Mansfield Town’s title-winning under 18s slipped to a final day defeat against Grimsby Town on Saturday, losing 1-0.
After wrapping up the EFL Youth Alliance title the week before, Stags were presented with the trophy and their winners’ medals prior to kick-off at the Worksop Van Hire Stadium.
The team that took to the pitch suggested eyes were already looking ahead to next season, with no fewer than eight first-year players named in the starting XI.
The nucleus of the embryonic 2017-18 were given a chance to prove themselves, and there were several positives you could pick out of the performance, most notably the shift that Aiden Walker put in as he got to grips with the challenge of containing Ahkeem Rose, Grimsby's livewire centre forward.
Two of the Stags’ players who will be carrying the champions’ torch into next season, striker Nyle Blake and midfielder Keaton Ward, combined early on to threaten the visitors’ goal, but Jack Keeble, who along with Tom Sawyer has just signed a pro contract with Grimsby Town, cleared the danger away.
Goalkeeper Xavier Sundby pulled off a great save to thwart Runarn Burrell, while Walker was being kept busy by the fleet-footed Rose, but having the better of their personal battle.
Striker Jake Dumbleton was tripped on the left-hand side of Mariners’ goal area, but was denied a penalty as referee Minesh Gupta judged that the actual contact had occurred a few inches the wrong side of the line and the visitors regrouped and cleared Harry Bircumshaw's free- kick.
Rose was proving to be problematic for the home side, but having dropped deep to make a run after Walker had blocked his route to goal inside the 18-yard box, he found midfielder Luke Morgan to be just as tenacious in his tackle, inside the centre-circle.
As half-time approached, Dumbleton thought he had opened the scoring, but he was flagged for offside.
Sundby was called into action twice in quick succession, first plucking Sam Williams’ cross out of the air and then he pushed Rose's angled shot away at full stretch.
Play switched sides and right-back Teddy Bloor picked out Ward with a sideways pass, he ran across the edge of the Grimsby area from left to right before letting fly on the half volley, but Tom Jamieson put his body in the way to preserve the Mariners’ clean sheet.
In first half stoppage time, Rose pushed forward again twice but both times Walker was having none of it and stole the ball away.
Half-time: Stags 0-0 Mariners
Chances were few and far between in the opening 20 minutes of the second half, with the majority of the game being played in midfield.
However the winning goal of the game arrived after 69 minutes when Akheem Rose got on the end of Burrell's sideways pass to knock the ball home from just a few yards out.
Rose had put in an immense shift as he led the Mariners’ line and only the combined efforts of Walker, Sundby and Kieran Harrison had stopped him finding the net several more times.
It was good to see midfielder Cain Smith coming on late in the game and announcing his arrival with one of his trademark shuddering challenges within moments of entering the fray.
Despite their best attempts to rescue something from the game, chances for the Stags were scarce.
The two years of the EPPP programme has flown by and not everybody who has played an integral part will be involved next season, such is the nature of the beast that is football, but hopefully those who will be leaving will feel that they have benefited from their time at the club.
Credit where it is due, Grimsby saw the game out using the template that has served the Stags’ under 18s so well for the past two years, as they stayed strong and focused in defence and used their resilience as a platform to build from.
Full-time: Stags 0-1 Mariners
Mansfield Town: Sundby, Bloor (C.Smith 62), Wilder (Ratcliffe 55), Bircumshaw, Walker, Harrison (C), Blake, Morgan (Behailu 62), Reittie (Law 55), Ward (A.Smith 62), Dumbleton
Grimsby Town: Briggs, Williams, Davis, Lawman, Jamieson, Keeble, Goddard, Sawyer (C), Rose, Slade, Burrell
Subs not used: Flowerdew, Burchill, Sesay, Paul-Jones