Mansfield Town's under 21s enjoyed a good workout against Rotherham United in the Central League this afternoon, but slipped to a 1-0 defeat at the Roundwood Sports Complex.
Despite losing to David Ball's second half penalty, a number of Stags' first team players enjoyed getting much needed competitive minutes under their belts.
Deadline Day singing Calum Butcher was included in the middle of midfield as he tops his minutes up after playing the last half-an-hour at Carlisle on Saturday. Meanwhile, skipper Zander Diamond came into the side after recovering from a knock picked up a fortnight ago.
Stags started much the better of the two sides and won two early corners following good feet from frontman Omari Sterling-James. Both corners were hung up towards Diamond at the back post, but Rotherham did well to prevent the Scot from connecting with either of his headers.
The visitors should have had the chance to go ahead in the eighth minute, but were denied a penalty after the referee deemed that Atherton's drag back on Sterling-James took place outside the box, much to the frustration of the Stags.
Winger Alex MacDonald stepped up to take the free-kick, but bent his effort through the wall and straight down the 'keeper's throat.
Stags were dominating the affair and had a good chance to go ahead when left-back Johnny Hunt fizzed the ball into the feet of frontman Jimmy Spencer, received it back and thumped a shot goalwards, but had it beaten away by Bilboe.
With 24 minutes gone, goalkeeper Bobby Olejnik played a long goal kick forwards, which Spencer rose brilliantly to flick on to Sterling-James, but he could only drag his shot wide from 25 yards out.
Stags had two penalty shouts within the space of a minute on the half-hour mark, and both involved the impressive Alex MacDonald.
The first saw the former Oxford untied winger ping a superb ball over the top for Sterling-James, who brought it down over his shoulder, drove into the box and went down under Southern-Cooper's challenge, but the referee gave nothing.
Less than a minute later, Stags had what was arguably their biggest shout of the afternoon for a spot kick. MacDonald received the ball on the left and squared up the full-back before being brought down as he took it past him.
Everyone at the Roundwood Sports Complex was expecting a penalty, but the referee waved away the Stags' appeals. MacDonald received a yellow card for his protests.
Stags continued to get on the front foot and won a number of corners in the ten minutes before the break. MacDonald, this afternoon's corner taker, was swinging in dangerous deliveries aiming for skipper Zander Diamond, but he couldn't direct an effort on target.
The Millers' best chance of the first half landed to them in the final minute of the half when Clarke-Harris played a great through ball round the corner for Bray to run on to and he drove into the box but clipped a weak effort over the bar.
The final action of the half fell to the Stags when the ever-threatening MacDonald laid the ball off in the box for Spencer, who opened up his body and hit an effort over the bar via a deflection from 12 yards.
After Stags were denied two – arguably three – penalties in the first half, the home side were awarded a spot kick after only five minutes of the second period. Clarke-Harris flicked the ball on for Da Ball and he nicked it past the on-rushing Olejnik who caught the frontman's ankles.
Da Ball stepped up and sent the Austrian stopper the wrong way to open the scoring.
After scoring the first goal, Rotherham enjoyed a spell of pressure as they went in search of a second.
Stags conceded silly free-kicks on the left and the right, including a push from Hayden White on Bray, which resulted in a yellow card for the former Peterborough man.
Sterling-James looked dangerous every time he received the ball and he twisted the left-back one way and then the other on 59 minutes, but then rifled a low ball across the six-yard box and no-one could connect with it.
Six minutes later, Stags had the ball in the back of the net, but it was ruled out for offside. White played a defence-splitting ball through for the run of Alex MacDonald and he produced a great first-time finish, but it didn't count.
With 20 minutes remaining, Stags had their fourth penalty shout of the afternoon turned down. MacDonald pulled the ball back from the byline towards substitute Jordan Graham who dummied it for left-back Johnny Hunt, who hit a shot towards goal which was blocked by the arm of Onariase, but again, Stags were left frustrated.
As the game approached the final ten minutes, it became quite crappy with neither side able to create a clear opportunity.
MacDonald, who enjoyed an impressive afternoon, lofted the ball over the top for Sterling-James and he put his foot on it before laying it off for Graham, who had his shot blocked.
The opening Central League fixture of the season ultimately ended in defeat for the Stags, but a large number of the first team squad got much-needed minutes under their belts ahead of Saturday's Sky Bet League Two fixture against Grimsby Town.
STAGS' XI: Olejnik, White, Diamond ©, Digby, Hunt, Butcher (Ward 46), Thomas, Potter (Graham 62), MacDonald, Spencer, Sterling-James
SUBS NOT USED: Wilson, Wilder, N.Blake
ROTHERHAM XI: Bilboe, Atherton, Southern-Cooper, Onariase (Murr 81), Hinds, Wiles, Warren, Yates, Bray, Da Ball (James 72), Clarke-Harris
SUBS NOT USED: McMahon, Martin, Mamboti-Mvumbi