Under 21s' head coach Mike Whitlow hailed his players' discipline and work-rate after a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Rotherham United this afternoon.
The Stags started their 2016/17 Central League season with a flourish thanks to Charlie Shaw's sixth-minute goal which turned out to be the winner against a strong Millers' side, many of whom had experience of playing in the same division last season.
And Whitlow, who oversaw his first competitive game this afternoon since rejoining the club, was delighted with how his players stuck to their individual tasks, whilst also working together as a team.
He said in his post-match analysis: “It was very disciplined. I thought their [the Mansfield players] work ethic and attitude in keeping the shape was fantastic.
“Credit to Rotherham. Their number nine [Joshua Kayode] up top and the lads in midfield moved the ball very well. So it was a lot of hard work [and] a lot of defending at times. It was a more disciplined performance. They have worked hard, but as I have said, credit to Rotherham, the lads in midfield moved it well, and we had to be disciplined and keep our shape.
“You have got three [under] 18s from Saturday that started, and two or three that came on. So they were an absolute credit today in their work ethic and how they went about it.”
The head coach, who has brought a wealth of coaching experience with him to Mansfield this summer after a spell as academy manager at Burton Albion, reasoned further that the presence of senior professionals in the side was a bonus for the youngsters, providing them with a massive opportunity to learn from their experience.
“It is always nice to have Jamie [McGuire] with us, and Pat [Hoban] for 45 minutes, and [James] Baxendale in there. It helps these young lads as well. It is always nice to have somebody to organise and to dictate. And the lads take a lot from that – an experienced pro playing alongside a youngster.
“Today, Lewis Collins learnt from playing in there - it is great for him. I thought young Kieran Harrison, who played [on] Saturday with the under-18s, has played 90 minutes today at centre-back - apart from a couple of times, he has got to learn to stay on his feet, he did a great job. Even Teddy [Bloor], unfortunately [he] got hurt in the end, was solid at right back.
“And you have these under-18s coming through as well as Lewis [Collins], Drew [Ricketts] and Danqsy [Louis Danquah], and you are thinking ‘Yeah, well done’. We needed Adam [Hassan], a couple of sharp reactions from him in the first half, some really good saves, and it is pleasing."
Speaking about the preparations that go into the under-21s games, the 48-year-old said it is about putting your best foot forward with the best resources at your disposal.
“There is no ifs or buts and things. You don’t know on a Monday afternoon who is playing [on] Tuesday, simple. You set your team out, you know who you have got, you know their style, you know their roles and you know their responsibilities - go out and play football. It is not rocket science. This is how we are going to try and play, go out and do the very best you can.”
Whitlow added that the players need to make the most of what comes their way in terms of the chances, with first team coach Richard Cooper watching on from the sidelines at today's match.
“Impress the manager, impress anybody that is here today, and think that ‘I have an opportunity in Mansfield’s first team of going forward’. So just go out and do your very best.
“It does not matter what age you are, as I said this the other day. If you are doing well, you will get a chance.”