Mansfield Town’s under-19s capped off a strong campaign with a thrilling 6-4 win over Hartlepool United in the Youth Alliance League at RH Academy on Saturday.
Left-back Louis Bonser regained the captain’s armband for the third league game in a row with Taylor Anderson starting at right-back.
Ever-present midfielders Charlie Carter (defensive), Finn Flanagan (box-to-box) and Jakub Kruszynski (attack-minded) started the final game of the Youth Alliance League season following a consistent campaign from the trio, who often feature together in the engine room.
Forward McKeal Abdullah led the line as he looked to add to his monumental goal tally for the 2022/23 campaign.
The visitors, Hartlepool United, broke the deadlock on 16 minutes in a game which provided several chances for both sides in the opening exchanges. After having his initial effort on Theo Avery’s goal blocked, midfielder Max Storey prodded home to give his side the lead from close range.
Stags’ versatile attacker Ronnie Kokkinos came close to restoring parity for the hosts on 22 minutes after hammering a venomous effort towards goal from the edge of the area but his shot landed the wrong side of ‘keeper Jake Wilkinson’s goal.
Mansfield were rewarded for their hard work after going behind as Flanagan put his side level on 24 minutes. After latching onto the end of a dangerous low cross into the area, the energetic midfielder made no mistake in front of goal as he rolled the ball into the back of the net.
In-form frontman McKeal Abdullah had two opportunities to give his side the lead within three minutes. The 17-year-old's first chance of the contest was a shot that was saved from the edge of the box before the lively leading marksman went close with his second opportunity following a cross from Taylor Anderson which the attacker came within inches of making a vital connection with.
Abdullah’s third effort, moments later, was a clinical one. A neatly placed pass inside the box from Kokkinos found the striker who lashed an effort towards goal. Hartlepool shot-stopper Wilkinson could only spill the powerful strike as far as the chest of a visiting defender and the ball ended up in the visiting net. Despite being credited as an own goal, Abdullah was typically the architect as Stags took the lead.
Mansfield had two great chances to extend the advantage prior to half-time as both players included in the build-up of the previous goal, Kokkinos and Abdullah, couldn't make the most of opportunities to fire a third before the break.
After an action-packed first-half at RH Academy, the young Stags lead at the interval.
To Mansfield's frustration, it was the visitors who struck next in the second-half. Max Storey drew his side level with an effort that snuck into the bottom corner beyond Theo Avery.
The encounter, which had been non-stop from the outset, entered a lull until the last 20 minutes.
It was Sam Collins’ side who were next to find the back of the net after making their first alteration of the game six minutes prior. Creative midfielder Curtis Davies was replaced by under-16s’ attacker Che Whitman-Brown. A brilliant cross from full-back Bonser was met by Abdullah who tapped home to make it 3-2 to the hosts.
Following the goal, centre-back Darien Wauchope and Kokkinos were replaced by centre-back Daragh Walsh and attacker Alfie King, respectively.
Only five minutes after the last strike, Mansfield’s under-19s had a two goal cushion. After a ball was lifted into the visitors’ area, Hartlepool’s defence were unable to clear the danger leading to Kruszynski rifling home Stags’ fourth of the game.
The attack-minded midfielder came so close to doubling his tally for the match on 78 minutes as he hammered an effort towards the top corner from the edge of the box but his shot crashed against the crossbar.
With ten minutes remaining on the clock, the hosts scored a fifth. A well worked team goal saw some tidy interlinking play between Kruszynski and Bonser before a dangerous low cross into the box was stabbed home beyond a helpless Jake Wilkinson by substitute Alfie King.
As the game looked to be beyond doubt for Stags, the visitors managed to pull a goal back on 83 minutes as Storey completed his hat-trick to make it 5-3.
Spectators at RH Academy were treated to another goal only two minutes later. Luckily for Sam Collins and his side it was the hosts who provided a sixth of the day. The lively Jakub Kruszynski was involved once again, this time putting the ball on a plate for Abdullah who tapped in his second of the match to continue his deadly form in front of goal.
The Stags made their final switch of the game, and the season, on 87 minutes as pacey forward Noah Aynsley-Johnson replaced Charlie Carter.
Hartlepool managed to pull another goal back on 90 minutes but it wasn’t enough for the Pools as Mansfield emerged as 6-4 winners.
Following a season which has provided a plethora of positives for the club’s Academy, a ten-goal thriller and another superb victory at RH Academy seemed a fitting way to cap off Mansfield Town under-19s' Youth Alliance League campaign.
MANSFIELD TOWN: Avery, Anderson, Whyle, Wauchope (Walsh 73), Bonser, Carter (Aynsley-Johnson 87), Flanagan, Davies (Whitman-Brown 62), Kruszynski, Kokkinos (King 73), Abdullah
UNUSED SUBS: Leech, Colton-Balogun, Warnaby
HARTLEPOOL UNITED: Wilkinson, White, Stephenson, Ingram, Lynn, Robinson, Kitching, Storey, Ormerod (Aungiers 77), Steele, McBride
UNUSED SUB: Burns, Crawford