As a former top flight defender, Mansfield Town’s U21s boss Mike Whitlow did not enjoy seeing his side concede four goals from set plays in today’s 4-2 home defeat by local rivals Chesterfield in their Central League Cup clash at Rainworth MW.
But Whitlow was delighted by his side’s attacking play and work in possession and said the defeat will be a valuable lesson to his youngsters.
“At the end of the day, if you can’t defend your own 18-yard box, you’re going to be in trouble,” he said.
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“There was a lot of good football at times and I thought the three in midfield did well.
“When the first one goes in from the corner you come in and address it half-time. Then you get two more free kicks and another corner in the back of your net.
“So it was four goals from set plays where you get a chance to organise.
“It’s not as if in general play we’ve been passed through or someone has produced great skill and scored a great goal.
“It’s the disappointment of playing so well on the ball and having some really good performances but reflecting on the scoreline that we were not able to defend.”
He added: “Sometimes that’s a desire – a mental attitude that my man is not going to score.
“So it’s a valuable lesson to learn. But there was some fantastic football today and it was a joy to watch. The sun was out and some of them did fantastic.
“Young Marriott (Tom) came on again and did fab. Young Keiron (Harrison) from the U18s got 45 minutes and also Henry Wilder, a first year, so you’ve got a 16-year-old left back on there who has dealt with it very well.”
With first team boss Adam Murray and first team coach Richard Cooper in the crowd, several players will have impressed with the club currently in the midst of a spate of injuries.
“There were a lot of positives here and the gaffer and Coops were here,” said Whitlow.
“So who’s done enough to give them food for thought? “Who is going to figure in their thoughts? Have they shown enough off the ball and on the ball to try to get to train with the first team on a regular basis?
“Having John (Dempster) working alongside me today was great as the U18s have been doing fab, so seeing them get on and get involved, it’s all positive really.”
Unlike last week, Murray elected not to risk any first team players in the side today, but Whitlow said that should have made no difference to their defending.
“That’s a feeble excuse – it’s never been about nous,” he said.
“It’s about wanting to defend and wanting to mark a man.
“Do you really want to defend that corner or free kick when it’s coming in? Are you going to take one in the face? Are you going to get hurt?
“Last week we kept a clean sheet and the discipline and how they defended was fantastic.
“As I said today general play was not bad, but if you’re not prepared to make sure your man don’t score, it’s a difficult pill to swallow for me as a coach and a defender.
“Football games are won and lost in the box. We’ve scored two, let’s be fair they gave us the first one, then we got a really good goal from Tyler (Blake).”
Overall, Whitlow is delighted to see how quickly his group are gelling and progressing.
He said: “They’ve been on a journey in there for the last eight weeks.
“From where we started in pre-season as a group to play like they played today and move the ball was excellent at times.”
The one star name on the pitch was veteran former Leicester City striker Gary Taylor-Fletcher, who was on trial for Chesterfield and scored twice.
Whitlow said playing against someone with that level of experience was a great aid to his young side’s education.
“It helps,” hew said. “Let’s be fair, he finds little holes he finds pockets, he waits till you’re not looking and it’s only of benefit.
“Hopefully these young lads can keep progressing, learning and wanting to improve and tighten up a little bit as a unit when the ball is in our box.”