Academy manager John Dempster was full of praise for his first-year players as Mansfield Town under-18s earned a 1-1 draw against Rotherham United at Roundwood Sport Complex on Tuesday.
Free-scoring centre-back Aiden Walker equalised for the Stags after a swift counter-attack saw the home team take the lead.
Mansfield have won eight and drawn two of their 11 away league games this season and the impressive run continued against a strong Rotherham side and Dempster was pleased with the display.
“The boys performed really well, we had a few first years playing. Tyrese Sinclair started and got on the ball and looked really good. James Tague played and it was a really promising performance from them again.
“Nyle Blake was a constant threat down the right-hand side and we had two or three really good chances in the last ten minutes to win it, but it was a really good performance.
“The back-three of Cam Weston, Aiden Walker and Steve Johnson defended well and all in all, it was a good display.”
Rotherham were second in the league going into the game and have proved stiff opposition for Mansfield this season. The reverse fixture ended with a tight 1-1 draw, and Stags edged past The Millers 1-0 in the FA Youth Cup.
Dempster believes it's a credit to the under 18s they've been able to keep Rotherham at arm's length all season, saying: “I think if you said to me at the start of the season 'who is going to be up there?' Rotherham would be the first team that came to mind.
“It's credit to our boys that we've won game after game because Rotherham would have run us very close. We've been ruthless and stuck at our task and got the league done and dusted with early on,” he added.
Dempster cites the team’s only defeat of the season, away to Oldham Athletic, as a turning point in the campaign, which galvanised the squad and kick-started a run which saw Stags only lose twice - on penalties - in nineteen games in all competitions.
“We ask the boys to react after a defeat and they were devastated to lose to Oldham, since that game we've been unbeaten over ninety minutes, that was the turning point for me,” he added.
“Although it was seen as a negative on the day, but the boys have reacted the right way they've used that to motivate them from that game until now.”
The final game of the EFL Youth Alliance season sees Stags make the short trip to Highfield Sports Complex in Nottingham to face Notts County and to collect the North East Division trophy. Dempster believes The Magpies will be out to spoil the party.
“It's going to be a massive game,” he said. “I know their manager, Jon Goodman, very well and he'll be saying to their players 'let's spoil the party, let's make sure we give a good account of ourselves.'
“They'll be looking to get three points against the champions and the challenge to our players to go out on a high after a fantastic season.”