Saturday, 29 April 2017

Mansfield Town 0 v Grimsby Town 1 - EFLYA (NE)

Saturday 29th April 2017
EFL Youth Alliance (NE)
at the Worksop Van Hire Stadium, Clipstone FC
Mansfield Town (0) 0
Grimsby Town (0) 1
Akheem Rose 69
Mansfield Town:
Xavier Sundby, Teddy Bloor (Cain Smith 62), Henri Wilder (Morgan Ratliffe 55), Harry Bircumshaw, Aiden Walker, Kieran Harrison (C), Nyle Blake, Luke Morgan (Surafel Behailu 62), Devante Reittie (Jason Law 55), Keaton Ward (Alistair Smith 62), Jake Dumbleton
Grimsby Town:
Corey Briggs, Sam Williams, Mikey Davis, Myles Lawman,Tom Jamieson, Jack Keeble, Jamie Goddard, Tom Sawyer (C), Akheem Rose, Declan Slade, Runarn Burrell
Subs - Ben Flowerdew, Laurence Burchill, Bilal Sesay, Ty-Rhys Paul-Jones
Having already successfully defended last season's title, by way of ensuring that neither Oldham Athletic or Rotherham United could catch up with them on points, with a 2-1 win against Burton Albion at Rainworth last Saturday, courtesy of two first half goals from Nyle Blake and Jason Law; the young Stags finished this season's successful campaign, just as they had the last one, with a game against Grimsby Town.
However, while Rotherham were beating Oldham 2-0 to claim the runners up spot at Parkgate, the final game of the season for the reigning and recently re-crowned EFL Youth alliance winners, wasn't entirely their most convincing display of the past twelve, or even twenty four months, and was more of a case of after the Lord Mayor's Show than anything else, but having shown the kind of mental toughness that saw them finish the current term with a goals against total of just 15 from 24 games, you could forgive this current crop of lads for having a bit of an off day, now that they have already made it securely past the finishing line.
Truth be told, the team that took to the pitch today, gave a nod towards the fact that preparations for next term are already in full swing, as John Dempster and his coaching staff strive to keep the momentum of back to back title wins going, with several players who will doubtless be featuring heavily next season being given the chance to prove themselves in a real match situation.
The nucleus of the embryonic 2017-18 side got a run out today and there were already several positives you could pick out of this performance, most notably the shift that Aiden Walker put in as he got to grips with the challenge of containing Akheem Rose, Grimsby's live wire centre forward, in whom it would seem, the Mariners have a real gem in the making who will serve them well next season.
Two of the Stags players who will be carrying the champions torch into next season, Nyle Blake and Keaton Ward, combined early on to threaten the visitors goal, but Jack Keeble, who along with Tom Sawyer has just signed a pro contract with Grimsby Town, cleared the danger away.
Xavier Sundby pulled off a great save to thwart Runarn Burroll, while Walker was being kept busy by the fleet footed Rose, but having the better of their personal battle.
Jake Dumbleton was tripped on the left hand side of Mariners goal area, but was denied a penalty as the referee Minesh Gupta judged that the actual contact had occurred a few inches the wrong side of the line and the visitors regrouped and cleared Harry Bircumshaw's free kick away.
Rose was proving to be problematic for the home side, but having dropped deep to make a run after Walker had blocked his route to goal inside the eighteen yard box, he found Luke Morgan to be just as tenacious in his tackle, inside the centre circle.
As half time approached, Dumbleton though he had opened the scoring, but he was flagged for offside.
Sundby was called into action twice in quick succession, plucking Sam Williams cross out of the air and pushing Rose's angled shot away at full stretch.
Play switched and Teddy Bloor picked out Ward with a sideways pass, who ran across the edge of the Grimsby area from left to right, before letting fly on the half volley, but Tom Jamieson put his body in the way to preserve the Mariners clean sheet.
In first half stoppage time, Rose pushed forward again twice but both times Walker was having none of it and stole the ball away.
