Stags’ under-18s recorded their first loss in the Youth Alliance Cup on Saturday, following a narrow 3-2 defeat against Fleetwood Town in the Group 4 clash.
In the midday kick off at Poolfoot Farm, the home side took the lead midway through the first half before a spectacular Jimmy Knowles volley levelled the score just before the break.
Stags took the lead in the second period, after Tyrese Sinclair rifled home on the hour mark, but an equaliser from the home side and another goal late in the game sealed all three points for Fleetwood.
John Dempster’s side once again showed excellent character to get back into the game after going a goal behind, but were left disappointed to have conceded two goals late on and leave the game without any points to show for their efforts.
Keaton Marrs was back in the Stags’ starting XI as he replaced Warren Squires in goal.
Just three minutes into the game - in blustery conditions at Poolfoot Farm – Sinclair latched onto a misplaced back-pass which he very nearly directed into the net, only to be denied by a brave block from James Hill, the Trawlermen’s skipper.
The opening stages of the game were proving to be a physical contest, with both teams clearly up for the battle. On 15 minutes, Fleetwood had the ball in the back of the net, however, the referee rightly disallowed the goal after he adjudged Marrs to have been impeded as he came to collect the ball.
Shayden Morris’ cross inadvertently found Anthony Williams in the 18-yard box, and the Fleetwood centre midfielder shifted the ball onto his left foot and drove his effort just wide of Marrs’ near post.
Moments later, Morris again collected the ball on the right-hand side, but this time he drove at the Stags’ backline with the ball at his feet. Cutting inside onto his left foot, Morris took his shot early from 25 yards out and bent a curling effort towards goal that nestled neatly in the far corner of the net to give the home side a 1-0 lead.
In the 44th minute, a chance fell to Knowles – the Mansfield under-18s top-scorer this season – and he was not about to waste the opportunity.
Sinclair burst free of the Fleetwood backline on the right-hand side and delivered an inch-perfect ball into the centre to pick-out Knowles, positioned between two centre-halves.
With the ball slightly holding up in the wind, Knowles took the volley first time with his back to goal, and on the turn, he showed magnificent technique to smash the ball into the corner of the net to level the score.
The second half began with the referee awarding a penalty to the home side after Jay Matete was adjudged to have been tripped inside the area.
Sam O’Halloron stepped up to take the kick, but the Trawlermen’s forward never quite got hold of his strike and he dragged his effort wide of Marrs’ right-hand post as the scoreline remained level.
Rhys Sarson – on as a half-time substitute – used his strength to get away from his marker, and with a clear sighting of goal he steered a left-footed attempt golawards, which the ‘keeper did well to get down quickly and save.
Moments later, a Fleetwood counter-attack began when Kian Makepeace played a neat through-ball into the path of Morris, who got a good connection on his strike as he drilled a first-time effort just inches wide of Marrs’ far post.
On the hour mark, Knowles collected the ball on the left-hand side, and from the byline he centred the ball to his teammate Sinclair. The Stags’ forward’s first touch was to shift the ball from under his feet before he lashed his effort into the top corner of the net, leaving the goalkeeper with no chance, and giving Stags a deserved 2-1 lead.
Three minutes later, Ryan Rydel ensured that Marrs remained alert in the Stags’ goal, as the Fleetwood left-back hammered a vicious left footed strike goalward from the edge of the area, drawing a splendid save from Marrs.
Moments later, Rydel again collected the ball on the edge of the Stags’ area, and he let fly with another spectacular effort. This time, his strike was placed to perfection as it bounced off the inside of the far post and into the back of the net for 2-2.
The two goal-scorers for the Stags once again linked up as Sinclair played a lovely diagonal ball into the path of Knowles, who saw his attempted volley well blocked by a covering defender.
A flurry of corners late on for the Stags could have ended with the ball in the back of the net, but the home side were defending resiliently. Then, in the 86th minute, Morris beat the offside trap, latching onto a through ball and kept his composure as he slotted the ball home to give the hosts a 3-2 lead late in the game.
It was not long before the referee blew his whistle to signal the end of the contest, resigning Mansfield to their first defeat in the League Cup this season.
Having picked up six points from their opening three games in Group 4, Stags play out their final game in the group against an in-form Rochdale side – in what could be a decisive game to see who qualifies for the knockout stages.
STAGS’ STARTING XI: Marrs, King (Langton 59’), Stokes (Rangel 74’), Cornell (Sarson 45’), Armsden, Chisholm (c), Sinclair, Saunders, Knowles, Tague, O’Sullivan.
SUBS NOT USED: Squires, Ingram.
FLEETWOOD STARTING XI: Pengelly, Goldsbrough, Rydel (Clayton 78’), Williams, Hill (c), Cooke, Morris, Mashigo, O’Halloron, Matete, Makepeace.
SUBS NOT USED: McCaragher, Bani, Raffie.