Mansfield Town ended their impressive pre-season campaign with a 3-2 defeat against a classy looking Rotherham United side at Field Mill on Saturday, writes Stephen Thirkill.
Stags were unable to repeat their memorable victories over neighbours Nottingham Forest and Derby County after being outplayed for large parts of the first 45 minutes.
A superbly hit shot from distance by Kari Arnason and a typically cool finish by Daniel Nardiello just before the break left Paul Cox’s men with a tough task.
Stags, who kick off their BSP season at home to Newport on Saturday, came out fighting and made a good contest of the second half.
Lee Stevenson pulled a goal back two minutes after the restart to give the home side vital lifeline after excellent build-up play by Matt Green.
Substitute Mark Bradley then doubled The Millers lead on 70 minutes with the simplest of tap-ins after Mansfield switched off and failed to deal with a long throw.
But the title-chasing home side once again showed their characteristic fight to pull a goal back just a minute later.
Lindon Meikle showed a superb turn off pace to burst through the midfield before playing in last season’s top scorer Matt Green. Green, who bagged 29 BSP goals during the last campaign, needed no second invite as he cooly slotted the ball in through the legs of Scott Shearer.
But it was too little too late as the lively looking visitors controlled the closing stages Mansfield Town went into the game looking to wrap up a memorable pre-season, which includes wins over Championship neighbours Nottingham Forest and Derby County, with victory.
Stags made 11 changes from Friday night’s 2-1 win at Boston United as Paul Cox continued to explore all the options available to him. Former Field Mill favourite Johnny Mullins, the only survivor from the last time the two clubs met when defeat by The Millers condemned Stags to relegation in April 2008, was named in the visitor’s starting eleven.
The South Yorkshire side, who are pre-season favourites to lift the League Two crown, arrived at Field Mill in good form having already beaten Oldham, Barnsley and Doncaster in pre-season.
And it was Rotherham who had the first sniff at goal when the pacey Daniel Nardiello found space to burst through midfield and fire just wide with the aid of a deflection on 9 minutes.
Stags were left breathing a huge sigh of relief from the resulting corning when Rotherham new-boy Kieran Agard beat Luke Jones to head wide from close range with the goal beckoning.
Jason Taylor was next to go close for the visitors on 11 minutes when he also headed over the bar after Alan Marriott had flapped at a corner.
Another silky move down the left flank saw the increasingly confident visitors once again threathen.
But David Noble was the latest Miller to lack the necessary composure as he guided his header high and wide from 12 yards when he should have scored.
Agard then fired weakly at Marriott on 16 minutes after a good ball by Taylor had played him through wide on the right side of the box as Rotherham continued to carve their way through the Stags rearguard.
But the deadlock was finally broken on 26 minutes when midfielder Kari Arnason rifled a sweetly hit strike from 28 yards into the top right corner of Marriott’s goal after Stags had allowed him far too much time on the ball.
It was a well deserved lead for the confident League Two side, who finished 10th last season, following a sustained spell of pressure and incisive passing by the visitors.
And more flowing football saw the impressive Rotherham side extend their lead on 37 minutes when Stags were left cruelly exposed on the counter attack as the visitors broke with five men against three defenders.
Arnason then threaded the perfect throughball into the feet of Nardiello who crisply slotted past Marriott to give Rotherham a commanding two goal cushion.
At the other end, Lee Stevenson headed over from an outswinging Lee Beevers cross on 40 minutes as struggling Stags looked to find an unlikely route back into the game.
But with just two minutes of the second half gone Stags found a way back into the game after a determined run from Matt Green. Green, who was top scorer last season with 29 goals, cut in from the left flank before jinking his way past three defenders.
He then laid the ball into the path of Lee Stevenson, who fired past Shearer with a well-placed shot from just inside the box.
It was the perfect response to Paul Cox’s half-time team talk as Mansfield Town came out with an improved purpose.
Stags survived a huge scare on 65 minutes when Marriott’s outstretched boot denied sub Gareth Evans after he had burst well into the box before shooting at the near post.
Evans then feed the loose ball back into the path of the onrushing Taylor, whose cushioned header sent Marriott the wrong way before Thompson hacked the ball off the line at the expense of a corner.
Substitute Mark Bradley doubled Rotherham’s lead with 20 minutes to go after he was left with the simplest of tap ins from four yards after Stags had failed to clear a long throw. But just a minute later it was game on again after Lindon Meikle showed a fantastic turn of pace to burst through the midfield.
He then picked out the perfect defence-splitting pass for the supporting Matt Green who raced on to the ball before slotting home through the legs of Shearer in cool fashion.
Luke Jones came close to levelling the entertaining contest with a header on 75 minutes after he rose well to meet a Jamie Tolley free-kick.
But any hopes of a dramatic comeback were dashed deep into injury-time when Jake Speight fired over from inside the six yard box after a defence-splitting cross from Nick Wright.
MANSFIELD TOWN (4-3-3): Marriott, Thompson, Beevers, Tolley, Pilkington, Jones, Meikles (Wright 70 mins), Stevenson (Clements 56 mins), Green (Speight 70 mins), Dyer, Howell (Roberts 65 mins). Subs not used: Redmond, Dempster, Speight, Briscoe, Wright, Rhead, Hand, Tolley, Poku.
ROTHERHAM UNITED (4-4-2): Warrington (Shearer 45 mins), Vidal, Wilson (Revell 56 mins), Sharps, Mullins, Taylor (Woods 84 mins), Arnason (Pringle 75 mins), Odejayi (Bradley 56 mins), Nardiello (Ainsworth 66 mins), Noble, Agard (Evans 56 mins). Subs not used: Johnson, O’Connor.
REFEREE: Russell Booth (Nottinghamshire).
MATCH RATING: 4 out of 5.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Lee Beevers.
ATTENDANCE: 1300 (253 away).