Mansfield Town’s under 18s returned to winning ways with a well-earned 3-1 victory over Lincoln City on Saturday.
Lincoln went into the game after some indifferent form, but they had beaten Chesterfield 6-2 in their last league fixture, while the Stags arrived at the Priory sitting at the top of the league table, but having just lost an unprecedented three games in a row in all competitions.
The Stags were without striker Zayn Hakeem who has been away on international duty, as well as striker Ashanti Pryce and winger Tom Marriott.
Mansfield’s ambitions to get back to winning ways were dealt a blow inside the first minute, when Jack Fixter dug out the ball and chipped it over their defence into the path of Jack McMenemy, whose miscued shot deceived Sam Wilson and ended up in the back of the net.
However, the visitors were on level terms just three minutes later when defender Kieran Harrison picked up the ball just inside the Imps’ half and advanced forward with purpose, weaving his way towards the box before unleashing an unstoppable shot into the top right-hand corner of Regan Start's goal.
Incredibly, Harrison’s goal meant both keepers’ first touch of the ball had been when they had retrieved it from the back of their respective goals.
Winger Nyle Blake, looking lively through both the left and right channels in support of midfielder Alistair Smith, crossed to forward Jason Law who headed the ball down into the path of A.Smith, but Fixter, who always seems to relish his side's contests against Mansfield, got his body in the way and blocked Smith's shot.
The Stags picked up the loose ball and their momentum once again and Jack Weatherell did well to divert Law's shot away from goal at the expense of a corner.
In a rare moment of indecision, Harrison missed a clearance as Archie Moyses launched a long ball towards Richie Burdett, who took three long strides towards the by-line before unleashing an angled shot that Wilson smothered down by his left-hand post.
A big Blake ball into the Imps’ goalmouth saw referee Gareth Davies given a choice of options that he could award a penalty for, with A.Smith being pulled back from reaching the ball, while Moyses blocked Law's goal bound shot with the top of his right arm and the official pointed straight to the spot.
Striker Jason Law stepped up to take the spot kick and although the penalty was struck low and on target, Start got down well to turn the ball away and keep the home side on level terms.
Blake, yet again, terrorised Lincoln on the right flank and picked out A.Smith with a slide rule pass; the Stags’ midfielder’s first touch took him past Luke Anderson, but his second saw the ball skid narrowly past the right-hand post.
The ever-impressive A.Smith and Law pulled the Lincoln defence apart with an exchange of passes on the left-hand side of the City area, but Start saved well from Smith's stinging 12-yard shot.
Midfielders Cain Smith and Cameron Healey linked up in midfield and played the ball out wide to right-back Teddy Bloor, who had popped up on the left, and his shot across the face of Lincoln's goal only needed a touch and Blake provided it, with an emphatic strike from close range, to put the Stags in front and in control on 25 minutes.
C.Smith was a fraction away from increasing the Stags’ lead a few moments later, but his shot took a deflection past the post off Keilen Gretton.
The Imps rallied towards the end of the first half, but Wilson confidently rose to collect Richie Burdett's cross, before spreading himself to block Reece Robinson-Jones’ left foot strike from the edge of the area.
Then, in first half stoppage time, McMenemy missed a sitter when he failed to connect with Burditt's right wing cross which bounced a few feet in front of Wilson's goal and was hooked away by defender Kane Baldwin.
Half-time: Imps 1-2 Stags
The Stags nearly repeated Lincoln's first half party piece from the restart, but Start pulled off a great reflex save to keep Blake out from close range.
Lincoln cleared their lines but Mansfield came again, with Bloor skipping past two challenges before skimming the top of the crossbar.
Left-back Henri Wilder played a sideways pass from out on the right wing to A.Smith 30 yards from goal, but his ambitious strike was cut out by Anderson.
With Baldwin, Harrison and the Stags’ captain Morgan Ratciffe presenting a formidable barrier for Lincoln to try breaking down, the Stags’ defence were providing the foundation, freedom and impetus for their team-mates to push forward and the visitors had by far the better of the second half.
Law was fouled out on the right wing by Moyses and took the resulting free kick himself, and the ball found its way through to Healey just outside the area and the tall midfielder almost celebrated his birthday with a goal as his 20-yard chip dipped over Smart but landed on the roof of the net.
Lincoln were soon on the back foot again, when Harrison advanced forward from the halfway line and threaded a pass through to Cain Smith, who unselfishly laid it back to his namesake Alistair, but Start kept the Imps in the game with another good save.
Law then found himself a couple of yards of space out on the right flank to deliver the perfect pass to A.Smith, which bounced up a foot in front of him, allowing the attacking midfielder to plant an audacious lob over Start, and the ball dropped just under the bar to give the visitors a well deserved two goal cushion.
The visitors made three substitutions inside the final 15 minutes, replacing Law, Blake and A.Smith who had all contributed greatly to Lincoln's downfall, with striker Devante Reittie coming on first, before midfielders Surafel Behailu and Keaton Ward joining the action five minutes later.
Bloor, who had been running non-stop all game and still looked to have stamina to spare, jinked inside past Ryley Thompson and squared the ball to Cain Smith, who turned the ball past Start, only to see it bobble inches past the post.
Reittie put in a great run on the right-hand side of the pitch and stroked the ball inside to Blake who was denied, again, by the stubborn Imps’ keeper.
Pushing for a place in the starting XI any time soon, Reittie attacked down the middle, but saw that Kane Baldwin was better placed and opted to tee the ball up for the Stags’ defender and with the Lincoln defence backing off anticipating a cross, Baldwin went for goal and was only inches away from adding a fourth for Mansfield as his effort cleared the bar.
Out of nowhere, Lincoln belatedly ‘showed their teeth’ and Wilson was forced to tip Burdett's cross over his bar. Harrison headed the resulting corner away and Ward raced off down the left flank with the ball, killing vital seconds of the limited time that was left, before Weatherell cleared his eventual cross away.
Right at the death, Luke White tried his luck from 25-yards in stoppage time, but Ratcliffe got a touch to take the sting out of the shot and Wilson gathered the ball easily.
Full-time: Imps 1-3 Stags
Lincoln City: Start, Moyses, Thompson, Fixter, Anderson (C), Weatherell, Horton, Robinson-Jones (Hugo 14), McMenemy (Hart 89), Burdett, Gretton (White 65)
Unused subs: Watkins, Cox
Mansfield Town: Wilson, Bloor, Baldwin, C.Smith, Ratcliffe (C), Harrison, Wilder, Healey, Blake (Ward 80), A.Smith (Behailu 80), Law (Reittie 75)
Unused subs: Sundby (GK), Walker