Mansfield Town ended the 2022/23 League Two campaign on a winning note as Riley Harbottle and James Gale struck the Stags to a well-deserved 2-0 victory over Colchester United in Essex.
Harbottle put Mansfield ahead on the stroke of half-time after rising inside the box to thump home Davis Keillor-Dunn’s cross with a powerful header.
Gale added a second for Nigel Clough’s men after cooly converting a chance in the seventh minute of stoppage time at the end of the first half.
Victory for Mansfield ends the season with the yellows in eight place.
Manager Nigel Clough named one change to the starting XI as top scorer Will Swan replaced Rhys Oates in attack. The Stags were also boosted pre-match by the return from injury of midfielder Anthony Hartigan, who made the bench.
Stags started brightly and crafted their first opening within two minutes when Callum Johnson’s right-sided cross found Stephen Quinn lurking inside the box, but the Irishman’s heavy touch saw the ball out for a goal kick.
The hosts demonstrated their own threat in the early stages when Noah Chilvers teed up Alex Newby just outside the box on seven minutes. The midfielder touched the ball forward a pace before curling a right-footed effort narrowly beyond the top right corner of Mansfield’s goal.
Stags experienced much possession early on but it was Colchester who next went close. Right back Jayden Fevrier found space to drive down the right before cutting inside and blasting an effort wide from outside the box.
Mansfield remained patient and found a way through Colchester on 22 minutes. Lucas Akins smartly mopped up a loose ball in midfield, drove at the hosts’ defence and slipped it to Keillor-Dunn inside the box. The forward held the ball up, shifted it onto his right and drilled a low shot into the clutches of Tom Smith.
Ten minutes later Stags created several openings.
First, Quinn’s left-sided corner dropped favourably inside the box for Kilgour, whose half-volley was agonisingly blocked at close range.
A minute later Mansfield were in again.
Quinn worked into the left side of the box well before playing a square pass to Hiram Boateng, who had found space at the back post. Boateng’s half-volley into the ground zipped goalwards to force Smith into an important parry. And then, Keillor-Dunn’s subsequent corner was glanced inches wide by Kilgour, who had risen well inside the box.
Mansfield continued to wear down the Colchester defence and won a free-kick within the attacking half during the first minute of first-half injury time. Keillor-Dunn’s looping delivery was met by Riley Harbottle inside the box who arrowed a header beyond Smith to clinch the lead at the break.
Stags began the second half unchanged and continued to work possession to try and create openings. That opening almost came on 54 minutes after Callum Johnson worked down the right to find Boateng outside the box but the midfielder flicked the ball up and volleyed it narrowly wide of the bottom right corner.
Two minutes later Mansfield came even closer. Keillor-Dunn received the ball just outside the box, turned and floated a dipping effort against the crossbar with his right instep.
Colchester almost found a goal themselves on 58 minutes when John Akinde found space to lash a strike goalwards from inside the box which clipped the top of the crossbar.
A lull in goalmouth action ensued in the following period as both sides jostled for possession in midfield.
Stags crafted their next big opportunity on 87 minutes when Louis Reed threaded an excellent pass in behind to intercept Will Swan’s run. The forward worked his way into the area and agonisingly steered an effort into the side-netting from a tight angle.
Pym and Kilgour combined heroically to keep Mansfield’s lead intact on 93 minutes. An initial curling effort from inside the box was impressively palmed away by Pym only to the feet of Sears, whose follow-up effort was blocked on the line by Kilgour.
Mansfield doubled their lead in the seventh minute of added time through substitute James Gale. The young forward received the ball inside the Colchester box and finished composedly into the bottom left corner of Smith’s goal.
Stags pushed for further goals in the closing stages but to no avail as Mansfield ended the season in eighth place.
COLCHESTER: Smith, Greenidge, Chambers, Dallison, Chilvers, Read (Kelleher, 83’), Newby (Jay, 66’), Akinde (Hopper, 66’), Hall (Kazeem, 66’), Miranda (Skuse, 74’), Fevrier (Sears, 83’)
UNUSED SUB: Collins
STAGS: Pym, Harbottle, Kilgour, Perch (Bowery, 83’), Johnson, Reed (Hartigan, 92’), Boateng (Oates, 66’), Quinn (Quinn, 83’), Keillor-Dunn (Maris, 66’), Akins, Swan (Gale, 92’)
UNUSED SUB: Flinders
REFEREE: Benjamin Speedie
ATTENDANCE: 6,910 (1,350 Stags’ supporters)