Mansfield Town enjoyed a hard-fought workout against strong Championship side Sheffield Wednesday at One Call Stadium this afternoon, which finished in a 3-2 win for the South Yorkshire visitors.
Stags twice went behind in the match, but centre-half George Taft's close range finish in the first half had ensured the game was all-square at half-time after Jordan Rhodes' early header, before right-back Rhys Bennett cancelled out Tom Lees' header during the second period. However, a late goal from Wednesday substitute Lucas Joao gave the visitors victory in an entertaining and competitive pre-season friendly in north Nottinghamshire.
Stags' fans were treated to the first home viewing of manager Steve Evans' new-look squad – with seven new players named in the starting line up. Goalkeeper Conrad Logan, defender David Mirfin, midfielders Jacob Mellis, Paul Digby and Paul Anderson and forwards Lee Angol and Jimmy Spencer all lined up in a Stags shirt at One Call Stadium for the first time.
Prior to kick-off, a minute's applause was observed in memory of young football fan Bradley Lowery, who sadly passed away last week.
The visitors started brightly and showed their quality early on with neat exchanges in the middle of the park as midfielder Barry Bannan and winger Adam Reach looked to create openings for their side.
But it was forward Sam Winnall who had the first notable chance of the game as he shot low with his left foot on the edge of the box which Stags' stopper Logan did well to save, getting down to his right to make a smart save.
Wednesday's early pressure paid dividends five minutes later as Reach's floated left wing cross was nodded into the bottom corner by dangerous frontman Jordan Rhodes.
Stags looked to respond immediately, and they nearly did as midfielder Jacob Mellis picked up on a loose pass from Wednesday 'keeper Cameron Dawson before sliding the ball to Jimmy Spencer, whose low shot was well-saved by the stopper as he made up for his earlier error.
The match was quite end-to-end and Wednesday looked to add to their opening goal but the Stags' defence held firm as George Taft made a crucial block from George Boyd's effort inside the box, before Logan was on hand once again to palm away Daniel Pudil's powerful half-volley from the edge of the box.
Recent signing Boyd, who signed from Premier League Burnley last week, was finding space in the Mansfield half and he was involved in the visitors' next two chances as his cutback was skewed wide by Winnall, before he shot narrowly wide from distance.
However, Stags began to grow into the game as winger CJ Hamilton was causing all sorts of problems down the Wednesday right with the speedy wingman being subsequently fouled which led to the hosts' equaliser.
Summer addition Paul Anderson's free-kick from the left was played in to a dangerous area inside the Wednesday box and Taft took advantage of the visitors' inability to clear as he rifled into the roof of the net from close range.
The final 15 minutes of the first half contained Stags dominating much of the play, getting into dangerous positions down either flank as this new-look squad continued to gel.
Centre-half David Mirfin, who was named the Stags' skipper in the first half, guided his header over the bar from Mellis' driven corner, before Anderson's swerving shot from the edge of the box was dealt with by Dawson.
Gaffer Steve Evans made 10 changes for the second half as further new signings goalkeeper Bobby Olejnik, defenders Zander Diamond and Johnny Hunt winger Will Atkinson and frontman Omari Sterling-James took to the field, in addition to some familiar faces such as defender Krystian Pearce and Rhys Bennett, midfielders Joel Byrom and Alfie Potter and striker Danny Rose.
Wednesday made six changes at the break with goalkeeper Joe Wildsmith, defender Liam Palmer and attacking players Gary Hooper, Steven Fletcher, Marco Matias and Fernando Forestieri taking to the field in place of Dawson, Rhodes, Winnall, Boyd, Jack Hunt and Morgan Fox.
And it was Wednesday who re-took the lead just eight minutes after the restart as skipper Tom Lees' header bounced in off the crossbar after ghosting in to meet David Jones' corner.
Stags again looked to respond immediately as defender Krystian Pearce headed narrowly wide before the home side thought they'd levelled the game.
Left-back Hunt rolled the ball home after Sterling-James' cross wasn't dealt with by the Wednesday defence, however the goal was ruled out by the assistant who had judged the full-back to have been in an offside position.
Wednesday still looked dangerous despite the hosts' pressure as Forestieri's curling free-kick was narrowly deflected over, after the midfielder had been brought down on the edge of the box.
Stags had a great chance to level on 70 minutes as a Trialist was denied by a close range save from Wildsmith after being set up by Danny Rose, who had done well to break free down the right.
A neat interchange between Alfie Potter and Sterling-James followed as the pair linked up well, before the latter fired over the crossbar from distance.
Steve Evans' side did find a second equaliser with ten minutes remaining as Rhys Bennett leapt highest to power his header home from Joel Byrom's right wing corner.
The full-back was then booked shortly after for a late challenge on Forestieri but the subsequent free-kick was dealt with easily by the Stags' defence.
However Wednesday soon restored their advantage through second half substitute Lucas Joao who slotted the ball past Olejnik after Gary Hooper's waltzing run ended with the ball rather fortuitously deflecting into the path of his team-mate.
There was little time remaining for Stags to find another equaliser as the game ended with no stoppage time being played.
Despite slipping to a defeat, Stags provided stiff opposition, and dominated in a number of spells, against their Championship opponents, who will be aiming to mount a serious push for promotion in the upcoming season.
MANSFIELD TOWN (first half): Logan, Benning, Digby, Mellis, Angol, Anderson, Taft, Spencer, White, Mirfin ©, Hamilton
(Second half): Olejnik, Bennett, Pearce, Diamond, Digby (Trialist 63'), Atkinson, Potter, Hunt, Sterling-James (Thomas 84'), Byrom, Rose
SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY: Dawson (Wildsmith 46'), Jones, Pudil, Lees, Rhodes (Hooper 46'), Reach, Fox (Matias 46' (Joao 80')), Winnall (Fletcher 46'), Boyd (Forestieri 46'), Hunt (Palmer 46'), Bannan
SUBS NOT USED: Thorniley, O'Grady, Penney, Murphy, Nuhiu, Clare, Wallis (GK).
REFEREE: John Brooks
ATTENDANCE: 4,319 (1,517 away supporters)