John Dempster’s under 18s secured their sixth consecutive league win with a hard-fought 1-0 victory away at Doncaster Rovers on Saturday.
In-form winger Tom Marriott struck the decisive blow in the second half to retain the Stags five-point lead at the top of the EFL Youth Alliance North East division.
There was just one change to the Stags’ line-up on Saturday, with Devante Reittie making the starting eleven as Ashanti Pryce was unavailable, which shows the strength in depth of the current squad.
In spite of their league position, Doncaster gave John Dempster's side a decent game, with a line-up that included several players who can boast first team experience, in fact some of them played at One Call Stadium in the Checkatrade Trophy game against Adam Murray's side in August.
Marriott created the visitors’ first opening of the game when he ghosted past Tyler Walker on the left flank, but Rovers’ stopper James Leverton got down to parry the shot away and when winger Nyle Blake reached the rebound first, the assistant referee raised his flag to penalise striker Zayn Hakeem for straying offside.
Rovers pushed forward in numbers and it took the combined efforts of midfielder Cain Smith and left-back Henri Wilder to clear the danger created by Matt Overton's left-wing cross. However, the home side picked up the ball and James Morris made a darting run down the right flank, but Marriott was quicker and having caught up with him, put in a tackle to stop him from crossing.
Morris won the ball back from the corner kick, but Stags' goalkeeper Sam Wilson charged from his line, forcing the Donny midfielder to rush his shot, which flew harmlessly past the post.
Cain Smith unleashed a shot from 25 yards that deflected wide off of Reece Fielding.
Marriott then picked out Kieran Harrison from the corner, who rose like a salmon to head the ball down into the path of Hakeem, but he cleared the crossbar with a thundering shot.
Once again Leverton denied Marriott from close range before getting his fingertips to the same player’s corner and helping the ball on towards Joe Dunnett, who launched it away to safety.
Hakeem tried freeing Blake down the right flank with a diagonal ball, but Rovers were defending in numbers and closed the lively attacker down.
Reittie picked up the ball in midfield and ran forward 35 yards, before the home defence crowded him out as well.
Doncaster looked very adept at smothering out any sort of creative forward movement by the league leaders, while getting the ball forward quickly once they had gained possession.
Mansfield for their part were doing well to absorb the home side’s fast-paced counter attacking prowess, with centre-halves Kane Baldwin and Kieran Harrison in particular dealing well with being thrust into the line of fire.
But the visitors had Wilson to thank for keeping the score level when he pulled off a good instinctive save, as Lewis Scattergood hit a rasping shot on the turn from the edge of the area.
With some of the tackles and close marking that the match officials were letting go, it was somewhat ironic that Tom Marriott was cautioned for speaking out of turn after being clattered into.
Right-back Teddy Bloor, Blake and Hakeem were combining well with the midfield duo of midfielders Cameron Healey and Cain Smith to try to utilise Reittie's pace on the deck against Rovers’ towering central defensive pairing, but they proved to be just as comfortable with the ball at their feet as they were in the air.
Rovers almost nicked the lead right on the stroke of half-time, but Wilson did well to pluck the ball from under his crossbar as Scattergood met Prior's left wing cross head on.
Half-time: Doncaster Rovers 0-0 Stags
The visitors had done well to repel Rovers’ tactic of containing the ball in midfield for long spells and not giving their opponents any time to dwell on the ball or make decisions, before attacking the Stags at a high tempo down the flanks and through the channels.
Marriott was openly enjoying his forays down the left flank far more than the Rovers’ right-back was and he came close to breaking the deadlock from the restart, when he skipped past a tackle and cut inside before shooting over the bar.
Moments later, Hakeem broke through the middle of the Rovers’ defence from Blake's pass and was only denied by Leverton's quick reactions.
The Rovers’ ‘keeper was soon in action again when he did well to get down to his left and keep Reittie's close-range shot out, after Hakeem had shrugged off his marker and unselfishly laid the ball off sideways to his striking partner.
Marriott danced past two defenders and delivered another teasing cross and when Fielding managed to knock the ball away from Hakeem's shooting foot, it fell into the path of Reittie who was thwarted by yet another stop by Leverton.
Harrison picked the ball up in midfield and played the ball to Bloor on the right wing, but Leverton was having a great game and plucked the ball out of the air from the right-back’s cross.
Having withstood a wave of attacks, Rovers countered and Scattergood unleashed a shot from 20 yards, but Wilson twisted in the air and tipped the ball over.
The Stags rode their luck when Hakeem only half-cleared the resulting corner into the path of James Morgan who drilled his shot just past the right-hand post and into the side netting.
On 69 minutes, Marriott stood deliberating his options from a free-kick as his team-mates jostled with the Rovers’ defenders at the back post, before spotting that Leverton had moved slightly off his line to gain an advantage when the cross came in.
So Marriott swung a crafty free-kick into the space between the ‘keeper and his near post, which curled in under the crossbar as Leverton retreated desperately, but could only get his fingertips to the ball as it crossed the line.
Stags were in front and looking to extend their lead as midfielder Alistair Smith rolled the ball forward to Hakeem, who nudged it back into Cain Smith's path, but Leverton was equal to his effort.
Doncaster dusted themselves down and went looking for an equaliser, but it was Mansfield's turn to show how to absorb pressure and counter attack.
They forced two corners, but Harrison cleared the first and Wilson was fouled as he rose to deal with the second.
Hakeem stayed forward to battle it out to the finish with Leverton, who made two saves from the Stags’ striker and did enough to put him off with another goal attempt right at the death.
As substitute Keaton Ward ran the clock down by the right-hand corner flag, the referee blew for full-time and John Dempster's side had ultimately out-fought, but more importantly out-thought a very good, well organised and hard-working Rovers’ side.
Full-time: Doncaster Rovers 0-1 Stags
Doncaster Rovers: Leverton, Walker, Price, James, Fielding (C), Dunnett, Morris, Fletcher, Scattergood, Longbottom, Overton
Unused subs: Townrow, Jones, Horton, Barton
Mansfield Town: Wilson, Bloor, Wilder, C.Smith (C), Baldwin, Harrison, Blake (Behailu 73), Healey, Hakeem, Reittie (A.Smith 87), Marriott (Ward 87)
Unused subs: Aiden Walker, Harry Bircumshaw