Two goals in 11 minutes late in the first half ensured Mansfield Town’s long-awaited return to League football ended in a 2-0 defeat in the Scunthorpe sunshine this afternoon.
But the Stags will take heart from the fact that there was little other difference between two sides who were competing two divisions apart last season.
And, on another day, the Stags might still have come away with a point, Ross Dyer putting a header wide from six yards and Louis Briscoe blazing over a late penalty kick that saw Eddie Nolan dismissed for a second bookable offence.
The match stats showed Stags had five corners to United’s four and both teams had five goals attempts apiece.
But it was two defensive lapses that proved so costly in the end as returning home hero Matt Sparrow was allowed space at the far post to bury a 29th minute opening and then, as the Stags’ defence hoped for an offside flag on 40 minutes, hesitation by Alan Marriott proved fatal as Sam Winnall won a lost cause and, winning his challenge with the keeper, then had only to find the empty net.
Mansfield gave debuts to two of their new signings.
Central defender John McCombe and excellent left winger Sam Clucas made their bows for Stags in a 4-4-1-1 formation with big Matt Rhead up front.
Striker Ollie Palmer, signed eventually from Havant and Waterlooville yesterday, had to be content with a place on the bench.
In the end he was given the last 29 minutes and looked eager and hungry without ever really getting sight of goal.
The traditional opening day sunshine was evident at Glanford Park as Stags’ 1,400-strong army of fans arrived at the ground for Mansfield’s first League game in five years.
Stevenson almost gave Stags a second minute lead but scuffed his finish wide after Murray’s nicely weighted pass had given him sight of goal inside the box.
Marriott rose to confidently claim Winnall’s first cross from the right as the Iron finally ventured into Mansfield territory.
It was a tense, scrappy opening and next goal attempt came on 15 minutes when Stevenson’s speculative 25 yard shot looped up and over via a deflection for the game’s first corner.
A minute later and Clucas cut back inside between two bemused defenders before rifling a 20 yard shot at Slocombe for the game’s first on-target attempt.
A second Stags corner followed as the visitors’ early eager running brought the Stags fans into full cry.
Dempster produced a solid tackle to halt Winnall before he could line up a shot for the Iron.
Jennings then saw a free kick hit team mate Rhead in the wall while, on 20 minutes the whistle had gone for the ball going behind for a goalkick well before Dyer slammed it into the home net.
Tempers boiled over briefly as Murray clashed with Welsh and other players raced in. But the referee had a word with the pair and no cards were shown.
A half-cleared free kick bounced out to home skipper Collins, whose 25-yard drive was always rising over.
Back came Mansfield and Rhead nodded down a long Jennings throw for Clucas, who lifted a first time effort just over the home bar.
It had been a fine effort so far from Mansfield. But it was the home side who edged ahead on 29 minutes.
Welsh launched a long ball over from the left wing towards the far post where Sparrow was left free to get away a shot that Marriott tried to parry at his near post but was beaten by the power of the finish.
Dawson brought out the best of Marriott with a curling free kick over the wall on 34 minutes that had the Stags keeper going full-length to his left to grab the ball.
There was more danger as Hawkridge slipped a pass to Winnall, who was unable to round the keeper, Marriott spreading himself well to prevent the finish.
Disaster then struck for Mansfield five minutes from the interval.
Hawkridge sent a long harmless-looking ball downfield.
The Stags defence and, more importantly, Marriott seemed to hesitate before realising Winnall may be onside and win his chase for a lost cause.
Marriott ran out to challenge him, but Winnall won the tackle which saw the ball spin into space in front of the empty net, and the United man gleefully tucked it away.
Rhead did head the ball against the home bar from Beevers’ far post cross on 44 minutes, but an offside flag was already aloft and Stags, after a promising first half-hour, went in with much work to do in the second half.
Only six minutes into that second period, Cox made his first change, taking off Stevenson, and throwing on Meikle.
Marriott punched away the first home corner of the half, then Rhead saw the first yellow card of the game for a shove on the defender as he chased a long through hall on 54 minutes.
Welsh beat Beevers to a back post cross to guide a header narrowly wide before Palmer was thrown in for his Mansfield debut in place of Rhead on 61 minutes.
Nolan was cautioned for dissent on 61 minutes, before Stags had to endure some nervy moments in the home box after McComb failed to clear his lines.
Dyer missed the visitors’ best chance on 71 minutes. Beevers curled in a tempting cross from the right which Dyer met with a diving header from just six yards which he failed to get on target.
It was his final action as he was immediately replaced by the waiting Briscoe.
Slocombe did well to chase out his box to win a challenge with Meikle and Jennings was booked as he hacked down Welsh as he raced away onto the keeper’s clearance.
Slocombe confidently caught a Jennings corner on 87 minutes as Mansfield desperately looked for a way into the game.
There was late drama as Nolan got his hand in the way of a Clucas cross to give away a needless penalty kick.
Already booked, the yellow card produced saw Nolan dismissed and Briscoe stepped up for the spot kick.
However, he got right under the ball and shipped it up into the stand, well over the bar to the jeers of the home fans, summing up Mansfield’s day.
SCUNTHORPE: Slocombe, Dawson, Mirfin, Canavan, Sparrow, Burton (Iwelumo 81), Welsh (Clark 88), Hawkridge, Nolan, Collins, Winnall (Godden 77). Subs not used: Severn, Ribeiro, McAllister, Howe. STAGS: Marriott: Beevers, McCombe, Dempster, Jennings; Dyer (Briscoe 71), Murray, Howell, Clucas; Stevenson (Meikle 51), Rhead (Palmer 61). Subs not used: McGuire, Sutton, Speight, Deakin. REFEREE: Eddie Ilderton of Tyne & Wear.
ATTENDANCE: 5,241 (1,500 away).
CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Sam Clucas.