Sky Bet League 2
Luton Town 3-0 Mansfield Town
Attendance: 8418 (away support 294)
WHERE does today rank in the list of memorable football away days?
This short trip to Luton brought queueing traffic all the way from the M1 into town; the primitive facilities of the Kenilworth Road ground's away stand, and a heavy defeat for Mansfield Town in a game where the Stags, despite some encouraging approach play, struggled to create meaningful goalscoring chances.
But there were positives too.
The past week had seen Adam Murray start with two 1-0 wins in his role as caretaker manager, following the departure of Paul Cox. Murray has immediately added more width to the team, adopting a 4-1-2-3 formation with Reggie Lambe getting a chance to shine on the right wing and Rob Taylor on the left. Those two players have, according to Murray, “grasped the style of play that we’re looking to go with, and how important they are to it”.
But Murray also felt that another option was needed, and so on Thursday Junior Brown, who can operate on either flank, arrived on a loan deal from Oxford United until January.
On a bright and unseasonably mild afternoon in Bedfordshire, Mansfield fans were subjected to 1980s-style body searches as they entered the ground through the turnstiles, embedded in the terraced houses on the cordoned-off Oak Road.
Backed by a boisterous following of 294 under the roof of the stand, Stags started the game brightly, with Kieron Freeman's early cross from the right just too high for the head of Vadaine Oliver.
At the other end, and in front of the Stags fans, Luton's Shaun Whalley went down in the box after 17 minutes, claiming he had been tripped by Lee Beevers. Referee Gavin Ward rightly responded by showing the Hatters' number 20 a yellow card for a diving - a rare event in League Two.
But Luton were ahead in the 20th minute. Stags' keeper Sascha Studer blocked Paul Benson's close-range flick, but as Benson scrambled to recover the loose ball, he was somehow able to turn 180 degrees with two defenders just behind him and send a soft shot rolling past Studer from 12 yards out.
Sadly Benson would be stretchered off seven minutes later, after what seemed like a completely innocuous collision left him with what turned out to be a broken leg.
With Junior Brown on as a half-time substitute in place of Rob Taylor on the left, Mansfield made another bright start to the second 45 minutes.
Two minutes after the restart, Reggie Lambe sent a spectacular overhead kick just over the crossbar after Ryan Tafazolli headed Chris Clements' free-kick across the penalty area. Debutant Brown also sent a stinging shot straight at Luton 'keeper Mark Tyler eight minutes later.
Luton had already hit the woodwork at the other end though when two quick goals for the Hatters ended the game as a contest.
With 59 minutes player Studer's poor clearance was collected by Whalley 35 yards from goal. Whalley skated past Beevers on the Stags' left before sending what looked like an attempted cross straight into the top corner over the head of Studer.
Four minutes later it was 3-0, as Whalley cut inside from the right and beat the diving Studer with a low, left-footed shot from just outside the box.
Luton forced four successive corners in the closing stages, and also saw a deflected shot hit the post, but more goals would have been harsh on the Stags, given the promising spells of play they had enjoyed.
Matt Rhead replaced the the tiring Lambe with 15 minutes to go, and it was Rhead's flick-on which set up Vadaine Oliver for a disallowed 'goal' in the 87th minute, Oliver having strayed marginally offside.
For Rhead, it was a chance to return to his former role as a late substitute and an impact player, a role in which he served Mansfield well in the Conference and in the early part of last season following the Stags' promotion. The big number 9 had become a key target man in Paul Cox's starting XI over the past 12 months, and collected four Player of the Season awards at the end of 2013/14. But he may struggle to get anything like the same game time under the new regime.
Notably, those 294 Stags fans, many of whom had remained standing throughout the 90 minutes, given the minimal leg room available, stayed to applaud the players after the final whistle. It was a reaction which suggested that they appreciated the players' efforts and the style of football offered. On the day, Mansfield had certainly been outscored, but not entirely outplayed.
As for the managerial situation, Chairman John Radford has confirmed that six candidates are lined up for interview this week. Adam Murray, encouraged by the way the players have embraced his football philosophy, may also step forward, but has effectively ruled himself out of a player-manager role, and will be reluctant to call time on his playing career at the age of 33.
For whoever is in charge by next Saturday, another away day beckons, as Mansfield prepare for their FA Cup 2nd Round tie at Cambridge United.