Mansfield Town’s under 21s slipped to a hard-fought 2-1 defeat against Nottingham Forest in the Central League Cup this afternoon.
Jack Lester’s Forest scored twice in the opening 14 minutes through winger Anthony Wright, while Mike Whitlow’s men halved the deficit via a Lewis Collins strike midway through the second period.
The Stags travelled to the Nigel Doughty Academy on the back of a last-minute change of venue, which saw the game relocated from Alfreton Town’s Impact Arena due to a water-logged pitch.
Although the visitors showed enterprise with some promising passing early on, it was the Reds who made their attempts count first.
Winger Wright had a go from close range, which Mansfield ‘keeper Adam Hassan had to gather on four minutes.
Soon after, full-back Hildeberto Pereira fed winger Elvis Otim from the right, only for the attacking midfielder to curl an effort high above the bar.
However, on eight minutes, the hosts broke the deadlock as winger Wright tapped in from close range. Dangerous striker Ben Brereton was released down the right-hand side and he drilled a low effort across Hassan, but the Stags’ ‘keeper could only parry the ball out in front of him to the onrushing Wright, who stroked the ball home.
Five minutes later and Forest were two ahead through the combination of Brereton and Wright once more. Brereton, this time on the left-hand side of the box, rolled a low cross towards the back post where Wright had the most simple of tasks to double his side’s lead.
Midfielder Joe Fitzpatrick was then substituted towards the end of the first quarter, with Cameron Healey coming on.
Having conceded two quick goals, the away side did admirably to maintain their cohesion in the midfield in a bid to stave off further damage.
Whitlow’s men, on their part, were also seeking every opportunity to grab a goal back.
Near the half-hour mark, there was some great passing by Mansfield as striker Tyler Bake latched on to an up-field ball from defender Kieran Harrison, and he cut it back to midfielder Cain Smith who earned a corner.
However, attacking midfielder AJ George found his delivery headed to safety by the Reds’ centre-back Fred Nielsen.
Soon after, striker Nyle Blake was fouled near the left touchline, earning Mansfield a free-kick. George this time saw his strike repelled by the wall.
Close to the half-time, a decent spell of possession from the Stags led to George setting up Collins from 25 yards, but the visitors’ skipper shot high over the bar.
Still trailing 2-0 at the start of the second-half, Mansfield looked determined to carry forward the hard work in containing the physical prowess of the home side.
The Stags began the second-half with two changes, as winger Tyler Johal replaced Cain Smith, while youngster Kane Baldwin slotted in to the back four in place of centre-half Mohammed Kamara at the heart of defence.
For Forest though, they continue to enjoy the lion's share of the possession and Brereton found some space to shoot wide of the far post on 57 minutes.
The Stags then defended well through right-back Teddy Bloor as he intercepted a first-time volley from Anel Ahmedhodzic on 60 minutes.
Mansfield finally found the target to reduce the arrears on 65 minutes, as Lewis Collins sent the ball into an empty net from distance with Forest 'keeper Chris Marques miscuing a clearance during a counter-attack.
Marques came out of his goal into the left-back area and Collins reacted quickly to fire an effort in to the far corner of the goal from 35 yards out with the ‘keeper scrambling.
The game opened up with both sides sensing further scalps and on 74 minutes, Forest’s Danny Preston missed the target by whiskers from inside the area and it remained Forest 2-1 Stags.
On 76 minutes, Brereton drew a great save from Adam Hassan as he shot low from the edge of the six-yard box.
The hosts then won a glut of corners, whilst trying to enforce a third goal. However, the flag-kicks were well-dealt with by the Mansfield players.
With the Stags mounting a late push for an equaliser, great footwork from George saw him tee up Tyler Blake on the edge of the area, but the striker ballooned the ball high.
It remained the last notable action of the game and Mansfield were unfortunate to come within touching distance of salvaging their first points in the competition, yet leaving empty-handed.
Stags’ XI: Hassan, Bloor (Ricketts 72’), Shaw, C.Smith (Johal HT), Harrison, Kamara (Baldwin HT), Fitzpatrick (Healey 19’), Lewis Collins, T.Blake, George, N.Blake (Wilder 72’).
Forest XI: Marques, Pereira, Preston, Hobbs, Nielsen, Moussi, Otim (Gomis 53’), Ahmedhodzic, Brereton, Worrall (Crookes 70’), A. Wright (EnNeyah 70’).
Subs not used: J. Wright, Re.
Stags under 21s chief Mike Whitlow was pleased with his charges’ endeavour against a very strong Forest side, and he pointed to the pleasing aspects of the performance that added to their learning curve.
The 48-year-old said: “They (Forest) have got a lot of experience. These are Championship players, some of them are full-time pros.
“In the first 20 minutes, we got a little bit lost [in] our shape. (We had) the young players pitting themselves against some very experienced players. After being two down in the first twenty minutes, you are fearing the worst; they were moving the ball and our shape a little bit. But we sorted it out, and credit to the boys today," Whitlow said.
“Once you settled down, it’s nice. Once we got the ‘in awe’ out of the way, who we are playing against and what we were doing, they (the Mansfield players) put a shift in.
“We went back to what we know best, the two solid fours with a one and the counter-attacking. We have come away second-half with one goal, and none against.
“[So, there were] a lot of pleasing points. That’s the thing – [to] match them.”