Stags’ reserves displayed a valiant performance against a strong Rotherham United lineup this afternoon, in a game that ended 3-1 to the Millers at the AESSEAL New York Stadium.
Keaton Ward expertly dispatched a penalty in the first-half to give the Stags a half-time lead, yet the hosts responded with second-half strikes from Kyle Vassell, Joe Newell and substitute Jacques Etia.
Midfielder Alex MacDonald started the Central League clash – his first outing since picking up an injury during our away clash against Cambridge United last year.
It was a lively start to proceedings, as both sides battled for the ball in midfield. Alistair Smith used his strength on several occasions to brush aside his opposite number, and was dictating play in the opening exchanges.
It was the Stags who created the first half-chance of the game, when a wicked delivery from the right-wing brushed the head of Aiden Walker, who sent it wide.
The Millers responded with some tricky footwork by Alex Bray, whose forceful cross was a matter of inches away from finding the head of the dangerous Vassell.
The Mansfield back-line had to remain alert, as moments later, Vassell saw his goal-bound strike deflected wide by a well-positioned Noah Stokes.
A superb touch by Nyle Blake close to the right-hand touchline put the forward into a position to cross, yet the attacker saw his delivery turned behind for a corner.
MacDonald and Smith linked up well in the Millers’ area, and the former found Tom Fielding in space, who put the best chance of the game so far wide of the mark.
At the other end, Sam Wilson was put to the test, getting a firm hand to Bray’s powerful drive.
The Stags pressed the Millers well in midfield, allowing Fielding to pounce on a loose ball, yet the forward’s heavy touch allowed the home back-line to regain possession.
The end-to-end nature of the clash continued, as Wilson once again made a fine stop – this time with his legs – to keep out Newell’s low strike.
Just minutes before half-time, referee Mark Thomas had little choice but to point to the penalty spot after a high boot from Zak Vyner caught Willem Tomlinson.
Ward stepped up, and subsequently rifled his spot-kick low and hard into the bottom-right corner, sending ‘keeper Laurence Bilboe the wrong way.
Mansfield kept up the pressure after the opening goal, as Blake flashed a low delivery across the face of goal.
Despite a positive first-half showing from the visitors, it was Rotherham who emerged as the stronger side in the second period.
The ball bounced kindly for Newell, whose controlled volley took a slight deflection to take his effort beyond Wilson.
Walker stayed on his toes as captain Ben Wiles advanced into the area, rushing out to take advantage of a loose touch to clear.
The Millers took the lead just over ten minutes after the restart. Vassell found space in the area after a neat pass by Newell, and finished well to the far corner.
The hosts were awarded a free-kick in a dangerous area after Vassell was brought down, which Wilson acrobatically turned behind from Newell’s effort.
Both sides struggled to control the game for the ten minutes that followed, with possession consistently changing hands.
The Millers then created two chances in quick succession. Walker was well-placed to clear Akeem Hinds’ strike off the line, before Wilson reacted superbly to tip Matt Palmer’s drive over the bar.
With the game in the closing ten minutes, the hosts doubled their lead. Some pinball in the area landed at the feet of Etia, who finished with aplomb to the near post.
Mansfield were not disheartened by going two goals down, and continued to create chances in the closing moments of the clash.
Fielding played through goalscorer Ward, who crossed low and hard into the area. Substitute Jimmy Knowles was just centimetres away from making a connection, and watched the ball roll wide.
Play opened up for Smith in midfield, yet he saw his long range effort go over the bar.
It was a spirited performance by a youthful Mansfield lineup, whose effort and endeavour was there for all to see.
STAGS’ XI: Wilson, King, Law, Tomlinson (Bircumshaw 46’), Walker, Stokes, MacDonald (O’Sullivan 46’), Smith, Blake (Knowles 79’), Ward, Fielding.
UNUSED SUBS: Marrs, Armsden.
ROTHERHAM XI: Bilboe, Southern-Cooper, Hinds, Beeden, Vyner (Hull 79’), Bray (Peel-Evans 85’), Wiles, Lewthwaite (Gratton 83’), Vassell (Etia 66’), Palmer, Newell (Carlton 73’).
UNUSED SUBS: N/A.