Mansfield Town (U18s) 2-0 Doncaster Rovers (U18s)
EFL Youth Alliance
Saturday 19th November 2022
It doesn’t matter who the players are, what level it’s at, what competition it’s in or even what era it is because Mansfield Town seem to have some sort of bogey team curse on Doncaster Rovers.
And it struck yet again in this Youth Alliance game played on the main pitch at Field Mill.
Donny always struggle against the Stags - losing eight of the previous 10 games against them at U18s level prior to this one, and a second half opener by Ronnie Kokkinos followed by a thunderbolt from the ‘spectacular section’ by McKeal Abdullah saw the hosts deservedly pick up the points this time around.
The defeat also meant Rovers missed out on the chance to go joint-top of the North-East Youth Alliance table, maintaining my belief that the battle to be crowned champions will go down to the wire.
Since Frank Sinclair took the reins on an interim basis in October, Rovers have looked refreshed, rejuvenated, adopted a brand new 3-4-2-1 formation, and played some of their best football of the season to date - keeping the ball on the deck a lot more rather than ‘shelling it’ and earning back-to-back wins over Grimsby and Lincoln in the past few weeks.
But this turned out to be a game they’ll quickly want to forget!
The first half was even enough because whilst Mansfield had a lot more territory and possession and Donny seemed to be constantly stuck behind the ball in their own half, those wearing a DRFC shirt actually carved out the better of the few chances which were created at either end.
After an uneventful opening 20 minutes where Mansfield’s Jakub Kruszynski hit a free-kick into the wall and not very much else happened, Rovers began to get on the ball and quickly crafted a couple of openings through some patient build-up play.
Jack Goodman saw a glancing header from Alex Fletcher’s right-wing cross easily kept out by Louie Turner and then, in the best chance of the half, he skimmed a low shot just a whisker wide of the post after Jak Whiting’s initial forward pass down the left and then Owen Scattergood’s good footwork and cut-back from tight to the byline set up the chance.
Rovers spent lots of time behind the ball anyway in the first half, but this was especially the case in the latter stages as half-time approached and a lot of focus and concentration was required to keep Mansfield out.
Charlie Petch blocked an effort from Kokkinos and then leapt high to head away the danger from a corner; Fletcher produced a sliding interception to stop the Stags’ left-wing-back in his tracks when he threatened to burst away down the flank, and Tom Parkinson was excellent in his technique when he cleared a deep and troublesome cross which dropped dangerously at the back-post just a few minutes later. Whiting was also decent under pressure in a few one on one scenarios and Will Flint was tidy with his feet, strong, composed and efficient with his clearances when he needed to be.
With the game still 0-0 at half-time (and with neither ‘keeper having been properly tested), things were still very much in the balance but it was Mansfield who stepped up after the restart and delivered a team performance worthy of taking the points.
Taylor Anderson raised his game and began to dominate matters down the right-hand side and he’d already flashed one low drive across the area when another similar low ball into the centre was skewed across the face of goal and narrowly wide of the post by Alfie King in what was his last contribution before being replaced.
Rovers reacted by making their first change on the hour mark as Faris Khan replaced Scattergood and Khan almost made an immediate impact with a flick on which put Goodman through but, having initially appeared to have wrestled his way into a shooting position, his subsequent shot was blocked by a covering defender.
Two minutes after that chance, Mansfield took the lead as two of their best three players combined. Charlie Carter (excellent throughout - and on his 18th birthday weekend) squared a pass to Anderson out wide. He knocked it centrally towards Kokkinos and the striker managed to get the better of Petch with his feet before placing his shot calmly past Jake Oram.
At 1-0 down, the dynamic of the game needed to change if Rovers were to get anything, but just eight minutes after the opener (and one minute after Abdullah headed inches wide from an Anderson cross), the game was settled to a very large extent as Abdullah atoned for that miss with a thunderous strike at probably 100mph from the edge of the box which smacked the underside of the bar and crashed down into the net.
Oram had no chance of saving it. Wham. Bang. And Goodbye - because at 2-0 that was the game settled!
A few heads visibly dropped in the Rovers team at this point and although Goodman had a rising shot which clipped the crossbar on its way over in the latter stages, the Stags always looked comfortable enough and could even have scored a third goal when Abdullah had a low drive blocked inside a crowded area.
Team: Jake Oram, Alex Fletcher, Will Flint, Charlie Petch (Freddie Allen), Jak Whiting, Tom Parkinson (Chris Pooley), Josh Lindley, Jack Raper, Will Green (Justin Bennett), Owen Scattergood (Faris Khan), Jack Goodman. Unused Sub: Jamie Tomlinson.
Overall, Mansfield were comfortably the better team and deserved to win and nobody can have any complaints about the scoreline.
