Mansfield Town kept up their excellent run of form as they secured a well-deserved 1-0 victory over local rivals Chesterfield on Friday afternoon.
Two in-form under 18 teams went head-to-head in this local derby at the Proact Stadium, with the sixth placed hosts having gone five games unbeaten since January, while the league leaders and reigning champions, Mansfield Town have chalked up six games since their last defeat.
The Stags’ youngsters reclaimed top spot when they came from behind to claim a hard fought 2-1 win at fellow title contenders Oldham Athletic last weekend, when striker Jason Law notched a brace for John Dempsters side.
A 73rd minute strike from Devante Reittie was enough to give the Stags all three points against the Spirietes.
The young Chesterfield side had plenty of possession in the final third, but Friday’s win was built from a base of a solid defensive performance,
Early on, Sam Wilson did well to turn away Charlie Wakefield's cross towards Chesterfield striker Ricky German at the expense of a corner.
Right-back Teddy Bloor then picked out striker Jason Law with a pass down the right, but when Law cut inside to shoot, he was crowded out by the Spireites’ defence.
German, who was being rendered inert in and around the Stags’ goalmouth, tried his luck from 25 yards from Jack Brownell's lay off to the right, but Wilson got down quickly to pull off a great save.
Alongside the impressive defender Kane Baldwin, Kieran Harrison was a tower of strength, not only clearing any of Chesterfield's direct passes forward, whatever height he received them at, but also distributing the ball well to give the Stags possession.
Midfielder Cameron Healey, the Stags’ captain, was playing in the role of holding midfielder, which gave Keaton Ward the freedom to link up with Alistair Smith, Law and Nyle Blake, while dropping back to cover the ground whenever Bloor or left-back Henri Wilder got forward down the flanks.
With half-time approaching, the Spireites’ defensive wall stood firm to repel a thumping free kick by Law and Ward was only inches away from opening the scoring when the rebound fell to him and he hooked the ball narrowly over the bar, with Jones at full stretch.
Half-time: Chesterfield 0-0 Stags
The home side started the second half on the front foot, but were stopped in their tracks when Baldwin cut out a right wing cross from Marc McKenna and play quickly switched play from box-to-box as the Stags streamed forward.
Law received the ball from Blake on the edge of the area with his back to goal and flicked it first time into the path of Reittie who took the ball wide to get a clear sight of goal, but shot into the side netting.
Brownell laid the ball out wide to Wakefield, who paused momentarily on the ball and allowed Wilder to pounce, taking advantage of his opponent’s hesitancy, before breaking up the Spireites’ attack.
German finally made himself a yard of space and met the flight of McKenna's cross head on, but couldn't keep the ball on target as a good chance for the Spireites went begging.
Reittie showed the home side's defence his teeth again, cutting in through the right channel, but Jones tipped his shot over.
Bloor delivered the ball in from the resulting corner and it reached Law on the right-hand side of the area, who lofted it back across the face of goal, to where Blake rose above Alex Phillipson, but directed his header just past the wrong side of the left-hand upright.
The Stags saw a string of corners amount to nothing as the home side's defence put up a strong rearguard action as well.
But it was the visitors who had the scent of a goal in their nostrils and Jones had to be alert when he denied Smith, who struck an angled shot from ten yards out on target, after Law had threaded the ball to him through the narrowest of gaps in a crowded area.
Bloor got forward down the flank and crossed to Ward, who held off the attentions of both central defenders before rolling the ball back towards Wilder, whose 25-yard pile driver was well held by Jones.
Ward knocked the ball into the area and it seemed to hang in the air as Healey headed it back into the six-yard box, but Wakefield launched a long clearance away from the danger zone.
Luke Rawson, who'd scored against the Stags’ under 21s side made up largely of first team players just last week, was thwarted by Harrison's timely interception and then Smith put in a blocking tackle on German and defence turned into attack.
Harrison played the ball forward that led to Reittie's opening goal, via Law and Smith, who had covered a lot of ground quickly to join in with the attack.
Law shrugged off a challenge before stroking the ball down the right flank to Ali Smith, where the industrious attacking midfielder twisted one way then the other before rolling a slide rule pass into the path of Reittie.
He took a touch to make himself the space to shoot and drilled the ball past Brad Jones, who was wrong footed when he anticipated that the Stags’ number nine was going to shoot first time.
It was a clever goal to top off a great performance from the lively striker, who had been causing the Spireites’ defence lots of problems already and thoroughly deserved a goal.
Reittie was hungry for another goal and was all over the home side's defence like a rash; Jones dashed off his line to save at the striker’s feet and Phillipson did well to get a foot in and prevent Reittie and Law from combining right in front of Jones’ goal.
Baldwin broke up another attempted raid on goal by Chesterfield with a timely tackle on German and knocked the ball straight down the middle to Ward, who released Blake, but his shot was deflected wide.
Striker Jake Dumbleton came on in place of Blake for the last ten minutes and was inches away from scoring with his first touch, as he narrowly failed to connect with Bloor’s left wing corner to the back post.
With the clock ticking down, Bloor struck a long shot that sat up off the pitch in front of Jones, but he gathered the ball safely.
Wilson was then called on to preserve the Stags’ clean sheet and he held onto Wakefield's speculative long shot, to maintain the reigning champions impressive goals against record.
Law took a knock, his second off the game, with five minutes remaining and had to leave the field of play, but Harry Bircumshaw slipped seamlessly into the visitors’ game plan and hit the ground running as he attempted to make an impression.
Right at the death, it was a ‘hearts in mouth’ moment for Mansfield, as Rawson crashed a low shot across their six-yard box, but he had been so quick to make his delivery, none of his team-mates were forward enough to take advantage.
A hard -fought game against a Spireites’ side who had given the visitors a stiff work out came to a close after five minutes of stoppage time and, for now at least, the Stags opened up a six point gap at the top of the table.
Full-time: Chesterfield 0-1 Stags
Chesterfield: Jones, Ofoegbu, Taylor, Brownell, Phillipson (Sharman 82), Lynam, McKenna, Wakefield, German, Tipping (Rawson 62) , Fowler (Foster 62)
Unused subs: Parkin, Holmes
Mansfield Town: Wilson, Bloor, Wilder, Ward, Baldwin, Harrison, Law (Bircumshaw 85), Healey (C), Reittie, A.Smith, Blake (Dumbleton 79)
Unused subs: Sundby, Walker, Morgan