Stags' under-18s showcased an excellent team performance as they beat Huddersfield Town under-18s 1-0 at The RH Academy on Saturday afternoon.
Jimmy Knowles gave Stags an early lead, and his strike proved to be the decisive goal despite a hatful of chances being created by the home side.
Following Stags’ heroics in their recent 3-2 comeback against Grimsby, Warren Squires replaced Keaton Marrs in the Mansfield goal, whilst first league starts were handed to Kian Sketchley at the back and Joao Rangel up front, meaning Lewis Davis and Nathan Saunders settled for a place on the Stags’ bench.
Matty Langton came in to replace Jack Cornell - the only other change to the Mansfield starting XI.
Just two minutes into the game - with the Autumn sun beating down at The RH Academy - Stags grabbed themselves an early lead.
James Tague, the Stags’ skipper, lined up a free-kick out on the left-hand side, 10 yards inside the opponent’s half of the field. His left footed out-swinger to the back post found the towering header of Jamie Chisholm, who in turn found Knowles unmarked in the centre of the goal.
This season’s academy top scorer – with nine goals to his name - was not about to pass up such a glorious early opportunity, and he smashed the ball first time past the goalkeeper to give Stags a 1-0 lead.
Soon after, Jordan Armsden found himself in an attacking position on the edge of the opponent’s area, and after a neat turn, the Stags’ centre-half struck the ball cleanly but couldn’t keep his effort down as it rose over the crossbar.
Sam Shorrock-Peplon lined up a free-kick for the visitors, just right of centre. The Huddersfield left-back whipped his effort up and over the Stags’ wall but it sailed just inches wide of the post and into the side netting.
With Langton providing a shield in front of the Stags’ defensive line, as he made a number of timely interceptions, and with Chisholm, Armsden and debutant Sketchley taking care of anything aerially, the away side were having difficulty finding a way past the resilient Stags’ defence.
On 23 minutes, Langton played an inch-perfect cross-field ball over the top, which Sinclair met first time with a beautiful side-footed volley that the ‘keeper managed to acrobatically turn behind for a corner.
Sinclair whipped the resulting corner into the box, and Armsden again had a chance to open his account for the season, but his effort went the wrong side of the ‘keeper’s far post.
Moments later, goalscorer Knowles received the ball inside the penalty area and with a neat feint that deceived most, he struck the ball low aiming for the bottom corner, but a much-needed defensive block prevented the Stags’ number nine doubling his tally for the afternoon.
Just short of the half-hour mark, Shorrock-Peplon lined up another free-kick, in almost the exact same position as his last. This time his effort was on target, and it took an excellent save from Squires, who managed to tip the ball onto his post and away to safety.
Sinclair was beginning to have his own personal duel with the Terriers’ goalkeeper, as he fired an effort towards goal from the right hand side of the area – after a excellent pick-out from Sketchley – but the goalie again got a strong hand to the ball and turned it behind.
The second half began, as the first had ended - Stags on-top and creating plenty of opportunities. Firstly, Knowles tested Bellagami in the Huddersfield goal when his attempt was well saved after a tricky run into the area.
Then, after some indecision from Bellagami, Rangel managed to dispossess the Huddersfield ‘keeper and pick out Knowles in the centre. With defenders on the line, Knowles calmly placed his effort towards the bottom left corner but was left in disbelief as the ball bounced off the inside of the post and back into play.
Then, following an unconvincing punch from the Huddersfield ‘keeper, Sinclair smashed a first-time volley at goal, but his deflected effort once again came crashing back off the upright.
Just minutes later, Sinclair found himself with another sight of goal as he cut inside onto his right foot, and from the edge of the area he let go with another thunderous effort, but again, the keeper was able to get across his line and claw the effort away.
With 68 minutes gone, same scenario; same outcome. Sinclair cut inside from the left onto his favoured right foot and hammered another effort towards goal, only to be again denied by Bellagami in The Terriers’ goal.
The final 20 minutes of the game saw the Stags go about their work in a professional manner, in what was a terrific team performance from John Dempster’s side, and on another day, the scoreline could have been a much greater margin.
Before the referee blew the final whistle, there was still time left for Bellagami to deny Sinclair for a final time, as Chisholm’s flick from a King throw found the forward, whose header was well saved.
The game was brought to a close, and Stags took a well-earned three points from a game in which they dominated from start to finish.
STAGS’ XI: Squires, King, Sketchley, Langton, Armsden, Chisholm, Sinclair (Saunders 87’), Tague (c) (Ingram 74’), Knowles (Sarson 63’), Rangel, O’Sullivan.
SUBS NOT USED: Marrs, Stokes.
HUDDERSFIELD XI: Bellagami, Diaby, Shorrock-Peplon (Ijiwole 38’), Meeson, Olagunju (Mayanona 60’), Bamford, Mintus, Bell (Anavakin 60’), Harratt, Austerfield, Headley.
SUBS NOT USED: Alfieri, Thompson, Thomas, Mills.