Mansfield Town gave 181 travelling supporters and those watching from afar last night the right impression as they breezed to a 3-1 victory over Skrill Premier Side Lincoln City in their penultimate pre-season friendly.
Fergus Bell netted an absolute wonder strike before hit-man Liam Hearn came from the bench to net his second brace in three pre-season games to lead Mansfield to victory, rounding off what was a 99% positive showing from Paul Cox’s men in a game they largely dominated.
The Stags again set out in a 3-4-1-2 formation and looked comfortable with both the ball on the deck and in the air, players such as Fergus Bell, Alex Fisher and Simon Heslop all key to this during the first half whilst the addition of Hearn after the hour added fuel to the fire.
Heslop in particular impressed and is looking like a quality addition from when we first saw him against Leeds United. The central midfielder made up a lot of ground always looking to feed on the scraps and stretch play, doing so on a number of occasions with precision passes.
Hit-man Hearn again impressed coming from the bench, his movement for his two goals was fluid whilst his finishing was clinical and crisp, if Alex Fisher can put a few more of his chances away then Mansfield could have one hot attack.
In general though, Cox will be pleased with his teams character, Lincoln are a side that like to get in your face and constantly test, something they did rather well until they were blown away by hurricane Hearn. At the back, Mansfield were troubled on occasion but dealt well with the majority of Lincoln attacks, the only blot on the otherwise perfect canvas was the Imps goal – the Stags allowed the hosts far too much space to get a cross in and got nowhere near Hamza Bencherif who nodded passed Sascha Studer.
Cox again cast his eye over two Trialists and did give permission to name them, however both Rob Taylor and Anthony Griffith had to settle for a seat on the bench.
It was the hosts that looked to test the water early on as in the opening minute, former Notts County man and ex-Stags Trialist Hamza Bencherif found space to get a shot in from distance, however Studer was well positioned to keep the effort at bay.
The Stags then registered their first few efforts in quick succession, Alex Fisher glanced a header wide from Fergus Bell’s well hit corner before the roles reversed, Fisher teeing up Bell for a twenty yard drive which whizzed narrowly wide of Paul Farman’s goal.
The two sides then went toe to toe but did little with the ball, Fisher looked to change that on 23 minutes, with his back to goal he picked up Amari’i Bell’s low pass before spinning towards goal and firing at Farman – the former Gateshead glovesman fortunate to get down low to his left to keep out Fisher’s effort.
Fergus Bell then wasted a counter attack on 29minutes as he drove forward from the half way line after a Lincoln move broke down, the lively midfielder took the ball a stride to far and was unable to get his shot away. However Bell atoned for this a minute letter in style, a long ball forward saw Fisher provide the assist with a cushioned chest-down to Bell, who thumped home on the half volley with his left boot from some thirty yards to give Mansfield the lead.
With ten minutes to go before the break, the hosts nearly levelled and perhaps would have done had it not been for the strength of John Dempster to hold off a hungry Karl Ledsham and for the confidence of the advancing Studer to race out of his area and clear left footed under pressure from Ben Tomlinson.
Back at the other end, Fergus Bell looked to turn from goal scorer to provider on 37 minutes, driving forward following a well-timed interception from Heslop, Bell unselfishly played a reverse pass into the feet of Ollie Palmer who wasted the opportunity, failing to get the ball out of his feet and subsequently allowing Nat Brown to get back and clear.
The miss then proved costly as a minute later, poor defending allowing the imps to draw level. Mansfield gave the hosts far too much space around the edge of the box, especially in the channels with Ledsham picking out Benchierif with a well weighted cross – the Stags players got nowhere near him as he headed beyond a stranded Studer.
At the break, Ollie Palmer was replaced in attack by Liam Hearn but it was Lincoln’s half time substitute than caused troubled first, two minutes into the second half Connor Robinson rose at the far post above Studer but couldn’t turn Sean Newton’s left sided deep cross home.
From then on, it was all Mansfield – Hearn made his first impact on the game on 51 minutes, holding up well to the left of the area before pulling back into a pocket of space for the advancing Heslop who dragged wide of Farman’s goal when he should have tucked home.
Seven minutes later it was Hearn testing the water, firing over from just inside the area after arcing off the defenders shoulder to latch on Adam Murray’s reverse pass.
Hearn waited just eleven more minutes before finally putting Mansfield back infront. It all stemmed from inside the Stags own half as Heslop broke up Lincoln’s play and took one look up before playing a sublime directional pass to Hearn – the hit-man still had the work to do and showed great composure to control the ball, take on his marker before calmly slotting underneath the advancing Farman who was made to look a fool by Hearn’s first clinical finish of the evening.
On 74 minutes Hearn should have had his second but was denied by the legs of Farman from Helsop’s pass – two minutes later though and Hearn beat Farman once more. This time it was substitute Chris Clements that created the goal, playing a pass through the eye of the needle to completely unpick the City defence from the left of the box. Hearn found a pocket of space that only he knew existed and controlled well before drilling beyond a stunned Farman who must have found it hard not to applaud the quality execution of both Hearn’s finish and Mansfield’s movement.
Clements himself could have added a fourth moments later from Hearn’s tee up, his rasping half volley from 18yards blocked by Nat Brown who also denied Hearn a deserved treble late on with a brave sliding tackle.
STAGS: 1.Sascha Studer, 14.Ritchie Sutton, 4.John Dempster, 5.Ryan Tafazolli (13.Martin Riley 77), 20.Lee Beevers (15.Liam Marsden 61), 8.Adam Murray © (12.Jamie McGuire 77), 18.Simon Heslop (21.Anthony Griffith 77), 11.Amari’i Bell (19.Rob Taylor 61), 7.Fergus Bell (2.Chris Clements 66), 17.Alex Fisher (22.Matt Rhead 61), 10.Ollie Palmer (9.Liam Hearn HT)
Unused Subs: Jack Thomas
Meanwhile, in Rainworth - Mansfield Town's youth team couldn't keep hold of the annual Green Energy Challenge Trophy. Despite a spirited display from the Stags youngsters, they fell to a 2-1 defeat at Kirklington Road.
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