Mansfield Town under-18s fell to a late defeat against league leaders Doncaster Rovers at a windy RH Academy on Saturday.
The game burst into life after half an hour as Jack Watson gave the visitors the lead before Ryan Ingram equalised four minutes later.
It stayed level until one minute from time, when Junior Smith stole all three points for Rovers. Debutant Freddie Pitts almost snatched a point for Mansfield right at the death, but it was not to be for the unfortunate Stags.
The wind certainly played its part in a scrappy affair, as both teams struggled to stamp their authority on the contest.
The difficult conditions were evident in the tenth minute, when Will McGowan’s corner sailed over everybody in the box.
Rovers had started the brighter of the two sides and were unlucky not to open the scoring inside the first 15 minutes. From a free-kick, Lirak Hasani’s effort cannoned back off the crossbar, before the rebound was headed straight into the arms of Maison Campbell by Nathan Dimou.
Down the other end, the amber and blue went close when Kyle Tomlin threaded the ball through a crowd of bodies to Joshua Scott. Unfortunately, the striker couldn’t get enough on it as he stretched to connect.
Owan Derrett’s weaving run was almost rewarded with the opening goal moments later. The midfielder glided into the box before firing low into the side netting.
Rovers were pressing and went close again through Watson. The striker showed great strength to shrug off the challenge of Ben Bayliss before curling an effort agonisingly wide, before McGowan shot wide from a free-kick.
The visitors were rewarded for their pressure on the half hour mark. Derrett slipped the ball through to Watson, who beat the offside trap before placing the ball past Campbell to open the scoring.
The Stags weren’t behind for long though, as Ingram equalised four minutes later. Defender Nathan Saunders found Fisher with an incisive pass, before the midfielder fed Ingram who composed himself and poked the ball under Ben Bottomley.
Not content with going in level at the break, the young guns went searching for another. Goal-scorer Ingram won the ball back in the defensive-third and handed possession to Scott. The striker whipped in an inviting cross which was glanced wide by Nathan Caine.
Ingram was everywhere and saved his side from going behind when he made a timely goal-line clearance to deny Watson his second of the game.
The second half was as even as the first, with both teams pressing for the crucial third goal of the game.
Mansfield were close to finding it when Fisher was denied by a timely block from Ben Blythe. The resulting corner was eventually cleared after pinball in the opposition box.
Stags' captain Tomlin very nearly repeated his FA Youth Cup heroics, when he took aim from 40 yards. The midfielder saw the ‘keeper off his line and had him scrambling with some assist from the wind. Unluckily for Tomlin, the ball landed on the roof of the net, much to the relief of Bottomley in the Rovers' goal.
The Stags were still pressing with 20 minutes remaining. Scott’s drive was blocked by Blythe for a corner and from the resulting set-piece, Ethan Hill volleyed wide from 20 yards.
With 15 minutes to go, substitute Marius Conradi squandered a glorious chance for Doncaster. The substitute found himself in space after good hold-up play by Watson, but his weak effort was comfortably saved by Campbell.
The game took a dramatic twist in the very last minute, as the amber and blue were hit with a late sucker punch. Tomlin’s drive was fumbled by Bottomley and Scott pounced on the rebound. The ‘keeper redeemed himself as he raced out to deny the forward. From the resulting counter-attack, Rover stole all three points.
Smith was fed by his strike partner Watson and he rounded Campbell before cooly slotting home.
The amber and blue refused to give in and were agonisingly close to an injury time equaliser. From Larell King’s long throw, Scott’s header looped over the crossbar.
They came close again seconds later. From another long throw, debutant Pitts' half-volley was hooked off the line by a Rovers defender, as the away team held out for victory.
STAGS XI: Campbell, King, Saunders, Bayliss, Adams (Pitts 70’), Tomlin, Hill, Fisher, Caine (Molyneaux 84’), Ingram, Scott.
UNUSED SUBS: Mason, Deakin, Davis.
DONCASTER ROVERS XI: Bottomley, Walker, Cunningham, Hasani, Dimou, Blythe, Ravenhill, Derrett, Watson, McGowan, Smith.
SUBS: Clemitson, Johnson, Conradi, Bell, Nelson.