Mansfield Town’s under 18s retained their EFL Youth Alliance crown with a brilliant 2-1 win over Burton Albion on Saturday afternoon.
Academy manager John Dempster’s side knew they needed just two points from their last two games to ensure the trophy would be staying in north Nottinghamshire, regardless of how Oldham fair in their final three games of the season.
And the Stags decided the fate of the EFL Youth Alliance with a hard-fought victory over the Brewers at Rainworth Miners Welfare thanks to goals from forwards Nyle Blake and Jason Law.
The victory means that since the club's academy started the EPPP (Elite Player Performance Plan) two seasons ago, they have twice won the competition under the guidance of John Dempster.
Stags started on the front foot with Blake, striker Zayn Hakeem and right-back Teddy Bloor taking the game to their visitors from all directions, while utilising the height of midfielder Cameron Healey to good effect inside the Albion goalmouth.
Callum Hawkins, the Burton ‘keeper, got the faintest of touches to a towering header from Healey to help the ball over the crossbar, but the unsighted referee awarded a goal kick.
Joe Sbarra provided Burton with their first attack, when he cut in field from out on the right flank, but his shot was easily dealt with by Stags’ stopper Sam Wilson.
The Stags got the breakthrough early on through first-year scholar Nyle Blake following a sweeping move by our youngsters.
Defender Kane Baldwin's long delivery found Jason Law with his back to goal and as the visitors’ defence tried to crowd Law and Hakeem out of the game, between them they managed to knock the ball sideways into the path of Nyle Blake, who crashed it past Hawkins to put the Stags ahead.
With the wind in their sails, Hakeem strode powerfully forward for thirty yards, before wrong footing two defenders who were tracking him and, having changed direction, he rolled the ball sideways to Healey, but Tom Hammerton managed to intercept his intended pass and cleared the danger.
Bloor's left wing corner towards the Stags’ skipper Morgan Ratcliffe was headed back towards him by Jayden Cotterill and when the Stags’ number two crashed the ball across the six -yard box, it deflected wide off Danny Cooke's right hand, but the referee waved away the appeals for a penalty.
Stags continued to create a string of chances, but only managed to clear the crossbar three times in quick succession.
Left-back Henri Wilder let rip with a long range shot, Law turned the ball over from ten yards after Blake had headed Bloor's cross down to him and defender Kieran Harrison diverted the ball over, when he met another cross from Bloor with a powerful header.
Despite seeing chances go begging, Stags doubled their advantage on the stroke of half-time.
Tricky forward Jason Law spotted a gap in the Albion defence, injected a burst of pace to breeze through it and then confidently side-footed the ball beyond the reach of Hawkins.
Stags were in the ascendancy and had the title within their grasp as they entered the final 45 minutes.
However, right at the start of the second half, the Stags made hard work of clearing the ball out of defence and Joe Sbarra pounced to take advantage and rolled the ball into the back of the net from close range
And all of a sudden, it was 'game on' again, with everything still to play for.
Midfielder Keaton Ward carried the ball forward 30 yards, avoiding two attempted tackles, before laying the ball off for Law, who quickly played it to Wilder on the right flank, before taking the return pass.
He then showed some neat touches to get beyond Reece Hutchinson and crossed to Ward who had continued his run, but when the industrious midfielder shot from just inside the Burton area, Cotterill blocked his effort.
Wilder tried his luck with a speculative shot from 20 yards and when the ball ricocheted back to him he knocked it back to Ward, who danced through the left channel and whipped a cross into the path of Blake and
Hakeem, but neither of them could quite get a foot on it and Burton had a lucky escape.
Harrison swerved a free-kick from outside the area over the Burton defensive wall, but Hawkins had it covered and plucked the ball out of the air.
Ward teed the ball up nicely for Wilder, but he couldn't keep his shot on target as he blazed the ball wide of the left-hand upright.
Burton were still a threat going forward and Wilson did well to keep out a well struck low shot by Charlie Dowd.
Dowd once again showed good attacking intentions when he combined with Hallahan, but Wilson had read the situation well and claimed the ball.
The Brewers were defending in numbers and piling forward as a compact unit whenever the opportunity to counter attack arose.
In the 89th minute, Hammerton broke free inside the Stags’ area and unleashed a shot from 10 yards and time stood still momentarily as it looked for all the world as if the celebratory champagne would have to stay on ice for at least another week, but Wilson had advanced bravely from his line and blocked the Burton captain's thumping shot.
Play switched ends quickly and Hakeem's persistence saw him release Wilder at the second attempt, but Hawkins twisted and turned the ball over the bar.
Moments later, the final whistle signalled celebration time for the victorious Stags as they held on to clinch the title that they had been defending since last May.
Players, staff, parents and supporters went wild as Stags’ fate was sealed and another fantastic campaign was capped off with the league title.
What a fantastic achievement for all involved.
Full-time: Stags 2-1 Burton Albion
STAGS’ LINE-UP: Wilson, Bloor, Baldwin, Ward, Ratcliffe (C), Harrison, Wilder, Healey, Hakeem, Law, Blake (Reittie 82)
SUBS NOT USED: Sundby, Dumbleton, Walker, Smith
BURTON LINE-UP: Hawkins, Cooke (Hart 83), Hutchinson, Hallahan, Cotterill, Dowd, Saville, Harrison (Savage 65), Sbarra, Matthews (Steer 73)
SUBS NOT USED: Fairbrother, Vale