Stags’ under 21s coach Mike Whitlow praised his young side’s application against a vastly more experienced Shrewsbury Town side, following a narrow 1-0 defeat at Greenhous Meadow this afternoon.
Shrewsbury pitched former Premier League striker Slyvan Ebanks-Blake and EFL stalwart Andy Mangan against a young Stags’ back four for seventy minutes, with centre backs Kieran Harrison and Kane Baldwin performing impressively.
Aided by a midfield that kept its shape and helped out the back four, Whitlow said the team had learnt from being ‘too open’ in their recent defeat to Hartlepool United.
“I think Rotherham has to be our best defensive performance because it was a clean sheet, but in terms of having our two centre midfielders and two centre halves keep their discipline, and play so well, it meant we had an excellent core. They compacted space, stopped the centre forwards and played to feet well,” Whitlow said.
“Let’s be honest, some of the goals we’ve conceded in the past have been ‘park football’ across our six-yard box. We had a chat before today, we decided we’d be more compact, let them have the ball, let them break us down and we’ll hit them.
“Young Tom [Marriott] was unlucky, Lewis [Collins] had the chances too. The mindset was more when to sit, when to support and when to hit them and how to manage a game.”
The former Leicester City defender was also impressed by how his young team coped without the input of more experienced players.
“Playing in a stadium is a huge experience for the boys and we were unlucky not to score through Tom and Lewis but this is a very good team we’ve played and it’s 16 to 18 year olds playing against an experienced team in a great venue.
“The first teamers and older players that have played for us do help, so today without their input, we had some real discipline and determination to play and compete at a young age.”
Whitlow believes that level of commitment against the likes of Ebanks-Blake and Mangan at a stadium will have a lasting, positive impact on his side.
“It’s amazing that our players can say they kept Slyvan Ebanks-Blake and Andy Mangan quiet for the most of the game. What an experience, and where else would they get that? What an experience and they can think about what they learnt and I told them this is the level they want to be at.
“Playing against players like that, at a high level in a big stadium, isn’t that what they want? The hard work is the minimum and there’s players in there that can hardly walk. They’ve got the technical skill so it’s about keeping that application now until the end of the season.”