Mansfield Town’s under 18s recorded a superb 2-0 victory over local rivals and nearest challengers Notts County at the top of the EFL Youth Alliance on Saturday afternoon.
An inspired performance by forward Nyle Blake, who clinically weighed in with two well-taken goals, helped the young Stags to their third win in a row in this local derby against second placed Notts County, which consolidated their place at the top of the league table.
The victory was somewhat overshadowed by an injury to the thus far ever-present and highly rated Stags’ goalkeeper Sam Wilson, with fifteen minutes remaining.
Initially, it was feared that he might have a broken arm, which somewhat dampened the mood of everyone present in the closing stages of the game, however it was a relief to hear later on that he had actually suffered a dislocated elbow and was already on the mend.
These two sides had contrasting results in the FA Youth Cup in midweek, with the Magpies surprisingly being beaten 3-1 at Meadow Lane by Romulus FC, while Mansfield will face Nottingham-based Dunkirk FC at One Call Stadium in the second round after comfortably seeing off Bedworth United, by scoring three goals without return away from home on Wednesday night.
The visitors started Louis Robinson in the centre of attack as they slightly altered their shape and line-up following their midweek cup exit and John Dempster shuffled his pack to offset the unavailability of winger Tom Marriott, striker Ashanti Pryce and midfielder Cain Smith, who have all played an integral role in the season so far.
As Notts looked to get their momentum going, defender Kane Baldwin was in quickly to intercept the ball and he fed a long pass out wide to Blake, but Declan Dunn managed to block his route to goal and bundled the ball out for a throw in.
Right-back Teddy Bloor launched a long throw towards midfielder Cameron Healey, who leapt above his marker to reach the ball, but headed over from six yards out.
With Baldwin, Henri Wilder and the Stags’ captain Morgan Ratcliffe filling in behind him, Kieran Harrison took up the initiative to get forward in a bid to provide ammunition for his side’s front men.
Harrison powered forward 30 yards and dinked the ball over the County defence for striker Zayn Hakeem to run on to, but he couldn't quite muster up enough power in his jump to connect with his head, right in front of the Pies’ goal.
Nippy forward Jason Law, however, did connect with Harrison's next defence-splitting ball, but headed a fraction over Joe Searson-Smithard's crossbar.
Moments later Law was on the attack again and Dunn caught him with a late challenge as he attempted to get a shot in. From the resulting free kick, Bloor passed the ball to Blake, who burst forward and was only prevented from opening the scoring by a really good double stop by Searson-Smithard.
The Stags attacked on the right hand side of County's area, with Blake beating Dunn for pace before flicking the ball on to Hakeem, who unselfishly held it up before stroking a pass to attacking midfielder Alistair Smith as he arrived and drilled a full-blooded shot just past the right-hand upright.
Healey won the ball in the middle of the park and knocked it forward to Blake, who was in irresistible form, and the younger of the Blake boys on Mansfield's books squared the ball to Hakeem out on the right, whose diagonal return pass through the right channel fell perfectly for the live-wire attacker, who placed his shot beyond the reach of Searson-Smith to open the scoring on 33 minutes.
Dom Brownhill then forced his way through into the Stags’ area, but Healey won a crunching 50/50 tackle and Ratcliffe cleared the ball away.
Searson-Smith gathered Blake's cross to Law on the stroke of half time and the Stags had to be content with a one goal lead at the interval, in spite of creating the bulk of the goal scoring chances thus far.
Half-time: Stags 1-0 County
Inside the opening minute of the second half, the Stags advanced into the visitors’ area, where Hakeem flicked the ball up for A.Smith who struck a sweet volley which deflected wide.
County cleared their lines from the corner, with Searson-Smithard out on the edge of the box calling out instructions, but Brownhill misplaced a pass straight to Bloor who ambitiously attempted to lob the Pies’ 'keeper from 45 yards, but his effort landed on top of the goal.
Nathan Cobain backed off from a challenge momentarily, waiting for his moment, but left-back Henri Wilder stripped him for pace on the left wing and sprinted away, before slipping the ball inside to Law, who held off the attentions of Jordon Richards before fizzing the ball over the bar from 10 yards out.
On the hour, forward Devante Reittie came on in place of Law, who had taken more than his fair share of knocks in the midday sun, on a pitch decorated with Autumnal leaves.
Reittie's first touch released Blake who quickly knocked the ball across the Pies’ goalmouth to Hakeem, but he couldn't quite find his range with a scuffed shot that came to nothing.
Tamar Clayton-Naute, with his head still bandaged from taking a knock against Romulus on Tuesday night, entered the fray in place of Edwin Towers and imposed himself quickly, adding a bit more bite to County's attacking intentions.
Wilson got down to his right and turned the ball away at full stretch as Robinson knocked the ball past Harrison before drilling a shot towards the bottom left-hand corner of the Stags’ goal.
Unfazed by County's apparent threat at one end, Harrison raced forward to the other to meet Bloor's right wing corner head on, but his stooping effort went narrowly over the crossbar.
The Stags, sensing that the next goal would be pivotal to the outcome of the game, upped their work rate even more. Blake took the ball past Cobain but was denied by Searson-Smithard, Richards blocked Hakeem's shot on the turn from Bloor's right wing corner and then repeated the trick when Reittie slipped a through ball to Hakeem.
But the breakthrough that gave the home side a two-goal advantage finally came on 74 minutes when Reittie threaded the ball through a gap between County's central defenders and their left-back for Blake to run on to, Searson-Smithard advanced from his line but Blake planted the ball firmly into the bottom right-hand corner.
Sadly, as the visitors made inroads towards the Stags’ goal in an attempt to salvage something from the game, Wilson suffered from a freak accident which put him out of the game.
The young ‘keeper did well to block Alex Howes' shot from 15 yards, but as the ball spun loose, Remaye Campbell chased it down as Wilson threw himself forward in an attempt to smother it, the Notts’ striker got a touch but it deflected wide of the left-hand post and the impact of landing awkwardly and two players coming together at speed meant that Wilson couldn't carry on.
After a break of around 12 minutes, Xavier Sundby took over in goal, keeping a clean sheet on his EFL Youth Alliance debut.
Dunn tried to test the substitute ‘keeper with a long range shot, but he barely had enough power behind it as it bobbled harmlessly wide of the mark.
Midfielder Surafel Behailu, on for the closing stages from the bench, set up Blake but though his shot on the turn beat County's ‘keeper, it dropped just over the top right-hand corner of the goal.
Attacker Keaton Ward, as he so often does, came on late in the game to giving a tiring front line some fresh impetus, but he too was denied by Searson-Smithard from close range and put the ball over from the rebound as the Pies’ ‘keeper spread himself to make the angle difficult.
Full-time: Stags 2-0 County
Stags’ line-up: Sam Wilson (Xavier Sundby 75), Teddy Bloor, Kane Wilson, Alistair Smith, Morgan Ratcliffe (C), Kieran Harrison, Henri Wilder, Cameron Healey, Zayn Hakeem (Surafel Behailu 83), Jason Law (Devante Reittie 60), Nyle Blake (Keaton Ward 87)
County line-up: Joe Searson-Smithard, Nathan Cobain, Declan Dunn, Ryan Ebanks, Jordon Richards, George McCartney, Sam Osborne, Dom Brownhill (C), Louis Robinson, Edwin Towers
Substitutes: Curtis Hall, Harry Gibbons, Harry Bugg, Tamar Clayton-Naute, Remaye Campbell