Mansfield Town’s under 18s emerged victorious from their vital EFL Youth Alliance clash with Oldham Athletic on Saturday, winning 2-1 thanks to a brace from forward Jason Law.
Oldham started the day at the top of the EFL Youth Alliance, level on points with the second placed Stags, but in possession of a superior goal difference.
They suffered a defeat, at home, against Lincoln City in their last game, which brought an impressive ten-game winning streak to an abrupt end.
On their way to last season's championship win, John Dempster's side did the double over Oldham and they commenced this season's title defence with a goalless draw against the young Latics at Clipstone on the opening day of the season.
The Latics looked strong from the outset and had evidently adopted a very direct approach to this top-of-the-table clash at Chapel Road, as they laid siege to the Mansfield goal area early on, with a string of long range kicks and throw-ins.
And in the 12th minute the bombardment paid off for the home side, when the visitors’ defence were caught square as Brad Kay chased a ball over the Stags’ back line forward, picked up possession and placed the ball past goalkeeper Sam Wilson to give Tony Philliskirk's side the lead.
The visitors were spurred into action by the goal and Kieran Harrison tried his luck with a 25-yard free-kick, which the home side's defensive wall blocked.
However the Stags were growing in stature and Oldham were tested with efforts on their goal from midfielder Keaton Ward, right-back Teddy Bloor and left-back Henri Wilder in quick succession.
Then forward Jason Law cut in from the right, evaded two challenges and calmly slotted the ball just inside the post and beyond the reach of the Latics’ ‘keeper in the 28th minute.
After the Stags got back on level terms, the home side picked up the tempo again, but wayward shooting and two timely interceptions by defender Kane Baldwin kept them at bay.
Goalkeeper Wilson then made a smart save as he got down to his left to keep the scores level just before the break.
Half-time: Oldham Athletic 1-1 Stags
Classy midfielder Ward almost gave the visitors the lead virtually straight from the restart, but he saw his long range shot narrowly clear the bar.
But it didn’t take Stags long to take the lead as Law grabbed his second just three minutes into the second half.
Forward Nyle Blake did well to release Law, who advanced into the Latics’ area from out on the left before picking his spot and stroking a shot past the Oldham ‘keeper.
Shortly afterwards, Law very nearly claimed his hat-trick, but the Oldham stopper clawed his shot away at full stretch.
Wilson was called upon to make two vital saves as the Latics pushed forward in an attempt to get back into the game.
At the other end, midfielder Cameron Healey went close with a 35-yard pile-driver and a header that cleared the bar from Bloor's free kick.
Defender Morgan Radcliffe took one for the team when he suffered a blow to the head whilst he cleared an Oldham attack and Bloor headed the ball off the line from a corner.
Healey made a last ditch block and Wilson pulled off another save as the young Stags showed a lot of character, strength and resolute determination to hold onto their slender lead, deep into seven minutes of stoppage time.
Stags saw the game out to steal a march at the top of the EFL Youth Alliance. They now sit three points clear of second-placed Oldham with five games remaining.
Full-time: Oldham Athletic 1-2 Stags
Stags’ line-up: Wilson, Bloor, Baldwin, Ward, Radcliffe, Harrison, Wilder, Healey, Blake (Reittie 65), A.Smith, Law (Hakeem 65)
Subs not used: Sundby, Walker, Morgan
Oldham line-up: Boyling, Hamer, Sheridan, Fallon, King, Middleton, Fawns, Uche, Glackin, Kay, Antoine