Mansfield Town under 21s emerged victorious from today's Central League opener against Rotherham United thanks to an early goal from winger Charlie Shaw.
Shaw's early goal, coupled with the goalkeeping heroics of Adam Hassan, was enough to secure the victory for the Stags, as they brushed aside Rotherham United’s reserves in the first game of the 2016/17 Central League.
Head coach Mike Whitlow included the first team trio of midfielders James Baxendale and Jamie McGuire and striker Pat Hoban in his starting XI, with the rest of the side made up of under 18s and under 21s players.
On a warm and sunny afternoon at Parkgate's Roundwood Sports Complex, the Millers looked to get their passing game going early on in the game, initiating attacks from deep in their own half. Mansfield conceded a corner on two minutes, but right winger Charlie Shaw cleared it away to safety without much ado.
The Stags U21s had to adapt to the early pressure from the home side, and they did that fantastically as Shaw grabbed the lead on six minutes, handing the initiative to Mike Whitlow’s men.
Winger Tom Marriott launched a promising attack from near the left touchline with a low pass for Pat Hoban, who featured in the side as one of three over-aged players. The Dublin-born striker pulled away the opposition centre-backs admirably before teeing up an onrushing Shaw, who slotted in comfortably at the first post.
Moments later, the Millers were almost punished again for losing possession near their area, as Mansfield attacking midfielder James Baxendale latched on to the ball to create a threat for his side. But an alert Harry Fidler in Rotherham’s goal saved the day.
Garreth Barker’s United side declined to be disheartened, and countered with a Tom Maguire cross from the right, which created mayhem inside the opposition area. But the Stags' keeper Adam Hassan averted the danger with a stooping save.
It was then a frenetic few exchanges from there on, as the home side piled on the pressure. Striker Joshua Kayode picked the pocket of Stags’ centre back Kieran Harrison, but he found Hassan in the way as he looked for a possible equaliser.
Following Kayode’s attempt, Barker’s men won three consecutive set-pieces, but all the deliveries from skipper Mason Warren failed to cause any headache for the Stags' youngsters.
The sides continued to wrestle for control over proceedings, using the wings as potent channels of threat. A good bit of physical play ensued as the sun went behind the cloud cover momentarily.
As the half-time approached, the Rotherham youngsters kept up their probe for a chink in the Stags’ armour, but a compact defensive display from the visitors kept them quiet.
The Millers could have gone ahead with two chances in close succession, but for the efforts of Hassan. Midfield dynamo Warren was at the thick of things again, as he relayed a perfectly-weighed through ball targeting Kayode up front, who beat the Mansfield offside trap and rattled the crossbar, only for fellow forward Tom Maguire’s header on the rebound to be clawed away by scampering Hassan.
Moments later, the Stags’ keeper was called into action again as he dished out a reflex save to again deny Maguire.
Mark Whitlow’s Mansfield started the second half with their 1-0 lead intact, but the contest began from where the teams had left it at the end of the first period. There was no lack of intensity from both sets of players, as evident from a glut of hopeful efforts from both sets of players.
Rotherham’s youngsters forced a corner soon after the restart, with Warren’s delivery flashed across the Stags’ goalmouth begging for a telling touch, however the visitors’ commanding centre-back Drew Ricketts stuck out a boot to steer the ball to safety.
The Millers almost conceded a second from the counter-attack, as opposition attacking midfielder James Baxendale fed half-time substitute Zayn Hakeem to have a shy on goal from close range, but Harry Fidler under the United goal frame made a low save to keep the score at 1-0.
The game then stretched from box to box, as Mansfield and Rotherham both fought a close fight for supremacy on the scoresheet.
Warren unleashed a dipping attempt towards Hassan’s goal, only for it to go amiss by a matter of inches whiskers.
Right back Fabian Bailey followed suit with a chipped shot on the back of a darting run, which also missed the target.
Mansfield looked content to soak up the pressure and hit on the break swiftly, which almost doubled their advantage. Baxendale was again the creator, as he floated one in from the right for Hakeem, whose glancing header went off-target.
With 11 minutes remaining, there was another chance for the away side with left-back Louis Danquah forcing an acrobatic save out of Fidler in the Rotherham goal.
The Millers invented a chance of their own soon after, as winger Revarnelle James powered his way through two Stags' defenders before setting up Kayode, who failed to keep his chest down under control to cause any trouble for Hassan.
The home side could have nicked a leveler in the dying seconds, as Warren teed up a flag-kick delivery for Bailey, whose drilling half-volley went flying over the bar.
Rotherham United XI: Fidler, Bailey, Adeyemi (Hinds), Sterling, Rose (Saxton), Warren, Murr, McGinley, James, Maguire (Atherton), Kayode
Subs: Martin, Abraham
Stags' XI: Hassan, Bloor, Ricketts, Harrison, Danquah, Shaw (Bilson 75), McGuire (Smith 65), Baxendale, Collins, Marriott (Browne 55), Hoban (Hakeem 46).