Stags' under-21s’ boss Mike Whitlow said he saw plenty of encouraging signs in his side’s 4-2 defeat against the Spireites, but admitted he wants the youngsters to be fearless in their defending.
The young under 21s’ side staged a tough fight in their 4-2 defeat against Chesterfield in the opening game of the Central League Cup this afternoon. Defender Laurence Maguire and forward Gary Taylor-Fletcher each bagged a brace for the visitors, while forwards Zayn Hakeem and Tyler Blake scored a goal each for Mansfield.
And although he admitted he was disappointed with some of the defending from his side, Whitlow said there were plenty of positives to take from the game.
“There was a lot of good play going on today. There was a lot of good passing, a lot of good movement and how they have gone about their business on the football and also off it in general play,” the 48-year-old said.
“I thought the three in there moved it well in midfield; Joe Fitzpatrick, Lewis (Collins) and AJ (Adriel George).
“Young (Tom) Marriott came on again and did ‘fab’. So it was nice to see him, young Kieran (Harrison) from the 18s, he got 45 minutes, then Henri Wilder from the first year.
“So it is not as if in general play that we have been passed through or somebody has done a great skill and scored great goals. It is a disappointment of playing so well on the ball, [seeing] some really good performances, and then the scoreline being reflected on not being able to defend.”
Whitlow emphasised that the team’s defending of the 18-yard box was disappointing after such a dogged defensive display against Rotherham United last week.
“Sometimes, there is a desire and a mental attitude that my man is not going to score. So, [there’s] a valuable lesson to learn. It is about wanting to defend, wanting to mark your man, what is my role, what is my job, who can you rely on, who can you trust, and do you really want to defend that corner and the free-kick when it is coming in? Are you going to take one in the face, are you going to get hurt, are you going to put your body on the line?
“Last week we kept a clean sheet (against Rotherham United), and the discipline and how they defended at times was fantastic. And as I said, today the general play was not bad but if you are not prepared to make sure that your man does not score, it is a difficult pill to swallow after.”
The Stags’ young side will continue to learn from the experience of playing senior football in the Central League and Whitlow says his young squad have progressed rapidly in the short time which they've been together.
“At the end of the day, they have come in, and it is not through lack of work ethic, it is not through a lack of effort. It is that we have got to learn as a group and a group of young men that football games are won and lost in the box.
“As I have said to them, they have been on a journey through the last eight weeks, where we started pre-season to where they have come as a group, to play like they have played today and [the way they] moved the ball was excellent at times.”
Supporters can view Mike Whitlow’s post-match interview on Stags PlayerHD.