Mansfield Town slipped to a 2-0 defeat at home to Rotherham United in this afternoon's final Central League fixture at Rainworth Miners Welfare.
A first half goal from a Rotherham trialist and a late strike by winger Darnelle Bailey-King was enough to ensure a victory for the visitors.
Stags named a strong side to end their Central League campaign, with no fewer than seven first team professionals named in the starting XI.
Defender Lee Collins skippered the side at centre-half whilst James Baxendale was deployed at right-back, with Jamie McGuire, Lewis Collins, Ashley Hemmings and CJ Hamilton lined up in midfield. Strikers Yoann Arquin and Pat Hoban led the line for a strong Stags’ side.
Head coach Mike Whitlow’s side were immediately on the front foot, with midfielder McGuire arrowing a ball over the top for Hoban to run on to, but Rotherham ‘keeper Harry Fidler came out to collect.
Two minutes later and it was Rotherham’s turn for an early attack, with winger Darnelle Bailey-King whipping a good ball into the box from the right, but skipper Lee Collins defended strongly to prevent striker Kuda Muskwe from pouncing.
The Millers then won a corner shortly after and the ball broke for Muskwe in the box, but his powerful effort was blocked by a Stags’ defender.
Winger Ashley Hemmings, making his first appearance since the 3-2 Central League win over Chesterfield last month, then had an effort blocked after he cut in from the right, before the ball ricocheted to CJ Hamilton, who also saw his effort blocked from 12 yards out.
The next ten minutes or so passed without much to note, with Stags dominating possession but not being able to create any real chances.
Pat Hoban was caught offside twice in as many minutes as he latched on to balls forward from McGuire and left-back Henri Wilder.
There was a short break in play after 20 minutes when Yoann Arquin and Fidler challenged for a high ball from McGuire into the box and both players required treatment from the respective physios.
Stags had the best chance of the half in the 24th minute when Hamilton drove in from the left and had a shot blocked from the angle. Irishman Pat Hoban picked up the rebound but saw his left-footed effort blocked from 12 yards out, before Fidler pounced on the ball on the goal line.
Mansfield were continuing to press and almost found some encouragement as their approach of fizzing the ball into the frontmen caused Rotherham some problems, without farming out a chance.
The trialist playing at right-back for the Millers whipped in a decent cross from the right towards Muskwe, but his volley on the turn flew wide.
Then, the opening goal arrived in the 35th minute. The ball was drilled in to another Rotherham trialist and he produced an incredible Cruyff turn to create some space and sold both Lee Collins and Kieran Harrison the wrong way, before slotting under Wilson to give Rotherham the lead.
Stags weathered a Rotherham storm after the opening goal as the visitors looked to build on their lead, but the back four of Baxendale, Lee Collins, Harrison and Wilder stood firm.
The only real opportunity for the Stags to get a reply before the break was when Arquin flicked the ball nicely to Hamilton, but he was closed down by Ball in the box and won a corner. Baxendale took the set piece, but Fidler claimed well.
The visitors came out for the second half with real intensity in their play. Midfielder Mason Warren began to pull the strings in midfield and after carrying the ball from halfway, he curled a delicious effort just wide of Wilson’s right-hand post.
Stags had a great opportunity to level the scores after 54 minutes when Arquin played the ball through the lines for Hamilton to run on to but after steadying himself, he could only shoot straight at Fidler and the ‘keeper palmed it away.
Hamilton was again in the action when he picked the ball up on the left, cut into the box but then hit a right-footed shot straight at a thankful Fidler.
In the next Stags’ attack – in the 63rd minute – Arquin was too strong for Rose and played a nice one-two with Hoban on the edge of the box, but the Frenchman’s left-footed effort flew high over the crossbar.
Stags were in the ascendancy and set pieces by James Baxendale were causing problems for the visitors, with his free-kick finding the head of Yoann Arquin, who could only head wide, before his corner was headed out to Lewis Collins, who hit a dipping volley straight at Fidler.
Mike Whitlow then made a quick double change as skipper Lee Collins made way for Bradley Peace-McDonald, before Yoann Arquin was replaced by Tyler Blake.
Stags saw a golden chance go begging in the 73rd minute when Baxendale swung in a brilliant free-kick from 10 yards inside the Rotherham half but Pat Hoban could only hammer a header over the bar.
Fidler was again called in to action in the 80th minute when Hoban acrobatically volleyed towards goal from eight yards out, but the Rotherham stopper palmed the ball over the bar.
With just four minutes of the allotted 90 remaining, Rotherham grabbed their second. Winger Darnelle Bailey-King latched on to a ball through the middle and made no mistake as he slotted it past Wilson from 12 yards out.
The referee blew for full-time to signal the end of the Stags' first season back in the newly reformatted Central League.
Despite an upturn in form since the turn of the year, Mansfield Town couldn't finish their season off with a victory, but first team boss Steve Evans will have been pleased to see a number of his players get some much-needed game time.
STAGS’ LINE-UP: Wilson, Baxendale, Lee Collins ©(Peace-McDonald), Harrison, Wilder, Hemmings, McGuire, Lewis Collins, Hamilton, Arquin (T. Blake 72), Hoban
SUBS NOT USED: Hakeem, Danquah, Law
MILLERS’ LINE-UP: Fidler, Trialist, Rose, Bailey, Ball ©, Abraham (Sterling 61), Bailey-King, Warren, Muskwe (James 50), Osborne (Martin 61), Trialist
SUBS NOT USED: McMahon, Maboti-Mvumbi