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11th October 2018 12:09

English Football League Trophy - Checkatrade Trophy, group stage
Mansfield Town 2 - 1 Wolverhampton Wanderers U21
Mellis 4, Benning 47. Goncalves 75
Attendance: 1112 (131 from Wolves)

Date: 9 October 2018

Martin Shaw at the One Call Stadium, Field Mill

Mansfield Town are through to the second round of the Checkatrade Trophy with a game to spare after a fairly comfortable victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers U21 last night. The Stags will top the group and earn a home tie with anything other than a 2 or more goal defeat at home to Scunthorpe in the final group game at the One Call Stadium next month.

Mansfield tore into Wolves U21 from the start last night. After just 2 minutes, young Jordan Graham, on his first competitive start for the Stags, laid off to Calum Butcher who crossed beautifully with the outside of his right foot from the left to the far post where Will Atkinson headed against the underside of the bar from close range under pressure from left wing-back Ryan Giles. The ball bounced down just the wrong side of the line from the Mansfield point of view and came out to Graham who also got in a header but couldn’t get enough on it and it was comfortably taken by the keeper. Within a minute, Atkinson went close again. Mal Benning got in a fine hanging cross from the byline on the left, Atkinson got above his marker Giles at the far post and headed down towards goal, but Cameron John was able to boot away off the line. The Stags were in front on 4 minutes. Jacob Mellis played a good 1-2 with Omari Sterling-James outside the area, Sterling-James’ ball forward for Mellis was perfectly weighted, Mellis took one touch to take him inside the area and fired low under the keeper into the right corner of the net for a very well-worked goal. With Neal Bishop suspended for the next league game, Mellis was already staking a claim for a league start.

Little had been seen of Wolves U21 going forward, but on 24 minutes Benning lost the ball inside his own half, Pedro Goncalves pushed forward down the right and laid a great ball across the edge of the area to Niall Ennis who forced Conrad Logan into a good save to his left. Logan was called into action again when a cross from Giles from the left deflected off Hayden White and Logan did well to push away.

The Stags made it 2-0 after 47 minutes. Atkinson crossed from the right, keeper Will Norris punched away but only as far as Benning who controlled on his chest before firing right footed into the left corner of the net from 12 yards. Benning’s second goal of the season, one with his head and one with his right foot and unusually not with his left foot, yet. It was Mansfield’s 99th goal in the history of the Football League Trophy (stat from Paul Taylor), including of course the most famous of all, Kevin Kent’s at Wembley in 1987.

It was nearly 3-0 on 67 minutes. Substitute Danny Rose was fouled 23 yards from goal. Mellis took the resulting free-kick and hit a cracking shot towards the top right corner of the net where keeper Norris made a great save tipping it wide at full stretch. Mansfield’s quality of shot from this type of position recently has been poor and this was a huge improvement.

The quality of Wolves U21’s football had been lower than I expected but Pedro Goncalves lit up their performance with a great run on 75 minutes which was only halted by a foul from White. Goncalves took the resulting free kick himself from 20 yards. In commentary on iFollow, I commented that such a free kick is where you might expect the quality of Premier League U21 players to shine through. Right on cue, Goncalves fired a perfect free kick into the top left corner of the net. A fabulous free kick. Logan didn’t move. I like to have seen Logan make an attempt to save it.

The Stags won a free kick 29 yards from goal on 78 minutes when White was brought down after a good run. Benning took the resulting kick and fired inches wide of the right post, hitting the back stanchion. A super effort. The Stags won another free kick on 81 minutes, sup Otis Khan took it quickly and put Atkinson 1-on-1 with the keeper from a tight angle. Atkinson’s shot was saved by Norris. Wolves had just one chance to equalise, and that came on 85 minutes when Diallo fired just over the bar from 25 yards.

The Stags saw the game out comfortably, pushing forward, holding the ball and winning several free kicks in Wolves U21’s half.

Overall a decent performance from Mansfield. Krystian Pearce was my man of the match, outstanding at the back winning numerous tackles snuffing out Wolves U21 attacks before they really got going. Both Benning and Atkinson impressed at wing-back, both getting into goalscoring positions on several occasions. In midfield, Mellis staked a strong claim for a starting position in the next league game (at Swindon a week on Saturday). Butcher and Elsnik also had decent games.

Wolves U21 included four players who were on the bench in the recent Carabao Cup game against Leicester, including Benny Ashley-Seal, who came on in that game and scored in the penalty shoot-out which Wolves lost 3-1 (Ashley-Seal was the only Wolves player to score). He was anonymous here last night, completely snuffed out by the impressive Krystian Pearce. The only Wolves U21 players to really impress were the industrious and skilful Pedro Goncalves, who scored that wonderful goal, and keeper Will Norris, who made a fabulous save from Mellis’s free kick. Both Goncalves and Norris were also on the bench in the recent Carabao Cup game against Leicester. Overall I expected much more from Wolves U21. I had watched 10 minutes of highlights of their previous game in this competition against Scunthorpe, as part of my preparation for commentary, and Wolves U21 showed much more quality in that game compared to this. Credit to Mansfield for not allowing Wolves U21 to get into the game. After the game Wolves U21 manager Rob Edwards admitted his side never controlled the game as he would have liked.

Mansfield made seven changes from the side that drew at Bury. In came Logan, White, Atkinson, Benning, Mellis, Butcher, Sterling-James and Graham. It was Jordan Graham’s first competitive start. Hayden White returned from injury. Pearce and Sterling-James played prior to travelling on international duty. I had expected young Lewis Gibbens to get a start, but there are restrictions on the number of changes you can make to your side (the rules are complicated, with restricted changes from your previous game and next game) and presumably he couldn’t be squeezed into the starting XI.
Wolves U21 included four players who were on the bench in the recent Carabao Cup game against Leicester: Benny Ashley-Seal, who came on in that game and scored in the penalty shoot-out which Wolves lost 3-1 (Ashley-Seal was the only Wolves player to score); also Norris, Giles and Goncalves.

The Checkatrade Trophy gets a bad press in some quarters. Personally I don’t like the inclusion of the Premier League U21 sides. However, otherwise it is a good opportunity for players who are not getting much game time in the league, to get competitive action and stake a claim for a place in the side in the league. It is also a genuine opportunity to get to Wembley and win considerable prize money. You need to look no further than Lincoln City, who won the competition last season, and in the summer have been able to strengthen their squad considerably, including signing the very costly John Akinde.