Mansfield Town academy coach Mike Whitlow was pleased with the desire to win he saw from the Stags’ under-18s, as they recorded a dramatic 2-1 win in injury time against Chesterfield in the EFL Youth Alliance at St. George's Park Sheffield Graves.
The game was played on the 3G pitch at the FA's first state-of-the-art multi-pitch community football hub which plays host to various teams, both professional and amateur.
Late goals from strikers Nyle Blake and Rhys Sarson turned the game on its head, and saw Stags move 11 points clear of second-placed Notts County with two games in hand.
Whitlow, head coach of the under-21s, later reflected on what was a difficult first-half for the Stags.
“It was a bit scrappy for the first 15-20 minutes, there were two sets of honest lads working hard and trying to get a foothold in the game,” he said.
“It was a bit chaotic in midfield, and they had a physical presence up front which was a test for centre-backs Lewis Gibbens and Aiden Walker, but they handled it well.
“Chesterfield scored a really good goal on the break, to be fair, then the game was a typical derby with lots of hard work but not many chances.”
Academy coaches Richard Cooper and Simon Ward managed the team on the day, assisted by Whitlow, with the coaches deciding to switch the formation at half-time. Whitlow believes this was a key part of the second-half revival.
“Coops and Simon had a chat with the lads and changed the shape to a 4-2-4 with Riley O'Sullivan and Cam Weston coming on,” he added.
“We started the second-half on the front foot, getting wide and causing all sorts of problems.
“The last ten minutes Keaton Ward pushed further forward and caused them some problems; it was great to see that the lads’ endeavour and attitude to scoring a goal was there in abundance.
“I think it was a credit [to] John [Dempster], Coops and Simon that the biggest thing the lads have is their will to win, they stick together, and they really want to win.
“It was a scrappy first-half and with ten minutes to go you’re 1-0 down, and they're still creating chances and still trying to score a goal, which was really pleasing.
“Simon and Coops deserve massive credit as they changed the shape, went with more width and created some opportunities. Sometimes it takes that little bit of knowledge to give the lads the opportunity to create more chances.”
Stags’ under-18s are next in action against Bradford City on Tuesday 24 April, and a win would practically eliminate any outside chance Notts County have of winning the league.
Rotherham United are level on points with the Magpies, but have played three games less, and are the only challengers to Mansfield’s bid to retain the EFL Youth Alliance North East Division title.