Halifax Town 0 Mansfield Town 1, Saturday 23rd July friendly

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STAGS secured their first pre-season win of the campaign and boosted their promotion aspirations in the process with an assured 1-0 victory against FC Halifax on Saturday, reports Stephen Thirkill.

Talisman winger Louis Briscoe once again proved to be the difference between the two sides with his superb individual goal on 47 minutes sealing an impressive win against the Blue Square North new-boys.

Just like on this ground in last year’s FA Cup Fourth Qualifying round contest, the pacey winger ran right at the heart of the home defence before unleashing a sweet strike which was simply too hot to handle.

The stylish goal seemed to perfectly sum up the entire team display, with Paul Cox’s men controlling large periods of the game with spells of slick and incisive passing, especially for the first 30 minutes.

New loan striker Matt Green, signed on Friday from Oxford United until December, brought an added dimension to the Stags strike-force and showed early signs that he could create a more than useful combination with Paul Connor.

It could perhaps have been a different outcome had Liam Hogan’s glancing header drifted inside Redmond’s left post on 12 minutes rather than away for a goal-kick.

But that was the only real scare for impressive visitors who once again turned in a solid defensive team display to close the game out well.

Stags, who were looking for their first pre-season win, named seven of their new summer signings in the starting line-up, with former Chesterfield shot-stopper Shane Redmond being given the nod ahead of Alan Marriott.

Striker Matt Green, signed on Friday on loan from Oxford United until December, and trialist defender Nick Wood were also given run-outs as boss Paul Cox continued his fine-tuning ahead of the season-opener against Bath City on 13th August.

There was also a welcome return to the heart of defence for Tom Naylor.

The Evo-Stick Premier Division champions gave starts to summer signings Simon Eastwood, Ryan Toulson, who played for the former Halifax Town side under Chris Wilder, Scott McManus and Liam Needham.

But former Leigh and Chorley man Jack Dorney, had to be content with a place on the bench, as did Gregg Anderson and ex-Eastwood man Anton Foster.

FC Halifax went into the friendly fixture looking for a measure of revenge for last season’s 1-0 FA Cup fourth qualifying round defeat against Mansfield.

But it was Stags who threatened to open the scoring first after six minutes when a sweeping cross-field ball from Briscoe picked out Connor on the left flank.

He then fizzed a fierce cross across the face of goal, which the on-rushing Matt Green just failed to connect with.

The Shaymen, who have been named favourites to lift the Blue Square North title, thought they had opened the scoring after 12 minutes when Liam Hogan rose well before powerfully heading Tom Baker’s in-swinging free-kick inches wide.

Briscoe then warmed the palms of Eastwood in the home goal after 21 minutes in a move which brought back memories of his FA Cup goal on this ground last year.

The wingman was played in on the right side of the penalty box after good hold-up play by Connor.

He then stole a yard on his marker before hitting a pile-driver which was superbly turned away for a corner by Eastwood.

Matt Green nearly capped his debut with a goal two minutes later after he was given half a yard of space by Briscoe. But he failed to connect properly and dragged a tame effort well wide.

FC Halifax, who claimed the scalp of League One Scunthorpe in their last pre-season outing, threatened the Mansfield goal on 33 minutes when Redmond flapped at a Baker free-kick.

But Haggerty was unable to take advantage as he sliced his right-footed effort wide from 15 yards.

The lively Green should have opened the scoring for Stags on 35 minutes after FC Halifax failed to clear Naylor’s header from a Kendrick corner.

But, with the ball bobbling around in the six yard box during a goal-mouth scramble, Green failed to get a meaningful touch as Eastwood smothered the ball on his goal-line.

The home side, who had won three out of three pre-season friendlies ahead of the fixture, began to grow in confidence as the first half wore on and Redmond was forced into a comfortable save after Holland connected with a Ryan Toulson cross on 41 minutes.

Just like last season the constant threat of Louis Briscoe proved to be too much for the Halifax defence as he opened the scoring on 47 minutes with a superb individual goal.

The tricky winger picked up a knock down from Connor in a central midfield area, before jinking past a couple of defenders and firing a curling left-foot effort from the edge of the box past the despairing dive of Eastwood.

FC Halifax attempted to get back into the game and forced a corner from a quick break on 52 minutes after Naylor had done well to muscle Needham away from the danger zone.

Connor continued to cause bother in the air and he nearly doubled the Mansfield lead on 55 minutes when he nodded a Worthington cross into the hands of Eastwood.

The game was nearly sealed on the hour mark from an unlikely source as left-back Kendrick unleashed a thunderous effort from the left corner of the box which grazed the crossbar before going to safety.

It would have been nothing more than the assured Stags deserved as their midfield and strike pairing continued to exert a tough grip on the game and carve out a number of half-chances to double their lead.

The Shaymen really should have levelled the contest on 69 minutes when Stags failed to clear their lines from a corner.

But substitute James Dean lacked the necessary composure of his famous name-sake and shinned a right-footed effort well wide after the ball had fallen invitingly.

Stags substitute Lee Stevenson went close to sealing victory on 78 minutes when he drilled a shot from the edge of the box a yard over Phil Senior’s crossbar.

With time running out Liam Needham nearly dragged the home side level on 83 minutes as he cut inside before seeing his low goal-bound drive well blocked by Naylor’s outstretched leg.

Garner then fired a flat free-kick straight into the Mansfield wall on 84 minutes from 20 yards as FC Halifax’s hopes finally began to die.

FC HALIFAX: Eastwood (Senior 69 mins), Toulson, Lowe, Hogan (Anderson 36 mins), Haggerty, McManus, Hardy (Garner 45 mins), Baker (Foster 62 mins), Gray (Dean 59 mins), Holland (Hogan 69 mins), Needham (Dorney 45 mins).

MANSFIELD: Redmond, O’Neill (Sutton 86 mins), Kendrick, Wood, Naylor, Briscoe (Todd 86 mins), Smith (Meikle 45 mins, Bell 88 mins), Bolland (Murray 45 mins, Worthington, Connor (Dyer 69 mins), Green (Stevenson 75 mins). Subs not used: Howell, Mitchley.

ATTENDANCE: 843.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Jon Worthington.

REFEREE: Mick Denton of Lancashire.

MATCH RATING: 3 out of 5.