Mansfield Town’s under 21s recorded their third victory in four games across all competitions this afternoon, following a 3-1 win over Chesterfield in the Central League.
A goal from midfielder Lewis Collins was sandwiched between striker Pat Hoban’s double to secure the triumph at Kirklington Road.
For the second time this month, Mansfield’s under 21s fielded a strong side comprising a host of first-team players, who clocked some quality game time.
While Scott Shearer took his place between the sticks for the Stags, the trio of midfielders Jamie McGuire, James Baxendale and Jack Thomas were included, as well as Pat Hoban and Yoann Arquin up front.
The hosts made the brighter start to the game, looking intent on playing the early ball. Although it was the visitors who forced a corner on six minutes, as young centre-back Mohamed Kamara toed the ball beyond the by-line under pressure from a Chesterfield forward.
The flag-kick was cleared and the Stags launched a counter with striker Hoban down the left. His pass for winger Jason Law saw the latter force a low save from Spireites’ custodian Dylan Parkin.
A minute later, Mansfield ventured forward again with gusto, this time Thomas darted along the right flank from his unfamiliar right-back position and fed Hoban, who narrowly steered the ball wide of the target from close range.
On 13 minutes, it was the Stags’ midfield coming into play, as a forward ball freed Irishman Hoban down the right, who earned a corner via a deflected effort. Law shaped his delivery into the box but centre-back Kieran Harrison fired it high over the bar.
Seven minutes later, the Spireites’ youngsters made a foray forward down the right, with full-back Iffy Ofoegbu taking charge. He floated a hopeful cross in, which was easily collected by Shearer.
The Stags then missed their best chance of the half on 24 minutes as the ever-present Hoban played an incisive pass forward for midfield creator Lewis Collins, who skied his attempt from 10 yards out with only the opposition stopper to beat.
Finally, Hoban was rewarded for his endeavours up front on 29 minutes as he stabbed home the Stags’ first goal from close range. Some intricate passing down the left resulted in Collins arrowing across to the back post where Thomas registered an assist to Hoban with a cushioned header.
On the half-hour mark, Mansfield left-back Louis Danquah made an adventurous run down the left-channel to feed a low cross in for James Baxendale, who drew a stooping save from Parkin.
At the other end, the visitors made their first notable effort via frontman Joel Phillips on 33 minutes, but his shot was ballooned high and wide of the mark.
However, Ritchie Humphreys’ side were soon back in the game with an equaliser on 36 minutes. In a rare foray forward, midfielder Joe Rowley nodded home from eight yards out on the back of Ofoegbu’s cross from the right.
The Stags sought an almost immediate reply, but failed to keep their effort on target. First, attacking midfielder Baxendale saw his powerful free-kick from 25-yards miss the target by a few yards, while Law saw his delivery from a corner-kick headed clear by a Chesterfield defender.
The two sides then went into the half-time break locked at 1-1, and the game nicely poised with all to play for.
The Stags were once more sharper to begin with after the breather, as Hoban went close to scoring from inside the area, but his header from Danquah’s cross ricocheted off the upright.
Mike Whitlow’s Mansfield side kept up the pressure, and on 53 minutes, earned a penalty when full-back Thomas was fouled inside the box. Striker Hoban stepped up and missed from the spot as his low and powerful drive was palmed away to safety by Parkin.
But three minutes later, it was 2-1 to the Stags via Collins’ headed goal, which he played a part in creating. The ex-Reading man and Danquah played a lovely give-and-go down the left, and the left-back enforced the corner which led to the goal.
Baxendale’s deep corner was headed goalwards by McGuire and Collins was on hand to direct the ball into the back of the net from just a few yards out.
The game continued to be evenly-played although Mansfield were ahead on the score-sheet. Chesterfield matched the Stags stride for stride in terms of possession, but failed to carve out clear-cut chances.
On 69 minutes, the Stags were three goals to the good. This time, Hoban made no mistake as he rifled home from the penalty spot after he was hauled to the ground while trying to weave his way past several Chesterfield defenders. His penalty was identical to his previous effort, but Spireites’ stopper Parkin dived the wrong way.
Following the third Mansfield goal, both sides introduced a flurry of changes in personnel. However, the intensity of the game looked to have settled down a bit and the ball was swung from end to end without any notable action inside either penalty area.
With the last ten minutes of the second-half ensuing, the visitors did try their luck twice but with no effect. Substitute Mark McKenna swung a ball in from the right, only for Harrison to head it away commandingly; and during a counter-attack, frontman Josh Tipping let one fly from distance which landed behind the club-house.
For the Stags, two efforts came from attacking midfielder Baxendale and 25-year-old striker Hoban. But both of them were superbly thwarted by Parkin to keep the score at 3-1.
Substitute Tyler Blake then registered Mansfield’s final shot on target in the dying seconds, with Parkin once more standing tall to deny any changes to the scoreline.
With this victory, Mansfield’s under 21s continue to remain unbeaten this month across all competitions.
Under 21s head coach Mike Whitlow says he was pleased with how his side approached the game, but admits the margin of victory could have been larger.
"I thought we started the game brightly but were lacking quality in the final third. The crosses going in to the box, the first bit of quality came from Lewis Collins to Jack [Thomas], he heads it across, ‘bang’ goal.
"They were very resolute; they had determination to shut up shop, trying to catch us and I think the big thing for us there is in and around the final 18 is about adding more quality."
The former Premier League central defender also praised the work rate of the senior players in the side today and says their example should inspire the youngsters alongside them.
"The one good thing for us which we spoke about in there (the dressing room) and Coops (Richard Cooper) working alongside me and he’s saying about the intensity which they’re working at.
"Yoann [Arquin] held the ball up fantastic up there, his work ethic chasing back and getting feet in, all the way through. Bax [James Baxendale] at the end, two minutes to go and he was chasing; that’s what’s needed. It shows these young lads what they even need to get close to, to even go and have a sniff of training [with the first team]."
Stags XI: Shearer (Wilson 78’), Lewis Collins, Harrison, Law (George 69’), McGuire (Slone 72’), Hoban, Arquin (T. Blake 63’), Baxendale, Danquah, Kamara (Healey, HT), Thomas
Chesterfield XI: Parkin, Ofoegbu, Fowler (Holmes, 59’), Rowley, Smith (McKenna, 78’), Hand, Lynam (Foster, 71’), Phillips (Darnent, 57’), Tipping, Brownhall, Wakefield
Subs not used: Jones