Mansfield Town’s under-21s succumbed to their first Central League defeat of the season this afternoon, going down fighting 6-2 against Grimsby Town at Kirklington Road.
For Grimsby, striker Scott Vernon scored a hat-trick, attacking midfielder Rhys Browne grabbed a double and full-back Zak Mills added another, while substitute Jason Law and midfielder James Baxendale were on the score-sheet for Mansfield.
The Stags’ youngsters had the most unfortunate start to their second league match as the visitors gained a spring in their step through two quickfire goals soon after the opening whistle.
Grimsby’s striking duo of Vernon and Browne paired up for the first scalp after a throw-in along the far touchline. While Mansfield custodian Alex Roughton saved Browne’s first attempt, the towering Vernon was on hand to open the scoring from the follow-up on four minutes.
On six minutes, Browne grabbed his own from inside the 18-yard box after he created space down the left and found a way past the onrushing Roughton.
Stags were shell-shocked and the deficit increased further when Vernon completed his double on 14 minutes. After some clever link-up play by his attacking colleagues, he was set him up on the edge of the area and the frontman found the top-right corner with a rasping shot which flew past Roughton at full stretch.
With half an hour gone, Grimsby maintained a firm grip over midfield proceedings and looked to stretch the Stags’ rearguard with swift and decisive overlapping play by the full-backs.
Winger Tom Bolarinwa forced Roughton to make a finger-tip save with a menacing cross-cum-shot from the left as the tricky winger grew in to the game.
An alert Roughton was on top again soon after as he closed down Browne admirably to deny the away side a possible fourth goal.
In their attempt to recover from the early shock, the Mansfield players managed to wrestle back possession and made inroads towards the opposition goal through a couple of set-pieces, but these were dealt with successfully by the Mariners’ defence.
Much to the joy of Mike Whitlow’s men, they reduced the deficit on 35 minutes when creative midfielder Baxendale capitalised on a weak back-pass to slot home past Grimsby stopper Dean Henderson.
In spite of the late push from the Mansfield youngsters, their Lincolnshire-based opposition went into the break 3-1 ahead.
Whitlow’s Mansfield side started the second period with a renewed vigour, spurred on by three half-time changes. Law, winger Tom Marriott and defender Kieran Harrison replaced wingers Adriel George, CJ Hamilton and left-back Ollie Humphrey, respectively.
Midfielders Lewis Collins and Baxendale almost scored from their respective long-range efforts after the restart, but their shots whizzed past the target.
Marriott then picked out Zayn Hakeem with a searching cross to the right, but the Stags’ striker couldn’t convert his attempt from what promised to be a decent chance inside the area.
The Grimsby defence yielded a second time under the relentless spell of pressure from the Stags as Law scored on 67 minutes after pouncing on a loose ball eight yards out.
Stags were back in the game and on the front foot and substitute Ashanti Pryce, who had just replaced Zayn Hakeem, saw his attempt from close range scampered away to safety by Henderson with a little aid from the upright.
However, the visitors got their fourth and fifth goals against the turn of the tide with 20 minutes remaining to dent Mansfield’s resurgence momentarily.
Mills struck first after a cruel deflection off Stags’ centre-back Corbin Shires, while Browne tucked away his second goal moments later after Stags didn’t clear a long ball.
The Stags were again caught out at the back as Vernon completed his treble on 80 minutes with a simple finish from inside the penalty area to make it 6-2 for Grimsby.
The scoreline remained intact, and the home side finished the game with ten men as skipper Drew Ricketts sat out the remaining few minutes after suffering a knock whilst vying for possession and all five Stags’ substitutions had been exhausted by then.
Stags XI: Roughton, Bloor, Humphrey (Harrison HT), Fitzpatrick, Ricketts, Shires, George (Law HT), Collins (Brown 81’), Hakeem (Pryce 64’), Baxendale, Hamilton (Marriott HT)
Mariners XI: Henderson (Heath-Drury 50’), Mills, Boyce (Lawis 73’), Jones, Disley, Venney, Berrett, Bolarinwa, Wright, Browne, Vernon
Subs not used: Hough, Sawyer, Lofts