Mansfield Town’s curtain-raiser for the new Sky Bet League Two season ended in delight as they produced a stunning display to overcome Newport County 3-0 at One Call Stadium.
It was two halves of brilliance from the Stags as a first-half opener from Tyler Walker was followed up with a second-half brace from Otis Khan. David Flitcroft’s men dominated much of the proceedings and he will no doubt have been delighted to see his side earn the first victory of their league campaign.
Khan, who missed out on Stags’ final pre-season fixture against Rotherham United, was Flitcroft’s only change in place of Calum Butcher. Aside from this, it was an unchanged line-up for his side’s first competitive match of the 2018-19 season.
The starting 11 also included five players making their competitive debuts for the Stags. Matt Preston, Neal Bishop, Craig Davies, Khan and Walker the debutants – with the latter two making the most significant impact.
The visitors were forced under immediate pressure from the Stags with an attempt to find Davies in the middle, but Alex MacDonald’s ball fell straight into the arms of ‘keeper Joe Day.
In just the 4th minute, Newport began to grow into the game. Keanu Marsh-Brown tried to take matters into his own hands and open the scoring, shooting from 25 yards out, only to see it skid wide of Conrad Logan’s post.
Moments later, teammate Jamille Matt almost latched onto a fine cross from the right-flank but it evaded him and Logan was able to comfortably pluck the ball from the sky.
Hayden White then lost his footing allowing Marsh-Brown to collect the ball and drive forward, but Preston came across to deal with the danger relatively easily.
Padraig Amond was next up for the Exiles. He nodded the ball across the six-yard box looking for Scot Bennett, however Mal Benning was on hand to produce a vital touch to prevent what would have been a certain goal for Newport’s midfielder.
And Benning would have felt even prouder as Flitcroft’s side proceeded to take the lead no less than two minutes later.
CJ Hamilton had a shot blocked on the edge of the area before Davies picked up the pieces, laying-off strike-partner Walker, who saw his effort tipped round the post. Pinball football ensued from the following corner but Walker, that man again, was there to pounce on Krystian Pearce’s touch and open the scoring in the 12th minute.
Michael Flynn’s outfit instantly searched for a response through Amond but Logan, as he so often does, produced a fine save at his near post to protect his side’s lead.
Davies then wrestled with his man, finding a yard of space to unleash a rocket from the edge of the area that unfortunately hit the woodwork rather than the netting.
Urged on by the Stags’ faithful, fighting spirit was shown by the home side, epitomised by Benning as he wriggled away from several challenges to earn his side a free-kick.
On the half an hour mark, Matt found a pocket of space in-behind White – but his effort lacked any power to trouble Logan.
Marsh-Brown was then involved once more down the left-flank but his arrowed effort at goal, again, didn’t do enough to trouble the Stags’ shot-stopper.
The first-half seemed to be petering out for the home side, as they defended their one-goal lead with purpose, but not before Davies tried his luck with another curling effort, though, it sailed wide of Day’s far post.
Just moments before the half-time whistle, Walker had a great opportunity to double his and the Stags’ goal tally. Peeling away from Demetriou at the heart of Newport’s defence, Khan found the striker with an inch-perfect ball, but he hesitated just long enough for the centre-back to recover in the nick of time.
In the 52nd minute, shouts erupted from the stands as Benning collided with the Exiles’ skipper, Andrew Crofts, but any appeal of a spot-kick were waved away by referee Paul Marsden instantly.
Flitcroft’s men continued to pile on the pressure with two efforts from Khan having different conclusions. The first, a curling effort that failed to hit its intended target, but the midfielder made no mistake with the second.
After Bishop had found Walker with a delicately chipped ball over the top, the Stags’ goalscorer in turn found Khan who made no mistake from 11 yards – burying his header past Day whose dive was ultimately in vain on 56 minutes.
Just shy of ten minutes later, Khan made his mark once more. Doubling his tally for the afternoon with a sumptuous strike from the edge of Day’s box, which was met with rapturous celebrations from the home crowd.
Minutes later, Dan Butler’s cross from the right-hand side found Amond in the box but it was also met with a raised flag to indicate offside against from assistant Robert Atkin.
White then produced a stunning block to keep Mansfield’s three-nil lead intact on 78 minutes. Amond’s first touch allowed him to first round Preston, then Logan, before sliding in at the last second to deny the Exiles a consolation goal.
Mansfield’s performance levels never dipped below brilliant; even when substitute Josh Sheehan took aim at Logan’s goal in second-half stoppage time, he was on hand to push the ball away to safety yet again.
This victory for the Stags will no doubt give belief to fans and players alike as attentions will quickly switch to their next fixture – a trip to Huish Park to face Yeovil Town.
STAGS XI: Logan (GK), White, Preston, Pearce ©, Hamilton, Benning, Bishop, MacDonald, Khan (Butcher 74’), Davies (Graham 90’), Walker (Mellis 90+4’).
SUBS NOT USED: Olejnik (GK), Sweeney, Sterling-James, Gibbens.
NEWPORT COUNTY XI: Day (GK), Butler, Franks, Demetriou, Forbes, Bennett, Crofts © (Semenyo 59’), Dolan, Marsh-Brown (Cooper 72’), Matt (Sheehan 59’), Amond.
SUBS NOT USED: Townsend (GK), Pipe, Harris, Bakinson.
REFEREE: Paul Marsden.
ASSISTANTS: Robert Atkin & Anthony Moore.
FOURTH OFFICIAL: James Wilson.
ATTENDANCE: 4,423 (320 away)