Nigel Clough took a strong, experienced, Mansfield Town squad up to Cannon Park on Tuesday night as Northern Counties East Division One newcomers, Retford United, hosted the EFL League Two side in front of more than a thousand spectators.
It was always going to be a tough ask for the non-league side, but they held their own for most of the encounter, succumbing to sucker-punches at the start of the second, and a goal-glut in the closing ten, the Stags eventually ousting the Badgers, 8-0.
Home shot-stopper, Tom Crosby, can be credited for keeping his side in the game, pulling off a number of saves throughout, however, he’ll no doubt be aggrieved with a couple of the goals which were conceded.
The Stags, who have recently announced the additions of ‘keeper Christy Pym, who was on-loan last season, and full-back Aaron Lewis, played two different sides in each half, both of which could hold their own in the lower divisions of the Football League, Pym and Lewis playing the first 45 minutes of the contest.
There was glimpses of attacking threat from the hosts, manager Ryan Hindley having strengthened ahead of the NCEL One campaign with the signings of Ashley Worsfold, Nick Guest, Josh Scully, Alister Haydock, and Luke Morris, both Guest and Morris having started against the Stags.
As for the game itself, James Gale afforded the Stags a one-goal, interval lead, he pouncing after his initial effort was saved by Crosby, to slot into an empty net after26 minutes, the through-ball coming from Aaron Lewis in the centre-circle.
The second period saw the Stags have a completely different line-up, and it paid instant dividends with two goals coming in the opening exchanges, the first, after Anthony Hartigan and Hiram Boateng had linked up well on the flank, before the latter’s ball was volleyed home by Lucas Akins from sixteen yards out.
Davis Keillor-Dunn and George Maris then linked up, in the same route as the previous goal, and the latters’ lowball was turned home from close range in what went down (initially) as an own-goal (could have been John-Joe O’Toole).
The hosts’ Charlie Baird hit Owen Mason’s post just before the hour mark, the Badgers never giving up throughout, but, with a little over twenty minutes remaining, a shot from Boateng was cleared off the line, only for Callum Johnson to sweep home.
Just about keeping the Stags at bay, the Badgers held on until the closing ten minutes, when experience, and higher level football, paid dividends for the visitors, they rattling in four further goals; good work from Boateng, driving into the box, and firing in a low cross, was tuned home by Will Swan on 82 minutes, before Akins completed his hat-trick with a second half double, the first off a Maris through-ball (83 minutes), and the second following a deep cross by Callum Macdonald leading to another, first-time finish (84 minutes).
The score-line was wrapped up just minutes later when a lovely ball from Hartigan cut through the Badgers defence to Keillor-Dunn, who rifled home low from the edge of the box, and into Crosby’s bottom corner.
A result that was hard on the hosts, and their fans, but a strong, 1.027 crowd, in midweek, always does wonders for grassroots football, and the Cannon Park side, they can take credit from the game overall.
Retford United – Tom Crosby, Owen Fieldsend, Max Pemberton, Tom Wilson, Stuart Ludlam, Danny Booth, Luke Morris, Brandon Kane, Shaun Tuton, Mark West, Nick Guest
Mansfield Town (First Half) – Christy Pym, Kieron Freeman, Alfie Kilgour, Baily Cargill, Brennan Dickenson, Aaron Lewis, Louis Reed, Stephen Quinn, James Gale, Rhys Oates, Jordan Bowery; (Second Half) – Owen Mason, Callum Johnson, John-Joe O’Toole, George Cooper, Callum Macdonald, George Maris, Anthony Hartigan, Hiram Boateng, Davis Keillor-Dunn, Lucas Akins, Will Swan
Afterwards, Badgers boss, Ryan Hindley, said: “We held our own for 55 minutes against superb, and I mean superb, opposition.
“It was a great night for the club financially, and great for us to see what’s required.
“There’s no shame, and these are the nights when you learn a lot more than playing much lesser opposition and winning comfortably.
“Now, it’s onto a tough session on Thursday, Matlock (Town) on Saturday, at home, and then Sheffield FC next Tuesday.
“We had some really good comments from Nigel (Clough) and his management team after, saying we are light and day in front of previous years; the pitch is excellent, and the club is moving forward so thanks to all those involved.”
Meanwhile, the Stags supremo, Nigel Clough, added:” It was a good 45 minutes for each player, and I’m pleased to get through without any injuries.
“There was a couple missing (tonight) with slight knocks, they should be alright for next week, so the main thing is, we were looking for the physical work, which was good, more than anything, and then staying fit.
“We’ve got twenty players, and we just tried to split it reasonably evenly; obviously the front three that we put out in the second half had a little bit more attacking threat, so it was just mixing it up.”
*Article provided by Peter Mann (Senior Correspondent).
*Main image @mansfieldtownfc a good night for Mansfield in front of a packed crowd at Retford.