Youth team head coach John Dempster commended his striking duo of hat-trick hero Zayn Hakeem and brace-grabber Alistair Smith following tonight’s 5-2 victory over Dunkirk in the FA Youth Cup.
The duo split the five goals between them, with Smith contributing two to his team-mate’s three as the Stags ran out comfortable winners over the non-league outfit to set up a tie with Fulham in the third round.
Dempster was quick to praise the pair’s goal-scoring exploits, but stressed there’s always room for improvement.
“Without being disrespectful, they both could have scored more,” reflected Dempster. “With Zayn and Alistair, we have a good partnership. Alistair is a clever number 10 and he found pockets of space really well.
“Zayn has great pace, [he’s a] good finisher and that makes for a good combination that gives centre halves a headache as they don’t know when to drop off or close down.”
Whilst the goalscorers will take the headlines, Dempster thought his side coped well with the challenge of Dunkirk, who beat last year’s quarter finalists Coventry City in the last round.
“We expected Dunkirk to play the way they did. They’ve done brilliantly to get this far and we knew they’d get forward quickly and have a physical presence.
“As young lads, they have to learn to stand up to the physical part of the game and I’m pleased with how we did in the situations they created from free-kicks and corners.”
Reflecting on the performance of his youngsters, Dempster felt his side can use tonight’s victory as a base to build on.
“I’ve got some mixed emotions on the game. At times we were brilliant, other times we could have been a bit better.
“We dominated the ball at times and we have the emphasis on getting forward and we weren’t always at our best.
“They’re young lads though, and you’re not going to get perfection all the time.”
Victory over Dunkirk ensured the young Stags will meet Fulham in the third round of the FA Youth Cup, with Dempster keen to see his players compete with a top academy.
“Fulham are a category one academy and have a budget in the millions.
“We don’t have that but we can give a good account of ourselves and it’ll be a very different game and a different approach.”
Supporters will be able to view John Dempster’s post-match interview on Stags PlayerHD on Wednesday.