Stockport County 0-2 Mansfield Town

The Hatters returned to Edgeley Park for the first time since Christmas, but began 2024 by falling to a two-goal defeat in a top-two tussle with second-placed Mansfield.

The visitors scored early in the second half and deep into added time, to do the ‘double’ over County and close the gap at the head of the table to two points – while the Hatters’ woe was further accentuated by the losses of Kyle Knoyle and Ethan Pye to injury.

Some glorious New Year’s morning sunshine had given way to cloudier skies by the time County took to the field in front of a five-figure crowd, and showing two changes from the starting line-up at Bradford City three days earlier. Ryan Croasdale and Kyle Wootton constituted the recalled pair – replacing Tanto Olaofe and Nick Powell, both of whom were named among the substitutes.

The visiting ‘Stags’, for their part, included among the starters Rhys Oates who had plied his trade at EP, and made a dozen appearances up front for County in the Conference North (as was), whilst on loan from Barnsley during 2014.

The very first minute of proceedings saw Pye pick up a knock, after a coming together with Ollie Clarke on the halfway-line, and need of treatment before continuing. And within five minutes, the first yellow card had been shown – to Clarke, as it happened, for a late tackle on Fraser Horsfall.

County then went close, when a hooked delivery from Paddy Madden narrowly missed a touch by Odin Bailey and fizzed beyond the left post. But the next occurrence of note was, sadly, the end of Pye’s participation, after the defender had proved unable to shake off his knock and had to be replaced by Jayden Richardson with only eight minutes on the clock.

The visitors had to endure an early, enforced substitution (and the first of their two in the opening half-hour), after Oates came off worse in a challenge on Ben Hinchliffe and could play no further part. And at the other end, when play resumed, a break by the Hatters saw Ibby Touray – fed by Madden – drill just wide of the far upright with a low shot from the left.

Oates’ replacement, Lucas Akins, had a shot deflected beyond the right post, before Callum Camps tested visiting goalkeeper Christy Pym with a shot from distance, to which Mansfield’s Number One held on cleanly.

With two minutes of normal first-half time remaining, Jordan Bowery’s delivery from the right picked out second Stag-replacement Louis Reed, whose first-time shot was tipped by Hinchliffe on to the outside of the far post and behind. And, in the course of eight minutes of time added on to cover five separate treatment-spells during the half, Madden drilled beyond the left upright.

HALF-TIME: County 0, Mansfield 0. 

The Hatters launched the first attack following the resumption, with Richardson going to ground in the area under a challenge from Stephen McLaughlin – but play being waved on by Referee Middleton.

Almost immediately afterwards, the visitors fashioned the first chance, which saw an Aaron Lewis shot deflected off Croasdale and past the right post. And shortly after the resulting corner, they went ahead, as the initial delivery was only partially cleared, and Clarke crossed back into the box from the right for George Maris to head in from close range.

Camps then had a shot cleared off the line by Stephen McLaughlin, before a clash of heads in the home box led to Knoyle being stretchered off, following the afternoon’s sixth, and lengthiest, spell of treatment on the pitch.

With Olaofe already introduced in Knoyle’s stead, the Hatters brought on Powell to freshen their effort further in the closing stages. And the latter was to set up an opportunity for Madden, whose looping header cleared the Cheadle End crossbar.

Thirteen additional minutes were announced – primarily on account of Knoyle’s injury – and in the second of those, Olaofe’s header looked for all the world to have salvaged a point, only for Pym to arch back and brilliantly claw the ball away. And the visiting ‘keeper came to his side’s rescue again seven minutes later, when he tipped around the left post a Powell shot from the edge of the box.

In the event, the telling added-time chance fell to Mansfield. Substitute Davis Keillor-Dunn, who, almost immediately beforehand, had fired wide of an empty net after dispossessing Hinchliffe, made no mistake with a second opportunity a couple of minutes from the final whistle. Latching on to Clarke’s through-ball, the Stags’ leading scorer steadied himself before slotting home from 12 yards.

FULL-TIME: County 0, Mansfield 2 (Maris, 49; Keillor-Dunn, 90 + 11). 

Team (3-5-2): Hinchliffe; Wright, Horsfall, Pye (Richardson, 8); Knoyle (Olaofe, 65), Camps, Croasdale (Powell, 82), Bailey, Touray; Madden (Capt.), Wootton.

Unused Subs: Smith, Byrne, Mee, Johnson.

Booked: Bailey.

Man of the Match: Camps.

Attendance: 10,334 (906 away).

Reporter: Gareth Evans.

Photographer: Mike Petch.


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