Mansfield Town under-18s recorded their fourth straight league victory to go top of the Youth Alliance table on Saturday, as they came from behind to beat Grimsby Town.
A wonderful first-half equaliser from Shamar Lawson and a goal early in the second period from Nathan Saunders was enough to see off last season’s champions, who took the lead through Lennon Stead.
The Stags had to deal with adverse weather conditions, as well as a late onslaught from the Mariners, but held out for the win.
The first chance of the game fell to the hosts on five minutes, when Saunders rose highest to head over from Lawson’s corner.
Grimsby were pressing high and it was nearly rewarded eight minutes in. Luis Adalard chased down a lost cause and blocked Maison Campbell’s clearance.
The ball fell kindly to Joe Starbuck but with the goal gaping, he could only fire wide from 25 yards out.
Ethan Hill was desperately unlucky not the open the scoring moments later. Great hold up play from Jimmy Knowles created space for the midfielder who drove through the heart of the pitch. He then unleashed a fierce drive from outside the box which flew just over the bar.
It was the visitors who took the lead after 16 minutes. The lively Adalard lost his marker in the middle and played Stead through on goal.
The midfielder composed himself before sliding the ball past Campbell to give the Mariners an early lead.
Mansfield responded strongly in their pursuit of a leveller. Both Knowles and Kyle Tomlin could only fire wide from good positions before Jamie Chisholm headed over from a corner.
The visitors, though, were always a threat on the counter-attack. Only the brilliance of Campbell denied Grimsby from extending their lead.
Firstly, the ‘keeper made a smart stop from Evan Khouri before making a stunning double save shortly after.
On the half hour mark, Ayodeji Owoeye found himself with time and space in the box but Campbell somehow managed to tip his goal bound effort onto the post. From the rebound, Adalard looked certain to score before he too was denied by the Stags’ stopper.
Those saves would prove a turning point in the contest, as Mansfield found the equaliser five minutes later.
Hill carried the ball through midfield and played the ball out wide to Lawson. The creative midfielder cut in and curled a beautiful effort into the top corner, giving Hugo Banks in the Grimsby goal no chance.
Both teams had opportunities to go into the half-time break ahead. Hill fired a free kick over and Ryan Ingram saw a low effort saved for Mansfield.
At the other end, Campbell denied Starbuck and a last-ditch challenge from Kian Sketchley prevented Adalard from scoring.
The Mariners started the second-half on the front foot, but it was the amber and blue who found the game’s third goal.
Chisholm met Lawson’s corner with a powerful header and his defensive partner Saunders directed the ball goalwards on 55 minutes.
The lively Khouri went close to equalising for Grimsby as he saw his low effort well saved by Campbell.
With around 15 minutes of the game left, both teams had to contend with a deluge of rain which made conditions very tough.
With little room for error, the Stags rallied to see the game out but were fortunate as Grimsby squandered a golden chance to equalise right at the death.
An inviting cross from Starbuck evaded everyone in the box, including Joseph Hope who, despite his best efforts, failed to get a connection on the ball.
The referee ended the match swiftly after as the under-18s won their fifth game in a row in all competitions.
After a difficult start to the season, the young guns have now soared to the top of the league standings and will go into next week’s Youth Alliance Cup tie at Rotherham full of confidence.
STAGS XI: Campbell, King (Cooper 80’), Sketchley, Tomlin, Saunders, Chisholm, Molyneaux, Hill (Caine 49’), Ingram, Knowles, Lawson.
UNUSED SUBS: Philips, Armsden, Adams.
GRIMSBY XI: Banks, Painter, Hope, Davey, Smaller, Idehen, Starbuck, Stead, Adalard, Khouri, Owoeye.
SUBS: Blakely, Boyes, Goundry, Walker, Derrick.