Mansfield Town once again lost a penalty shoot-out after drawing 1-1 in the Leasing.com Trophy as Crewe Alexandra came away from the One Call Stadium with the extra point from tonight’s group game.
Stags had done exactly the same in their opening group game with Everton U21s.
Crewe, playing their usual attractive passing game, were the better side over 90 minutes, though there were few chances in a poor second half for either side.
Teenage striker Jimmy Knowles certainly enjoyed his night with a spectacular first senior goal for the Stags to put them ahead on 18 minutes, only for a deflected Oli Finney cross to somehow creep in just before the break with both sides and the fans initially believing it has hit the sidenetting in a truly surreal moment.
In the end, penalty misses by Andy Cook and Alistair Smith left Stags needing a win in the final group game at Burton to hope they can stay in the competition.
It was still a useful work-out for a mostly second string Stags with defenders Matt Preston and Ryan Sweeney rock solid and striker Dapo Afolayan having a very impressive first half.
The attendance of 800 equalled the lowest ever gate at Field Mill for any competitive Stags game, which had been the 800 who watched Torquay United’s visit in the Football League on 8th March 1939.
Goalkeeper Bobby Olejnik, at least made his long-awaited return among 10 changes.
Olejnik had been sidelined since December with an serious knee injury, and more recently a dislocated finger.
Despite being suspended for league matters, defender Preston was eligible to start the match at centre half.
Young defender James Clarke was at right wing back, with Smith and Willem Tomlinson the central midfielders.
Forwards Afolayan, Cook and Knowles led the line for the Stags with Afolayan making his full debut.
Crewe, managed by ex-Stags defender Dave Artell, also made eight changes for the game.
Ainley was too high from distance and Olejnik was down safely to clutch a low 18-yard shot from Finney on five minutes as the visitors started positively.
Olejnik then had to scramble across to turn a low 30-yard effort by Wintle round the post.
Clarke was on target for Mansfield but shot tamely to Richards while Anene headed straight at Okejnik from an Adebisi cross.
But a Crewe mistake gifted young Knowles an opening that he buried for his first senior Mansfield goal on 18 minutes.
Dale’s misplaced pass reached Knowles 14 yards and central and he looked up and simply buried an unstoppable blast past a helpless Richards.
Ainley’s shot from distance on 20 minutes was easy for Olejnik who was then more fortunate when some pinball after a Crewe corner ended up with the ball in his hands off Anene.
Finney then started and almost finished a powerful surge forward, his shot on the turn deflected just over.
On 25 minutes a lovely ball out wide from Smith got Stags on the move again and Crewe were fortunate as both Knowles and Cook had goalbound blasts blocked after Clarke had whipped the ball in low.
Cook’s challenge on Nolan on 27 minutes left the defender holding his face and the Stags man shown a yellow card.
Johnson joined him three minutes later for his foul on Hamilton.
Preston made a crucial block on Anene’s attempted finish on 33 minutes.
Crewe were suddenly level on 45 minutes in the most bizarre of circumstances.
Finney was on the left of the box and saw his attempted cross seem to deflect off a defender towards the sidenetting. No one reacted from either side as the ball suddenly bounced inside the goal and everyone assumed it had somehow got through the sidenetting.
But the referee spoke with his assistant and finally confirmed it had squeezed in legally and the goal was given to the home side’s bemusement.
After a scrappy start to the second half Mellis was sent on for Tomlinson on 52 minutes.
Three minutes later Knowles might have doubled his tally when sent clean through by Smith’s fine pass, but after sidestepping the keeper he lost control of the ball and it rolled harmlessly out of play.
Mellis needed treatment after a knock after, after trying to run it off, was replaced by Benning on 71 minutes after only 19 minutes on the pitch.
Khan then took over from Knowles for the last seven minutes with the game having gone flat and seemingly heading for penalties.
NG tried his luck from distance with four to go but was too high.
On 87 minutes Finney tumbled in the box under the challenge of Sweeney but was booked for the dive as he looked for an unlikely penalty.
Smith sent Hamilton away in added time but Johnson did well to slide in and rob him for a corner that Sweeney nodded over.
The final act of the game was Kirk going narrowly wide of the far post after a neat move on the break which left us with penalties.
Hamilton took the first and stroked it home down the centre with Olejnik guessing right to keep out Ng’s low effort to give Stags an early advantage.
However, Cook then blazed his straight at Richards’ legs and Jones was able to level, sending Olejnik the wrong way.
Afolayan made it 2-1 to Stags, sending Richards the wrong way before Pickering did the same to Olejnik for 2-2.
Smith’s spot kick then hit the post before Finney only just beat Olejkin’s fingertips to put Crewe ahead.
Benning calmly kept Stags in it with a cool finish, but Kirk’s was equally as impressive as he rolled it inside the right post to seal a 4-3 shoot-out win.
STAGS: Olejnik, Preston, Shaughnessy, Sweeney, Clarke, Tomlinson (Mellis 52, Benning 71), Smith, Hamilton, Afolayan, Cook, Knowles (Khan 83). SUBS NOT USED: Stone, Maynard, Gordon, Sketchley.
CREWE: Richards, Ng, Wintle, Nolan, Ainley, Green (Jones 76), Finney, Anene (Kirk 83), Dale (Pickering 83)), Johnson, Adebisi. SUBS NOT USED: Booth, Porter, Hunt, Lundstram. REFEREE: James Oldham of Derbyshire.
ATTENDANCE: 800 (39 away).
CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: RYAN SWEENEY.