HT: Stags 0 v Mariners 0
With the title already in the bag, Mansfield utilised the second half in a fashion akin to a practice match and used it as an excuse to blood several first year players as they used the whole permitted allocation of five substitutes.
The game began to resemble a pre-season friendly, which indeed is what it actually was, given that teams who tried doubly hard to overcome the reigning champions this time around, will really up the ante next year as the back to back title winners become an even more desirable scalp to claim, so they are going to really have to hit the ground running from August onward.
And though some onlookers will have been disappointed not to have seen more goals, or to have witnessed the league leaders steamrolling their visitors into submission, while showing off their championship credentials, it needs to be understood that effectively, the current season reached it's zenith and climax last week and although winning games is important most of the time within a group of players performing at this level, age group wise, helping them to develop and giving them time to practice while instilling good habits into and coaching them is always of paramount importance.
Of course it is a massive achievement to win two league titles in a row, but when that is the reward of watching young players improve and flourish, that kind of success tastes so much sweeter than the sort that is enjoyed by the mega rich clubs, who can entice all the so called best youngsters from far and wide, with promises of fiscal remuneration.
Development football should never be about buying your way to the top... and to that end, the academy system at Brooksby is achieving all it's goals and ticking every box along the way.
Of course today's opposition deserve a lot of credit for the way that they took the game to their hosts too, in particular Akheem Rose, who probably deserved to be on the end of Burrell's sideways pass to knock the ball home for the only goal of the game after sixty nine minutes, he'd put in an immense shift and only the combined efforts of Walker, Sundby and Kieran Harrison had stopped him finding the net several more times.
It was good to see Cain Smith coming on late in the game and announcing his arrival with one of his trademark shuddering challenges within moments of entering the fray and to watch Devante Reittie take on his marker with his vast arrayarray of tricks, and to hear tthe dulcet Lancashire tones of Morgan Ratcliffe barking out encouragement to his team mates and X rated humorous slights to his opponents.
And who can forget Tom Marriott's darting runs down the flanks and the input of Tyler Johal last season? Or the powerhouse duo, double spearhead in attack of Tyler Blake and Zayn Hakeem, the latter of who has tree trunk 'power-house' thighs that are almost as huge as his mothers.
They've all more than played his part in the team's success, along with many more on and off the pitch, but sadly some of them will be moving on to pastures new in the near future.
The last couple of years have flown by and not everybody who has plated an integral part will be involved next season, such is the nature of the beast that is football, but hopefully those who will be leaving the ranks soon, will feel that they have benefited from their time at the club.
It speaks volumes for the quality of the players who will still be involved at the club next year, that such a high calibre of players couldn't be accommodated within the club's present framework.
Credit where it is due, Grimsby saw the game out using the template that has served the Mansfield Under eighteen's so well for the past two years, as they stayed strong and focused in defence and used their resilience as a platform to build from.
All in all, the Stags coaches will have picked out a myriad of positives to build on towards the future, on a day that a prototype Grimsby Town side showed that they won't be pushovers next season either.
Win, lose or draw, as long as you're learning valuable lessons from it, there is no such thing as a bad result in development league football, especially when you've already won the league with tread to spare.
I'm looking forward to seeing how the next couple of seasons are going to unfold already.
Stags director Mark Hawkins said tome at the end of the game today, that it felt like the end of an era, and though I can see where he is coming from with that sentiment, it also feels like the start of the next chapter and the future is still unwritten.
Bring it on!
FT: Mansfield Town U18 0 v Grimsby Town U18 1
There are far too many people to thank and acknowledge for their input over the last two years of travelling here, there and everywhere, but let it be known, you've all been ****ing awesome and it's been a complete pleasure, honour and privilege to have rubbed shoulders with you all.
And thanks to the guys who made a surprise presentation to me prior to the game and those who sent messages thanking me for doing whatever it is I do; it was very humbling and meant more than you'll ever know.
Right... when do the 2017 friendlies start!?
I'm raring to go again!