An inspired performance from Keaton Ward catapulted Mansfield Town to a fantastic 3-0 victory against Morecambe in the Central League this afternoon.
Creative midfielder Ward scored a sublime hat-trick as a young Stags’ side dispatched Morecambe with sheer quality.
The first goal on the 25 minute mark when the superb Iyrwah Gooden carried the ball from halfway before feeding it to forward Nyle Blake, who in turn laid it off for Ward to stroke into the bottom corner.
The second involved Gooden and Ward again as the frontman held it up on the edge of the box for the on-rushing Ward to lift over the Morecambe ‘keeper.
Then, just a few minutes later, Ward completed his hat-trick from the penalty spot after being fouled just inside the area.
Stags named a young side for the clash, with only two of the starting XI older than 18.
Wideman Jason Law and frontman Jordan Graham were named in the line-up, however the rest of the team was made up from John Dempster’s table-topping under 18s’ group.
Morecambe, meanwhile, fielded a side mixed with youth and experience, with former Stags’ striker Vadaine Oliver leading the line.
The first effort of the game fell to the visitors in the second minute. Oliver linked up well with wideman Luke Jordan before the Shrimps worked the ball inside to forward Adam Campbell, who flashed a shot wide from 25 yards.
Stags were next to threaten when they won a throw on the right-hand side. Centre-halves Lewis Gibbens and Aiden Walker made their way into the Shrimps’ box and frontman Nyle Blake hurled a throw into the danger zone. Walker won the first flick but as the ball fell loose in the area, a Morecambe defender hacked it clear.
Former Notts County man Adam Campbell was looking to make room for a shot at every opportunity and in the eighth minute, the Morecambe forward shifted it onto his right foot and curled a shot over from 25 yards.
The Shrimps were handed an opportunity to take the lead in the 13th minute and they almost did just that. Wideman Jason Law was penalised for tugging back Carlos Mendez-Gomes 25 yards from goal and forward Reece Deakin took the resulting set piece and curled it against the post.
The loose ball fell to Vadaine Oliver but he somehow put it wide from less than four yards out.
Just four minutes later, the away side had a free-kick in an almost identical position. It was again taken by Deakin, but he could only curl it straight down the throat of goalkeeper Xavier Sundby on this particular occasion.
The first goal came with 25 minutes on the clock and it was classy midfielder Keaton Ward who broke the deadlock. Frontman Iyrwah Gooden showed brilliant skill to escape the attentions of Vadaine Oliver on halfway before twisting and turning past two more Shrimps’ players en route to the edge of the box.
Confronted with a wall of red bodies, Gooden squared it to Nyle Blake who cushioned it first time into the path of Ward and he cut inside before firing the ball into the bottom corner from 12 yards out.
Going behind seemed to spring the away side into life as they enjoyed a five-minute spell of pressure, which Stags dealt with comfortably without a serious threat on their goal.
In the 32nd minute, Stags could, and arguably should, have doubled their lead. Law lofted a nice ball down the left-hand side and the lively Gooden latched onto it, heading it beyond Lund before cutting in towards goal and having a low effort saved by the legs of Morecambe ‘keeper Dan Nizic.
Two minutes later, Morecambe had a chance to get back on level terms as Campbell shot from inside the box, but Sundby incredibly turned it around the post at full stretch.
Next, it was Vadaine Oliver’s turn to try his luck from distance as he battled to win the ball back before hitting a thunderous effort from 35 yards, which Sundby beat away for a corner.
In the 42nd minute, the tricky Carlos Mendez-Gomes fired a shot from 25 yards which took a huge deflection off Gibbens and Sundby scrambled across his goal to palm it behind for a corner.
Stags made a change at the break as they replaced forward Nyle Blake with midfielder Cameron Healey.
The first five minutes of the second period passed without any chances of note, but there were three cautions.
In the 49th minute, Stags’ Harry Bircumshaw reacted to a foul by Adam Campbell which resulted in the pair entering the referee’s notebook, before Shrimps’ centre-half Max Muller received a yellow card for a foul near halfway.
Goalkeeper Xavier Sundby showed his shot-stopping credentials in the 54th minute when he got a strong hand to a powerful volley from Morecambe left-back Patrick Brough.
Three minutes later, Oliver picked the ball up 30 yards from goal and spread it wide to Jordan before making his way into the box to get on the end of a cross, but his header was comfortably saved by Sundby.
With 61 minutes on the clock, Iyrwah Gooden picked the ball up on the left-hand side and was fouled by Luke Jordan.
Keaton Ward took the resulting free-kick and it was headed down by centre-half Aiden Walker for frontman Jordan Graham, but his volley was held by Nizic between the Morecambe sticks.
Just over 15 minutes elapsed before Stags had a brilliant second. The impressive Gooden held the ball up with maturity on the edge of the box before slotting a lovely ball through to Ward, who lifted it over Nizic from 16 yards to double the home side’s advantage.
Stags were displaying a fine second half performance against the more experienced Shrimps and they were handed the opportunity to make the scoreline further emphatic just minutes later.
The lively Gooden drove through the middle of the pitch before being scythed down by Hedley, but the ball ran through to Ward who carried it into the box before being hauled down by Mitchell Lund.
Referee Ravel Cheosiaua pointed to the spot and Ward picked himself up to slam the penalty home and complete a superb hat-trick.
The remaining ten minutes involved Stags dealing with a bombardment of crosses into the box which the back three of Aiden Walker, Lewis Gibbens and Henri Wilder dealt with by displaying a maturity beyond their years.
As the clock ticked to 90 the referee called time on a superb Central League victory for Mansfield Town.
STAGS’ XI: Sundby, Weston, Wilder ©, Bircumshaw, Gibbens, Walker, Law (Jackson 60’), Ward, Graham, Gooden (Dumbleton 79’), Blake (Healey 46’)
SUBS NOT USED: Wilson, Baldwin
MORECAMBE XI: Nizic, Lund, Brough, Brownsword, Muller, Hedley ©, Jordan, Mendez-Gomes, Oliver, Campbell, Deakin
SUBS NOT USED: Jumeau, Hawley, Dutton-Kay, Fletcher
REFEREE: Ravel Cheosiaua