Proud Mansfield take the positives from agonising single-point defeat

ON THE RUN -- Mansfield applying more pressure on their title-chasing visitors, Dronfield.
ON THE RUN -- Mansfield applying more pressure on their title-chasing visitors, Dronfield.

One that got away was how rueful Mansfield reflected on an agonising single-point defeat against title-chasing Dronfield at Eakring Road.

But they were also feeling proud and positive after a terrific performance that proved what their youthful side are capable of.

Still next to bottom in the National League’s Midlands 2 East (North) division they might be after 13 losses in 17 matches. And still finding their feet the youngsters might be. But their display in a 13-12 thriller against a side who started the day top of the table proved they are no pushover, especially at home.

“I thought we were outstanding, from the first whistle to the last,” beamed head coach Wayne Robinson. “We really fought as a team and made them work for their victory. On another day, we might have come away with the full four points. But we still took a bonus point and gave a performance that will surely send a message to other teams in the division.”

An emotional atmosphere hung over Eakring Road as the club bid a final farewell to loyal members and personal heroes. The flag was even flying at half-mast.

With Mansfield hanging precariously close to the drop zone, Dronfield were not expecting the ferocity they encountered. But the blue-and-whites attacked with vigour and enthusiasm from the off, working decent field-position and territory.

It was a pity that they conceded an inordinate amount of penalties, halting momentum and allowing the away team to clear their lines. But with the lineouts evenly matched throughout, it was from a rare Mansfield penalty that the deadlock was broken. Opting to go to touch, the forwards executed a smart lineout manoeuvre and as Dronfield held back, the ball was popped out to Josh Hall, who looped round to the wing, crashed through two defenders and dotted down for a try. A fantastic touchline conversion by fly-half John-Ross Ward gave the home team a 7-0 lead.

A nicely-slotted penalty at the other end reduced the deficit and Dronfield were given a further boost towards the end of the first half when Hall was sent to the sin-bin for an infringement. Only a spectacular try-saving tackle by man-of-the-match Joe Ducker saved the day for the blue-and-whites.

The second half started as it would continue for most of the next 40 minutes, with Mansfield conceding a penalty and Dronfield trying to build momentum.

The hosts did concede three more points but handled the pressure of sustained attacks superbly, contesting well at the breakdown and stablising the scrum. What’s more, they launched a counter-attack that yielded one of the best tries seen at the ground this season. Tom Key set up a ruck platform and fed quick ball through the backs, first to Pete Alldread and then to Olly Stanford, before an offload to youngster Jack Sebecko, who raced 30 metres to go over the line.

A missed conversion left the score at 12-6 and meant Dronfield had to dig really deep to pull the match out of the fire. Mansfield continued to defend with the kind of tenacity that has been missing for large parts of the season, but the visitors finally broke through the blue-and-white wall to register their own try. Even more heartbreaking was that it was scored just to the left of the uprights, leaving a simple conversion that edged the visitors in front by one point.

That’s how it stayed, although Dronfield did hit an upright with another penalty. But Mansfield could hold their heads high and, after a break from action this weekend because of international action, they can look forward to taking on another high-flying side, West Bridgford, on March 19.