The Hatters’ second League Two assignment of the week on the road saw them edged out by the odd goal in three at Mansfield, as they had been at Doncaster four days earlier.
Following a tight first 45 minutes, the afternoon’s three goals arrived in as many minutes early during the second half, as County went in front through Antoni Sarcevic, before conceding two in quick succession to fall behind.
The Hatters took to the field sporting their light blue and white striped away shirts for the first time in a competitive fixture, and showing two changes from the midweek starting line-up against Doncaster – with Mark Kitching and Fraser Horsfall replacing, respectively, Myles Hippolyte and the suspended Macauley Southam-Hales. The hosts, for their part, were without injured striker, and one-time Hatter, Rhys Oates, who had turned out a dozen times for County during 2014 whilst on loan from Barnsley.
The afternoon’s inaugural corner and first chance of note came the way of Mansfield together, as John-Joe O’Toole headed over Anthony Hartigan’s delivery from the right, with seven minutes on the clock. And half a dozen minutes later, a defence-splitting pass from George Maris put Stephen McLaughlin through on goal – but Vit Jaros was quickly off his line to claim the ball.
Opportunities were otherwise at a relative premium until after the first half’s mid-point, when the contest showed signs of opening up. A through-ball from skipper Paddy Madden found Ryan Croasdale, whose shot was parried by home goalkeeper Christy Pym. And, at the other end, Will Swan – on loan to the ‘Stags’ from Nottingham Forest – fired from the right into the side-netting.
County’s first corner was earned six minutes ahead of the break, after Madden’s low cross from the right was intercepted and put beyond the near post by O’Toole. And a subsequent, more looping one by the captain was caught cleanly by Pym.
The hosts launched a late attack in added time, with Kitching bravely blocking a shot from skipper Ollie Clarke at point-blank range.
HALF-TIME: Mansfield 0, County 0.
County – now attacking the end that housed nearly a thousand travelling Hatters – went close to troubling the scorers five minutes after the resumption, when a chip into the home box from Madden found Kyle Wootton, whose header struck the right post.
With their next chance, three minutes later, the Hatters went ahead, as Sarcevic unleashed a shot from 25 yards that flew past Pym and into the top-right corner of the net.
But their delight lasted just one minute, as Swan controlled the ball 10 yards out and drove a left-footed shot in to put the hosts back on level terms. And two minutes following that, Mansfield went in front, after Jaros parried a low effort by George Lapslie, and Clarke fired home from close range on the rebound.
The Hatters introduced Ollie Crankshaw, Connor Jennings and Ryan Rydel by way of a triple attacking substitution five minutes after the hour, as they went in search of an equaliser. And Callum Camps was only inches away from scoring one, when he volleyed just shy of the right post.
But the remainder of the contest yielded nothing further for County, who slipped to a fourth defeat in five L2 matches – and remain without a league victory at Mansfield for 39 years.
FULL-TIME: Mansfield 2 (Swan, 54; Clarke, 56), County 1 (Sarcevic, 53).
Team (3-4-1-2): Jaros; Lewis, Horsfall (Rydel, 65), R. Johnson (Crankshaw, 65); Brown, Croasdale, Camps (Evans, 75), Kitching; Sarcevic (Hippolyte, 75); Madden (Capt.), Wootton (Jennings, 65).
Unused Subs: Hinchliffe, Quigley.
Attendance: 6,924 (968 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.