Mansfield Town's reserves booked their place in the semi-finals of the Central League Cup with an excellent 2-0 win over Notts County at Rainworth Miners Welfare this afternoon.
A double from winger Alfie Potter was the difference between two strong sides, both of whom contained plenty of first team experience in their respective line-ups.
Potter's first followed good play by right-back Jack Thomas, who picked out midfielder Calum Butcher at the far post. He saw his effort saved by County 'keeper Branislav Pindroch, but Potter was on hand to dispatch the rebound from eight yards out.
Stags had to wait until the 70th minute to get their second, but it was well worth the wait. Frontman Jimmy Spencer laid it off to Potter 20 yards from goal and he curled a wonderful effort into the top corner to make sure of the victory.
Stags named a strong side for the contest, with eight of the team who defeated York City 5-0 last week included in the line-up.
The three additions to the side were defender Krystian Pearce, who skippered the side, and midfielder Jacob Mellis, who were both included to top up their match minutes after missing Saturday's win over Coventry City through suspension. In addition, left-back Mal Benning was chosen ahead of Johnny Hunt, after the latter completed 90 minutes against the Sky Blues on Saturday.
There was plenty of experience in the County side, too, as former Stag Nicky Hunt played at right-back, with defender Haydn Hollis and Gibraltar international Liam Walker all included in the side. The Magpies were captained by former Manchester United and England striker Alan Smith, with County owner and chairman Alan Hardy watching on from the sidelines.
It was a frantic start to proceedings at Rainworth Miners Welfare, with both sides looking to assert their authority on the game.
In the opening 10 minutes, County enjoyed the lion's share of possession, but Stags looked dangerous on the counter attack, with frontman Omari Sterling-James and attacking midfielder Calum Butcher linking up well in the forward areas.
Neither 'keeper had anything to do in the early stages, with chances at a premium.
Stags were given the opportunity to get the ball in the box for the first time in the 11th minute. Former Stag Nicky Hunt brought down striker Jimmy Spencer 35 yards from goal and midfielder Jacob Mellis whipped a good ball in to the back post, but it just evaded the head of defender Kyrstian Pearce at the back post.
Former Manchester United striker Alan Smith was the first to try his luck for the visitors, but his 20-yard volley hit Pearce and it rolled through for Stags' 'keeper Bobby Olejnik to pick up in his six-yard box.
County then had their second chance in the 16th minute as the away side won a free-kick 25 yards from goal for a foul by left-back Mal Benning on Curtis Thompson.
Gibraltarian international Liam Walker stepped up and whipped a brilliant effort just wide of the top corner.
A little over a minute later, however, Stags were ahead. Benning angled a delivery towards Spencer and it was flicked on to right-back Jack Thomas, who was stood on the right edge of the area. The Mansfield Woodhouse-born youngster set himself before picking out Calum Butcher at the back post. Butcher swivelled and hit a low effort which was saved by the legs of Branislav Pindroch, but winger Alfie Potter was on hand to rifle the rebound home from eight yards out.
The goal settled Mansfield down and they began to assert their authority on the game. A minute after going ahead, striker Jimmy Spencer showed good feet on the edge of the box to work himself some space before curling a left-footed curler over the bar.
The tie was fiercely-contested and in the 28th minute, Spencer and Magpies' defender Pierce Bird came together in an aerial challenge. The County man hit the floor, claiming an elbow from Spencer, but referee Ed Pidduck gave a free-kick to the visitors and a yellow card for the Stags' forward.
Stags should've worked themselves a chance to double their lead in the 35th minute, but wasted the opportunity. Spencer laid it off for Potter on halfway and he sped away from Nicky Hunt, carried the ball into the box, but was dispossessed by Bird in the area, despite Stags at one point having four attackers to County's three defenders.
Left-back Benning had some important defensive work to do with seven minutes of the half remaining as he headed away a deep cross at the back post with County frontman Callum Saunders ready to power a header goalwards.
Stags created another opening in the 40th minute as Spencer flicked the ball around the corner to Butcher 14 yards out, but his whistled a first-time effort across the face of goal and out for a goal kick.
The final action of the half was a yellow card to County skipper Alan Smith, who received a booking for a two-footed challenge on Jacob Mellis on halfway.
Stags started the second period on the front foot and had two excellent chances to double their lead in the opening five minutes.
Firstly, midfielder Will Atkinson received the ball 25 yards from goal and weaved his way to the edge of the box, where he fired an effort just wide of the top corner, via a deflection.
Two minutes later, Mal Benning had a sight of goal. A lovely passing move by the Stags saw creative midfielder Jacob Mellis find Jack Thomas on the right and he slotted it through to Calum Butcher. The former Millwall man fired a low cross through the six-yard box which found its way to Benning, but his low effort as saved by the legs of Pindroch.
Stags continued to enjoy the better of possession – and the chances – as the half continued.
Thomas and Butcher were linking up well down the right-hand side and it was from the right-back's cross that Stags had their next sight of goal. Thomas hung a cross up to the back post where Nicky Hunt climbed above Spencer to head behind. Stags took the free-kick short, but Potter could only fire over from the edge of the box.
Stags surely thought they had their second in the 65th minute, but for a brilliant save by County 'keeper Branislav Pindroch. The 'keeper was stranded at his near post as the ball was pulled back to Spencer on the penalty spot and he shaped to shoot, sitting Pierce Bird down, then fired an effort towards the bottom corner, which Pindroch did excellently to keep out at full stretch.
In the 69th minute, Mal Benning curled a free-kick towards the bottom corner whilst everyone else expected a shot, but it whipped just wide of the bottom corner.
Stags did get the second goal their play deserved a minute later. Spencer received the ball on the edge of the box and did excellently to hold it up before laying it off to Alfie Potter, who exquisitely curled it into the top corner from 20 yards to score his and Stags' second.
County came back into the game over the next 10 minutes, but Stags dealt with their threat fairly comfortably. The centre-half pairing of Krystian Pearce and Paul Digby remained resolute in the air, whilst full-backs Jack Thomas and Mal Benning were quick to snuff out any danger on the flanks.
Stags came close to a third as the impressive Potter and Mellis linked up on the edge of the box, but the former Bury man's effort from 22 yards went marginally over the bar on 85 minutes.
The final chance of the match fell to Calum Butcher, who received Thomas' pull-back 12 yards out, but his shot was blocked by the imposing Hollis.
All-in-all, Stags were deserved winners on an entertaining afternoon in Rainworth and booked their place in the semi-finals of the competition.
STAGS' XI: Olejnik, Thomas, Pearce ©, Digby, Benning, Atkinson, Mellis, Butcher, Potter, Sterling-James, Spencer
SUBS NOT USED: Wilson, Graham, Healey, Law, Danquah
COUNTY XI: Pindroch; Hunt, Hollis, Bird, Jones (Dearle 51), Walker, Thompson (Dunn 76), Howes, Hodge, Saunders, Smith ©
SUBS NOT USED: Culverwell, Osborne, Campbell
REFEREE: Ed Pidduck