The Stags were excellent. They controlled the game and dictated the tempo. They stopped Rovers from playing. They’d clearly done their homework. They had more possession. They had a game-plan and executed that game plan to perfection and the three best (certainly most effective) players on the pitch were all wearing an amber shirt - and when that happens, you’ve always got a good chance of winning!
Charlie Carter was absolutely excellent and a big moment in the game occurred when he stayed on the pitch just past the hour mark, having landed awkwardly on his back. If he'd gone off at that point, who knows how things might have panned out? He sat just infront of the defence, in a central spot, read things excellently, picked up lots of second balls, offered balance and was so assured in how he performed that I actually thought he was a first-year pro.
I found out afterwards it was his 18th birthday the other day and I just hope any birthday weekend celebrations last night ended with him crouched over a fish bowl at three o’clock this morning. The way he played in this game he’s got lots to celebrate and feel proud about because he was pretty decent.
Taylor Anderson was also aggressive throughout, was involved in the build up for the opener; might have even been involved in the build-up for the second goal too, and he produced four quality deliveries from the right flank in the second half, before a little piece of showboating near the end where he danced his way inside, tight to the byline and whipped a great ball right underneath the crossbar. His quality was consistent, his characteristics were strong (that stood out) and he really showed what he’s capable of, whilst Jakub Kruszynski (bar the early free-kick into the wall) offered little glimpses of quality by doing simple things in high areas to pose a significant threat. Then, McKeal Abdullah’s finish for the second goal deserves a mention, simply because it was so quality. Anyone reading this who hasn’t seen his goal should check it out and it really ought to be submitted for consideration in the next ‘LFE Goal Of The Month’ competition.
At the other end, Mansfield always have good ‘keepers whether it be Owen Mason (the G.O.A.T ‘keeper in the North-East Youth Alliance in recent times), Theo Avery (who I’ve heard good things about) or Louie Turner who played in this game and he’ll also be happy to have kept a clean-sheet - especially against Jack Goodman as they were in the same team in their days at Notts County’s academy. LT only had three major contributions but he did them well and he’s a ‘keeper who has my respect from seeing him a few times now.
From a Rovers perspective, you always learn more in defeat - and there’s lots that can be learned in this defeat!
Rather than specific individuals being at fault or playing badly, I think it was more a case that the limitations of this new 3-4-2-1 formation showed. If anyone watches the game back - especially the first 45 minutes, they’ll see that the two ‘Number 10s’ (Will Green and Owen Scattergood) actually dropped back into some really good positions when out of possession which is exactly what they’re meant to do. It worked against Grimsby (I can’t comment on last week at Lincoln because I wasn’t there) but in this game it just didn’t work whatsoever and the team as a whole always seemed to be too deep, constantly behind the ball and much too narrow whenever they did try and move it forward. They could never get it forward quickly because Jack Goodman cut such an isolated figure up top, so they had to be patient and retain possession which both Josh Lindley and Jack Raper did well to a certain extent, but that also allowed Mansfield to get behind the ball and get into shape. There weren’t any piercing passes and it’s notable that the best service Gooders received came from wide areas which started either via floated balls into the channels (two good ones by Will Flint in the first half) or attacking runs made by Jak Whiting or Alex Fletcher.
Whenever a team adopts a new formation there’s always going to be teething problems. It’s normal and as this is the first defeat since that change to a 3-4-2-1 was made, the next analysis session will definitely be a good one to learn from because there’s loads that can be chewed on, discussed, and it’s a good chance for the lads to improve themselves.
All that said, Mansfield do deserve credit because they were very good at what they did - and that ought to be taken into consideration too!
Rovers’ best player, without a shadow of a doubt was Jack Goodman. Despite being isolated, he still managed to get a few shots away, posed a nuisance to the defenders, his work-rate couldn’t be faulted and it’s something which the Mansfield coaching staff even picked up on as they praised his contribution at full-time.
The next game for Rovers is away at Scunthorpe next Saturday. Max Adamson, who missed this game due to rules around concussion, should be back for that one - as should Harry Wood who has now served his suspension after that ridiculous red card given to him by that idiot referee in the FA Youth Cup defeat at Lincoln.
The performance will need to be a lot better and certainly a lot more forceful. It won’t be easy either because Scunthorpe are improving and I think have lost just once in their past eight games (and that was a defeat at Barnsley where they were the better team) and I’m really looking forward to seeing certain players positively show what they can do.
I know who I’d love to see score the winning goal… so he’ll just have to go and score it!
Other results this weekend...
Huddersfield 0-1 Scunthorpe (if you foul Harrison Poulter, you pay the penalty).
Bradford 4-1 Burton (starting to sense the Bantams are in their groove again).
Harrogate P-P Rotherham (genuinely Rotherham's best result since August).
Hartlepool P-P Lincoln (that age-old problem of too much water affecting grass).