A much changed Mansfield side travelled to table-topping Syston on Saturday for their final game of 2014, not the obvious way to end a five game losing run - and so it proved to be with a 50-5 defeat.
Syston were full of confidence having taken over top spot with a convincing 21-12 victory over Kettering the previous week, who had themselves set the early season pace.
It was never going to be an easy game, but the 50-5 final score was scant reward for the Mansfield effort on the day.
To add to the visitors’ woes they then lost the toss and found themselves playing up a slight incline and into the teeth of a bitterly cold gale force wind.
Coach Neil Stent had to once again reshuffle his team, drafting 18-year-old Anthony Symcox into the pack and two young flankers playing out of position on the wings.
But at the final whistle he had nothing but praise for his young charges, despite the one-sided appearance of the scoreline.
Syston dominated the early exchanges, using their rolling maul off the five metre lineout to good effect.
A Mansfield infringement only temporarily halted Syston progress and quick thinking from the home scrum half caught the Blue and Whites on the back foot, allowing the home side to score under the posts, 7-0 after five minutes.
Most observers feared the worst, but to their credit the young Mansfield XV took the game to the home side and were unlucky not to restore parity with a flowing attacking, which was only halted with what appeared to be a deliberate knock-on with the try line beckoning.
Instead the outcome was only a Mansfield scrum which the home side successfully disrupted to clear their lines.
Worse was to follow as Syston were awarded another penalty and in a carbon copy of the first score doubled their advantage with 12 minutes on the clock.
The rest of the half was generally played out in the middle third of the field with Syston showing the more positive attacking intent of the two sides, countered with great team defence from the visitors.
The only noteworthy event was a yellow card for the home side for what appeared from the side lines to be dangerous play.
With 40 minutes on the clock the match official found six minutes of stoppage time from somewhere, time for Syston to launch one last attack only halted by a superb tackle from centre Calum Wood.
The half-time whistle finally blew with most observers agreeing a 14-0 score was due reward for an excellent Mansfield effort in the conditions.
The early exchanges in the second period were scrappy and lacked any continuity with neither team threatening to take control.
A three times reset scrum on 55 minutes resulted in a penalty for Syston as Mansfield were ruled to be offside, despite the ball escaping the feet of the home eight.
Yet another quickly-taken penalty caught Mansfield napping, allowing Syston to further extend their lead.
Worse was to follow as firstly the official adjudged the re-start had not travelled the required 10m and then awarded a penalty to Syston from the resultant scrum.
Once again Syston went quickly, this time taking advantage of some uncharacteristically weak tackling from the visitors to further extend their lead to 31-0 with unofficially 10 minutes left on the clock.
Once again the Blue and Whites rallied, taking the game to the opposition and forcing a series of penalties from a retreating Syston defence.
A line out five metres out gave Mansfield the opportunity to bring their own driving maul into play with Danny Ellis eventually emerging from the pile up with the ball.
With the score at 31-5 and 80 minutes on the clock and only a couple of noteworthy stoppages, most expectations were that the remaining couple of minutes would be played out in midfield.
However, the match official had other ideas, finding a further seven minutes of playing time.
Syston profited, scoring a further three tries, all the result of penalties against the visitors and also a yellow card for Mansfield’s Josh Hall, to make the final score a hugely disappointing one.
Despite the one-sided feel of the scoreline, head coach Neil Stent was anything but despondent, highlighting a number of positives from the game which gave hope for the New Year.
The team now break for the festive season with Market Rasen the next visitors to Eakring Road on Saturday, 3rd January.
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