Mansfield Town under-18s’ five-game winning streak came to an end on Saturday, after a narrow 3-2 defeat to Rotherham United at Roundwood Sports Complex in the Youth Alliance Cup.
Two goals from Jerome Greaves and a strike from Jacob Gratton saw the Stags 3-1 down at half time, despite briefly equalising through Ethan Hill.
Even after a valiant second-half display, the young guns were beaten, as Shamar Lawson’s injury-time penalty came too late to mount a comeback.
The visitors started brightly and could have taken the lead inside the first minute. Jamie Chisholm lofted a perfect cross-field pass into the path of Rio Molyneaux. The winger powered his way down the flank and cut the ball back to Ryan Ingram, who saw his shot blocked.
On six minutes, forward Jimmy Knowles was denied by a stunning save from Charlie Farrar. Knowles dropped his shoulder and skipped past Jake Hill before firing a low effort which Farrar somehow managed to beat away for a corner.
Unfortunately, that would be his last act of the contest as he sustained an injury whilst making the save.
After the stoppage, it was the Millers who gained a foothold in the game and they went close to scoring through Ethan Kenny. Midfielder Gratton teed up Kenny, who was denied by Maison Campbell.
The hosts took the lead on 17 minutes through Greaves. The Millers worked a short corner and the striker directed Luke Hodgkinson’s centre into the net.
Rotherham took control from then and were winning all of the second balls, with goalscorer Greaves linking the play. They should have extended their lead further when Harrison Beeden headed over from another corner.
The Stags responded with a chance of their own on the half-hour-mark. Once more, Molyneaux was the creator as he breezed past Farrar. Unfortunately, his cross was too far in front of Ingram who was lurking at the back post.
Shortly after, Kenny was denied by Campbell before a crucial interception from Kian Sketchley prevented Gratton from scoring for Rotherham.
From the resulting corner, Hill chased his own flick-on and ran the full length of the pitch before coolly slotting the ball under Elliot Ellis to equalise.
Parity was short lived, though, as the hosts retook the lead through the impressive Greaves. The striker found himself with time and space to bend the ball in from 20 yards on 35 minutes.
Six minutes later, the Millers put the game beyond their opponents and this time it was through the brilliance of Gratton. After beating two men, he curled the ball into the top corner to give Rotherham a two-goal cushion.
The young guns came out fighting in the second-half as they looked to find a way back into the game. Ingram headed over from Hill’s freekick and Lawson fired wide for the Stags.
On 58 minutes, Lawson again tried his luck from 25 yards, but he didn’t get enough dip on his shot as it flew over the crossbar.
The lively Molyneaux was again causing problems for Smith as he manoeuvred away from him and crossed towards the back post, but it zipped past substitute Nathan Caine and away to safety.
The Millers were always a threat on the counterattack and went close through Robbie Gateshill. The striker initially did well, chasing down a lost cause and working his way into a good position but he could only hit the side-netting with his shot.
The amber and blue rallied towards the end of the contest as Knowles tried to get his team back into the game. The striker struck his effort over the bar after Lawson had slipped him in.
He then won his team a penalty deep into injury-time when he was fouled by Smith. Lawson planted the ball on the spot and emphatically sent the Rotherham ‘keeper the wrong way to give his side a glimmer of hope.
Unfortunately, the goal would only prove to be a consolation as Mansfield fell to defeat.
The table-topping Stags will look to return to winning ways when they host Bradford City at the RH Academy on Saturday 12 October (11am kick-off).