Mansfield Town’s under 21s suffered their second defeat in three Central League games as Rhys Oates’ double fashioned a 5-1 win for an experienced Hartlepool United side at Kirklington Road.
Brad Walker, Josh Hawkes and Ben Pollock scored the other three for the away side.
First team midfielder Jack Thomas, who was making his first appearance of the season after being out injured since pre-season, pulled the only goal back for his side.
The Stags’ youngsters began the game chasing their second victory in three league outings and enjoyed a decent spell of possession early on, looking to find their feet with some composed passing.
But they were unfortunate to concede first against the turn of the tide on seven minutes, as Hartlepool wideman Oates latched on to a forward pass from midfield and beat Mansfield goalkeeper Adam Hassan in a one-vs-one situation.
The home side sought an immediate reply and almost scored the equaliser three minutes later, but striker Tyler Blake skied the ball from inside the area after chesting down a looping pass from midfielder Thomas.
Buoyed by their early scalp, the Pools pressed and grabbed a two-goal cushion on 16 minutes. This time, Oates was the provider from the right as he skipped the attentions of Stags’ left-back Louis Danquah with some clever footwork and picked out central midfielder Walker, whose low shot went in past the flailing right arm of Hassan.
Refusing to be disheartened, Mansfield’s young guns laid a siege around the opposition area, but found four consecutive attempts thwarted in the space of a few seconds on 20 minutes. Midfielder James Baxendale along with Thomas and Blake saw their stinging shots from close range palmed away by Pools’ shot stopper Ben Dudzinski, while trialist centre-back Harly Wise cleared Tom Marriott’s header off the line.
Mike Whitlow’s men managed to reduce the arrears thanks to Thomas’ goal on 24 minutes. Attacking midfielder Adriel George powered his way towards through two opposition centre-halves, and Thomas received the Antiguan international’s cut-back before stroking the ball into the net.
With half an hour gone, Baxendale then came close to scoring thrice, but his attempts went off-target agonisingly. The midfielder had Dudzinzki second-best on two occasions with curling shots from the edge of the area, while he could not keep a third shot on target as he chipped Dudzinski on the back of George’s pass.
Just as the Stags were growing into the game, they conceded a third goal against the run of play, as Hartlepool central midfielder Hawkes steered home from a Jack Blackford left-wing pass with five minutes to go until the break.
Despite Mansfield’s industry, the away side went into half-time firmly in the box seat.
Stags’ centre-back Drew Ricketts replaced fellow defender Kieran Harrison after the restart, and Mike Whitlow tweaked his side to a 5-3-2 formation with full-backs Danquah and Lewis Collins pushing forward to add to the attacking threat.
But the home side endured a similar fate as in the first half when they were undone on 54 minutes, as centre-back Ben Pollock made it 4-1 to the Pools when he nodded home from a flag-kick.
Oates completed his double ten minutes later as he extended the visitors’ lead when he poked in their fifth goal of the afternoon through the legs of Hassan.
Winger Jason Law came on for the Stags and almost had an immediate impact, but he first found his shot saved by Dudzinski, while his follow-up header looped over the goal frame.
As the ground conditions became increasingly slippery with the lashing rain, Mansfield continued to see more of the ball, but they lacked a cutting edge in the final third, which made it difficult for them to find inspiration on the scoresheet.
Blake came close to reducing the deficit midway through the second period as the Stags found a way in through George’s deep free-kick from midfield. Centre-back Corbin Shires won the second ball to tee up Blake, who rifled a low shot inches wide of the near post.
Whitlow’s men had two more chances with 20 minutes remaining as the visitors lost possession in their area. Blake pounced on the loose ball and saw his effort well-saved by Dudzinski, while George’s goal-bound attempt was headed to safety by Wise.
In spite of the late push from Mansfield’s youngsters, the scoreline remained intact and Hartlepool ran out 5-1 winners.
Stags' XI: Hassan, Harrison (Ricketts 46), Danquah (Wilder 84), Collins, Shires, Fitzpatrick (Baldwin 65), Baxendale, George, Blake, Thomas (Law 58), Marriott (Hakeem 69)
Hartlepool XI: Dudzinski, Richardson, Turnbull, Skidmore (Wood 87), Pollock, Wise (Fielding 87), Oates, Walker, Hawkes (Orrell 80), Woods (Travers 67), Blackford
Subs not used: Moloney
Head coach Mike Whitlow said although he was pleased with his team’s showing in the attacking third, they are required to show more character in the rearguard.
“We created a lot and you are always going to. They (the Mansfield players) moved the ball really well at times. They created opportunities and you want these things, but you want the other side as well. I’d pay a million pounds at the moment for a clean sheet,” he said.
“Tyler Blake was unfortunate, he’s put a shift in. He deserved a goal today but unfortunately, it didn’t come round.
"They’ve got to know and realise that as a group of boys, their desire and their attitude to defend has got to be a lot better; and it does come from a mental side. You’ve got to want to do that in a game, as well as the positive stuff going forward, of which there was today a lot.”