Town: Adam Bishop, Teddy Bloor, Louis Danquah, Cain Smith, Morgan Ratcliffe, Kieran Harrison, Tyler Johal, Cameron Healey (C) (Devante Reittie 79),Tyler Blake, Jason Law, Zayn Hakeem (Nyle Blake 83)
Unused subs: Sam Wilson, Kane Baldwin, Charlie Shaw
Bradford City: George Kenworthy, Tom Windle, Sam Wright, Neil Patience, Kesi Omolokun (C), Jack Waters, Ellis Hudson, Danny Deane, Ville Moilanen, Omed Gardezi, Raeece Ellington
Unused subs: Jake Maltby, Andrew McIntosh