Mansfield Town extended their lead at the top of the EFL Youth Alliance on Saturday with a well-earned 2-1 victory over Rotherham United.
Midfielder Cain Smith, who has been showing some great form and fighting spirit of late, was heavily involved in the opening exchanges, firing narrowly wide inside the opening minute and then created himself enough space to float a tempting cross in towards striker Jason Law, which glanced off the Stags’ forward's head with just George McMahon to beat.
Having thwarted Mansfield's lively start, Rotherham built up a head of steam of their own and stretched the visitors’ defence for several minutes.
Akeel Francis went close to opening the scoring when he charged down Xavier Sundby's clearance, but Kieran Harrison was covering his ‘keeper's back and made a timely interception.
Ben McGinley surged into the Stags’ area, but defender Kane Baldwin put in a blocking tackle and recovered his footing quickly to cut out McGinley's angled cross as the loose ball fell to the Millers’ winger.
The home side tried to force the issue down the left flank once more, but Cain Smith was back helping out his defence and salvaged the situation with a firm but fair challenge that typified his performance.
Striker Jake Dumbleton went close to breaking the deadlock twice within the space of a few minutes, when he shot narrowly over from strike partner Zayn Hakeem's low cross from out on the left.
Dumbleton was then thwarted by McMahon's agility as winger Nyle Blake picked out the live-wire front man with a measured ball from the right flank.
Left-back Henri Wilder teamed up with Hakeem and Cain Smith to unlock the Millers’ back line, forcing Jovanni Sterling to rush his clearance and tee the ball up for Harrison, whose first time shot was well held by McMahon.
Francis and Wiles combined for the Millers and the latter picked out Tom Maguire, who had a free shot inside the six yard box, but hooked his shot wide of the upright, with what must count as a real let off for the visitors.
But the Stags brushed themselves down and a great passage of flowing, passing football, right across the whole width of the pitch, involving right-back Teddy Bloor, Blake, Dumbleton, Cain Smith, Wilder and Hakeem, released Law on the edge of the area and his inviting sideways knock sat up perfectly for Cain Smith who unleashed the ball past McMahon to give the Stags the lead after 17 minutes.
The Stags looked to build on their lead but Rotherham kept dropping hints that they weren't here just to make the numbers up and were more than capable of providing a threat of their own.
Mansfield picked up the pace down the right through Bloor, whose cross to Law was knocked into the path of Smith, who was fouled before he could repeat his earlier strike. Hakeem took responsibility for the free-kick, but hooked the ball wide of the bottom of the right-hand post.
With further international recognition on the horizon for Hakeem, his growing reputation precedes him around the Youth Alliance now and it would be fair to say that he was being closely marked by the Millers.
McGinley miscued a left wing cross into the Stags’ area, which cannoned back into play off the woodwork.
McGinley and Lewis Murr both had shots blocked, before the ball fell to Deegan Atherton who forced a great stop out of Sundby with a vicious shot.
McMahon then drilled a measured pass forward to Wiles' feet and he laid the ball off first time to Francis, who lashed his effort wide.
Another quick break from their own half by the home side left the Stags exposed again in first half stoppage time, but Sundby raced from his line to thwart Francis.
Half-time: Rotherham 0-1 Stags
Straight from the restart, Hakeem forced a corner off from Atherton and Bloor delivered it into the Millers’ six yard box, but one of the home side’s obvious strengths was their ability to deal with set pieces and corners, with Abraham and Sterling both putting in a workmanlike shift apiece.
Blake cut out a cross from McGinley and then released the ball quickly to set up a Stags’ counter attack.
Zayn Hakeem and Can Smith squeezed the Rotherham defence and caused them to back off, which gave Smith the opportunity to nudge the ball through to the feet of Blake who had continued his run and, with 52 minutes on the clock, fired home from eight yards, despite the efforts of McMahon, to double Mansfield's lead.
It looked as if it was all over for Rotherham when Bloor picked out Law with a long corner towards the back of the Millers’ area from out on the right, and as Law's shot came back off the post, Dumbleton was on hand to score.
But, for whatever reason, the goal was disallowed for something that the referee's assistant had spotted which didn't actually involve Dumbleton himself, because he was clearly onside and had a defender and the goalkeeper stood between him and the goal when he struck his shot.
Dumbleton shrugged off his disappointment and stayed focused and was unlucky to see his shot clear the bar within a minute of his disallowed goal.
The Stags were comfortably seeing the game out, as Rotherham's Maguire hit a hopeful ball across the face of Sundby's goal, which defender Morgan Ratcliffe, just on from the substitutes bench, moved in quickly to deal with.
But a bounce directly in front of him saw the Stags’ centre half steer the ball past his own ‘keeper to score his second goal in as many games.
And with five minutes still remaining, the visitors were no longer playing down time in a comfort zone, they were now defending a slender single goal lead.
The Millers forced a corner on the right wing, from which Maguire delivered the ball to meet the run of Sterling, who connected with a thumping header but cleared the crossbar from close range.
In stoppage time, Sundby tipped an audacious attempt on goal by McGinley over the bar and then saved Sterling's header from Maquire's resulting corner.
Full-time: Rotherham 1-2 Stags
Rotherham XI: McMahon, Atherton (Sallemloops), Hinds, Murr (Adeyemi 82), Sterling, Abraham, Kayode, Maquire, Francis, Wiles (C) (Osborne), McGinley
Subs not used: Harry Fiddler (GK)
Stags' XI: Sundby, Bloor, Wilder, C.Smith, Harrison (C), Blake, Healey, Hakeem, Law (Ratcliffe 83), Dumbleton (Marriott 87)
Subs not used: Wilson (GK), Walker, A.Smith