One moment of great quality in the dying embers saw Derby County’s Checkatrade Trophy journey end in defeat as Mansfield Town edged out 3-2 winners in the final group stage fixture.
The Rams were forced to climb a mountain early doors too as the Stags established a quick fire two goal lead to hold a 2-0 cushion after just five minutes of action through Ashley Hemmings and Darius Henderson.
Jamie Hanson’s deflected free kick halved the deficit, before Andreas Weimann also saw a strike take a nick and loop into the back of the net to set up a grandstand finish at the iPro Stadium.
Mansfield’s captain, Chris Clements, however, struck a sublime winner from all of 25 yards out – a goal that sent Mansfield through to the knockout stages of the competition with Doncaster Rovers at the expense of Derby and Sky Bet League 1 outfit Port Vale.
Showing an experienced back five that contained Chris Weale, Chris Baird and Jason Shackell, the Rams looked to have a solid base to build upon as Wassall’s side sought to extend their stay in this season’s Checkatrade Trophy.
Despite that, the hosts had a mountain to climb as Mansfield made the perfect start to this crucial final group clash of this Checkatrade Trophy meeting and established a two-goal cushion within five minutes.
Hemmings kick started the shock spell by showing great pace to latch on to a flicked header from Henderson, before squeezing a low shot underneath Weale, despite the goalkeeper getting a hand to his effort.
Three minutes later it was 2-0 as the Rams failed to clear their lines after Weale came racing out of his goal to claim a ball forward, leaving Henderson the simple task of finishing the loose ball into the back of an unguarded goal.
Proceedings settled down after that as Wassall’s side began to dictate the tempo of the game.
Farrend Rawson, the Derby captain, headed narrowly wide from Callum Guy’s precise delivery as the hosts began to craft openings, but shortly after that the hosts clawed one back.
Hanson is renowned for his quality from dead ball situations and when the Rams were awarded a free kick 20-yards from goal, there was only going to be one man taking it. The result was a goal as his effort squirmed through the wall and flew past a deceived Scott Shearer.
Weimann had a shout for a penalty waved away moments later after checking on to his right foot, whilst Charles Vernam, playing in a deeper midfield role, saw a snap shot saved by Shearer.
That’s how the first half ended and on a bitterly cold evening in Derbyshire, it took a while for the second 45 minutes to get going.
A lack of chances and quality in the final third was the result of a feisty affair and it took 20 minutes alone for the first effort to be registered of the half as Weimann sent a whistling shot over the crossbar from range.
With the contest on a knife edge, Mitchell Rose, the substitute, saw a drive take a deflection for a corner, whilst Kyle Howkins directed a header from the resulting set playing over Weale’s goal.
As time ticked down, the tempo picked up slightly and Wassall’s men were given a lifeline with six minutes remaining, striking once more to set up a grandstand finish at the iPro Stadium as Weimann saw a cracked shot take a deflection and loop over Shearer to nestle nicely into the far corner of the goal.
Both teams sensed blood knowing that one goal, with Port Vale and Doncaster Rovers goalless too, that there was a big opportunity to still progress, but with five minutes of added time shown, the game’s biggest moment of quality showed itself and ultimately prevailed.
From 20-yards out, Clements, the Mansfield captain, collected a loose clearance, switched the ball on to his right foot, and planted a precise finish beyond the outstretched fingertips of Weale to secure all three points and send them through to the knockout stage of the competition.
Derby County: Weale, Baird, Rawson, Shackell, Stabana, Hanson, Guy, Vernam (Walker, 84), Gordon (Santos, 66), Weimann, Bennett (Jakobsen, 85)
Substitutes not used: Ravas, Cover, Lelan, Mitchell-Lawson
Mansfield Town: Shearer, Bennett, Benning, Pearce, Clements (C), Baxendale (Hamilton, 59), Howkins, Thomas (M. Rose, 47), Hemmings, Gobern, Henderson (Green, 73)
Substitutes not used: Jensen, Hoban, D. Rose, Harrison
Attendance: 870 (357 away supporters)Tweets by @ dcfcofficial