Mansfield Town bowed out of the Carabao Cup following a spirited performance against West Brom, narrowly losing 2-1 at The Hawthorns.
Jonathan Leko gave his side a first-half lead after some fine work by the lively Oliver Burke going into the break. And the second-half provided plenty of cliché cup drama.
Neal Bishop levelled up the scores with a fine effort before seeing his side fall behind once more; this time courtesy of Kyle Edwards. The Stags piled on the pressure in search of a second equaliser, but it astonishingly never appeared despite some well-worked chances.
The Stags’ boss made just two changes from the side that drew 1-1 with Macclesfield Town three days prior to Tuesday evening’s clash. Both Lewis Gibbens and Alex MacDonald had to settle for a place on the bench as they were replaced by Will Atkinson and Calum Butcher, respectively.
Under the floodlights in Birmingham, it was Conor Townsend who had the game’s first effort with only a minute on the clock. Slipped in-behind by teammate Jonathan Leko, the winger’s attempt at goal sailed over.
Craig Davies quickly ended the Stags’ first attack of the evening with a rasping half-volley that flashed wide of Boaz Myhill’s far-post not long thereafter.
West Brom came back once more with live-wire Burke, as the striker tried to slot home from a tight angle – only finding the side netting.
Conor Townsend delivered the first corner of the evening and Burke met it through a crowd of bodies, only to head over from five yards.
But Mansfield found themselves with more defending to do. Ryan Sweeney was called into action for the first time as he snuffed out a through -ball that was on its way to finding Leko down the middle.
CJ Hamilton then beat Tyrone Mears to find a back-post cross, which narrowly missed the head of Tyler Walker.
And on 18 minutes, the Mansfield players were wondering how they hadn’t taken the lead.
After Otis Khan had latched onto a loose pass by Craig Dawson, the midfielder teed up Walker to cross. It cannoned against the West Brom centre-back, was palmed away astonishingly by Myhill before Davies fired the rebound against Dawson once more.
The visitors tried their luck from a set-piece four minutes later. Khan stepped up to curl an effort towards goal but Myhill read the midfielder’s intentions and shuffled across to claim.
Burke, involved once more, got the better of Krystian Pearce with a surging run into the penalty area, but fortunately for Mansfield it travelled all the way through to Hamilton who was able to tidy up effectively; winning a goal-kick for his side.
However, Mansfield were not so lucky on 26 minutes. Burke was played in-behind with precision and as Sweeney came to meet him, a well-timed ball across the 18-yard-box found Leko who was the easy job of tapping home.
The Stags' players and fans alike were clearly frustrated, having spurned some clear-cut chances earlier on.
And they immediately looked to get on the front foot through Will Atkinson; however, his cross did not find anyone inside the box.
On the half-an-hour mark, there was another scare for the Stags. Burke found himself one-on-one with Bobby Olejnik whereby our shot-stopper emerged victorious.
Closing in on half-time it was Mansfield who boasted the better of the late first-half opportunities.
Atkinson looked to combine with Walker but the right wing-back was adjudged to have been offside. Atkinson looked to combine with Walker but was offside, before Hamilton suffered the same fate from assistant referee, Robert Merchant.
In the last action of the first period, Calum Butcher was deemed to have committed a foul – but Townsend’s subsequent free-kick was off-target.
As the referee signalled for the commencement of the second-half, West Brom began to pile on the pressure. Edwards beat the Stags’ offside trap, but was denied by a fine save by Olejnik.
Then, moments later, the shot-stopper tipped the resulting corner over the bar to yet again relieve his side of any pressure.
But West Brom didn’t hold back, as this time it was Leko who was denied by a smart Olejnik save.
David Flitcroft recognised the relentless pressure from the Baggies, and duly responded with a substitution that almost paid immediate dividends. Danny Rose entered the fray in place of Davies, and with his second touch, he struck Myhill’s post from 24-yards out.
West Brom looked in search of their second goal of the evening, but Neal Bishop had other ideas.
On 70 minutes, Hamilton charged down the left-flank, cutting a pinpoint ball back across to Bishop who struck a beautiful side-footed effort past Myhill. The host’s goalkeeper dived, outstretched to his right-hand side, but could do nothing to stop the equalising goal.
Three minutes later and Rose was involved again. After Benning had drawn a clever foul, Khan’s wicked delivery was punched clear by Myhill for the Mansfield striker to volley over.
Yet, after the Stags looked to be growing in stature, they found themselves behind once more in the 75th minute. Edwards picked up the ball 16 yards from Olejnik’s goal, and curled a fine effort into the top, far corner – his first for the Baggies.
Rose then won a free-kick 30 yards out, but MacDonald’s attempt at goal never troubled Myhill.
Sam Field ran all of 50 yards before arrowing his shot off-target in the 85th minute, as time was of the essence for Mansfield.
Suddenly, there seemed to be a lifeline for the visiting side when Rose brought down a ball over the top with expert composure. Unfortunately his effort struck the legs of Myhill from close range and the chance went begging.
And Flitcroft’s final substitution, Jordan Graham, also spurned a great opportunity to make it two apiece, on 89 minutes. MacDonald’s wayward volley fell to the feet of the academy striker eight yards out, but he hacked at his chance and saw it fall wide of the target.
MacDonald looped a ball into the area in the third minute of added time to force a corner. The subsequent moments were drama-filled, to say the least, as first Olejnik had an effort blocked, before Pearce then somehow struck the ball wide from close range.
On another night, the Stags’ squad may have been heading home victorious, but at the very least the players can hold their heads high.
Mansfield Town are next in action at One Call Stadium this Saturday, where they face Carlisle in a Sky Bet League Two face-off.
WEST BROM XI: Myhill (GK), Mears, Townsend, Burke, Barry ©, Leko (Gayle 77’), Edwards (Barnes 77’), Adarabioyo, Dawson (Howkins 72’), Field, Harper.
SUBS NOT USED: Bond (GK), Livermore, Brunt, Rogers.
STAGS' XI: Olejnik (GK), Benning (Graham 85’), Pearce ©, Bishop, Davies (Rose 64’), Khan, Atkinson, Butcher (MacDonald 53’), Sweeney, Walker, Hamilton.
SUBS NOT USED: Logan (GK), Mellis, Sterling-James, Gibbens.
REFEREE: Stephen Martin.
ASSISTANTS: Jonathan Hunt & Robert Merchant.
FOURTH OFFICIAL: Graham Salisbury.