AFC make history with first ever Evo-Stik League victory By Oliver MOONEY

Rudy Funk was “over the moon” after his AFC Mansfield side battled to a hard-fought victory over Pickering Town in their first ever game in the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League East Division.

Goals from Lynton Karkach and Nick Guest on either side of half-time gave the Bulls a crucial 2-0 lead in an end-to-end spectacle which could have very easily seen a different result, before a late penalty from Ryan Blott set up a nervy finish at the Forest Town Arena.

In his post-match interview, the Bulls boss said he was “absolutely delighted” with the three points.

“In the short history of AFC Mansfield we yet again made another little bit of history and we got our first three points in the Evo-Stik League, so there’s a big smile on everybody’s faces.”

1st half action

After a fairly scrappy opening to the tie, it was a scrappy goal which earned the hosts their lead, with Lynton Karkach notching his third goal in two games when a long throw into the Pickering penalty area caused an almighty scramble and allowed the striker to prod home.

Visiting side Pickering – a team which the Bulls know well after coming up together from the NCEL Premier Division last season – would have levelled before the break if not for several miraculous saves from standing-in goalkeeper Tom Crosby.

Just five minutes after the opener, Crosby had to be at his best to deny Joe Danby in a one-on-one opportunity, before he pulled off a similar outstanding save ten minutes later when he was forced to parry Billy Logan’s point-blank effort.

Only minutes before half-time the Bulls ‘keeper was once again rushing to the rescue, palming away a Pickering header off the line to leave the visitors scratching their heads at the break, and the gaffer impressed with a surprise performance from the inexperienced stopper.

“We’re very grateful to Tommy because our number one ‘keeper, Jason White, was suspended today, and Tommy came in pre-season and he did well,” Funk said in the post-match interview.

Tom Crosby

“He kept us in the game and the outcome probably could have been different.”

The second half was just as tight and intense as the first, if not more, but the hosts eventually edged further ahead on 66 minutes when the ball was suddenly at the feet of Nick Guest inside the penalty area, and the forward hammered the ball past the stranded Charlie Andrew.

The Pikes were struggling to create clear-cut chances from that moment onwards thanks to a solid Bulls back line, but a well-struck Pickering free-kick which came crashing off the woodwork with 25 minutes of play remaining was a gentle reminder that the game wasn’t quite over yet.

The game certainly should have been over on the 70 minute mark, though, as Bradley Wells somehow directed the ball wide from a yard out when it was probably harder to miss.

The two-goal lead was perhaps flattering considering the Pikes’ first-half chances, but the visitors ensured that it would indeed go right down to the wire when Jack Steers was adjudged to bring down a Pickering forward in the penalty area, and the ever-dangerous Ryan Blott sent Crosby the wrong way to halve the deficit with five minutes left on the clock.

Both sides went for the game’s fourth goal in the closing stages, but AFC held on to a history-making victory which marked their first three points earned in England’s eighth tier.

“I knew it would be a tough game because we played them twice last year and they changed one or two people in their squad,” said the AFC gaffer after the game.

“I’ve been told that one or two were missing for various reasons but you have to battle what’s in front of you, and this afternoon it was a great battle from both sides.

“Obviously it’s easy to say now, but I think a draw would have been an absolutely fair result, because Tommy (Crosby)’s made a couple of fantastic saves.”

With the Bulls facing a trip to less familiar Spalding United on Tuesday, Funk expects the first midweek fixture of the season to be a little different from Saturday.

“The club has never played Spalding but I in my experiences have come across them a few times, they are always a good side and particularly at home.

“We will have to present ourselves in a different manner, because the game will be different.

“With Pickering, although they change people and we change people, we know each other, but Spalding don’t know much about us and we don’t know much about them.”

Tom Crosby in action again

AFC MANSFIELD: Crosby, Marsden, Dudley, Lindley (D’Laryea 49), Steers (Peace-McDonald 85), Annable, B. Wells, Ghaichem ©, Guest (Pugh 75), Karkach, Dear. Subs not used: Wall, Bilson.

PICKERING TOWN: Andrew, Belt (Reynolds 67), Danby, Rogerson, Cass, Barkway, Taylor ©, Freer, Logan, Blott, Dalton (Dunnett 75). Subs not used: Thurston, Marshall, Hall.

AFC Mansfield goals: Karkach (23’), Guest (66’).

Pickering Town goals: Blott (86’ pen.).

Attendance: 136.

Man-of-the-match: Lynton Karkach.

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