Northampton 0-1 Mansfield (agg 1-3): Stags reach League Two play-off final

Steve McLaughlin scored his eighth goal of the season to restore Mansfield's two-goal cushion in the tie
Steve McLaughlin scored his eighth goal of the season to restore Mansfield’s two-goal cushion in the tie

Mansfield Town booked their place in the League Two play-off final at Wembley as they won at Northampton to complete a 3-1 aggregate victory.

Stag’s left-back Steve McLaughlin’s controversial first-half winner completed a disappointing 11 days for the Cobblers, after being dramatically denied automatic promotion.

Nigel Clough’s Stags meet the winners of Thursday’s Port Vale-Swindon tie.

Josh Eppiah came closest to scoring for Jon Brady’s Cobblers on the night.

But the on-loan Leicester City striker’s header was brilliantly saved by Mansfield’s on-loan Manchester United keeper Nathan Bishop inside the first minute of the match.

The Cobblers can also point to what might have happened had Mansfield midfielder Kieran Wallace received more than just a yellow card for a wild, late second-half challenge on Eppiah.

However, the hosts’ real grievance had been the manner of how the game was settled by the only goal of the night.

The Cobblers were two goals behind after 32 minutes of the first leg on Sunday and, although Ali Kolki’s second-half goal halved that first leg deficitthey were again back to two down in the tie after 32 minutes of the second leg too, as right-back Elliott Hewitt set up left-back McLaughlin.

But the controversy came as Lucas Akins steered a pass through the inside-right channel and a clearly offside Stephen Quinn was first to respond.

Quinn then stopped and was overtaken by fast-moving full-back Hewitt from an onside position, who reached the ball first and squared across for McLaughlin to get in ahead of a flat-footed home defense to steer home at the near post for his eighth goal of the season.

The Stags will now visit Wembley on 28 May – their first appearance at the home of English football since losing the FA Trophy final to Darlington in 2011.

No coming back for Cobblers

The Cobblers looked down and out at this same stage two seasons ago when Keith Curle’s side lost 2-0 at home to Cheltenham in the first leg, only to then win 3-0 at Whaddon Road in the second leg before going on to hammer Exeter City 4-0 at Wembley.

But this time there was no coming back as the Stags, who only got back into the English Football League in 2015 after seven seasons in non-league football, continued on their journey under Clough to bring back League One football to Field Mill for the first time since 2003.

A 14-game winless run in all competitions between mid-August and late October left the Stags languishing in the relegation places and there was little suggestion that they might go on to mount a promotion challenge.

But a club record 11 home league wins in a row between 30 October and the 1-0 win over Northampton on 2 April was the cornerstone of their improvement.

In the end they won just three of their last eight games to finish only seventh but they cashed in on the downward curve the Cobblers suddenly found themselves on after letting automatic promotion slip away.

Northampton missed out on automatic promotion on the last day of the 46-game League Two season when they won their final game 3-1 at Barrow, but were dramatically bettered on goals scored when Bristol Rovers netted three times in the final 14 minutes to thump already relegated bottom club Scunthorpe United 7-0.

Cobbler’s boss Jon Brady told BBC Radio Northampton:

“We dominated but Mansfield put their bodies on the line with loads of blocks and clearances.

“Over the two legs they battled and worked hard and we didn’t test the keeper enough.

“I was overwhelmed by the reaction of the fans but I can’t ask any more from the players. We’ve still had a great season, despite all the disappointment of missing out.”

Mansfield Town boss Nigel Clough told BBC Radio Nottingham:

“It was an incredible performance, to keep a clean sheet here and to actually win. The players were incredible and outstanding.

“When in the play-offs, and a team is chasing a two-goal deficit, they will throw the kitchen sink at you. Northampton did and they did it with quality as well.

“The game-plan went to perfection. We had to defend as though our lives depended on it.”

line ups

Northampton

formation 4-2-3-1

  • 1Roberts
  • 23MillsSubstituted forroseat 65′minutes
  • 6HorsfallBooked at 90mins
  • 5Guthrie
  • 14Koiki
  • 4Sowerby
  • 17McWilliams
  • 21Felix-EppiahSubstituted forZimbaat 68′minutes
  • 11pinnockBooked at 87mins
  • 7Hoskins
  • 24Appere

substitutes

  • 2Harriman
  • 8thLewis
  • 18Zimba
  • 19canoe
  • 26Maxted
  • 32rose
  • 35Dyche

Mansfield

formation 4-3-3

  • 1bishop
  • 4Hewitt
  • 12Hawkins
  • 14perches
  • 3McLaughlin
  • 35O’TooleBooked at 53mins
  • 23WallaceBooked at 63minsSubstituted forO Clarkeat 85′minutes
  • 16quinnSubstituted forlapslieat 83′minutes
  • 34Akins
  • 18Oates
  • 9Bowery

substitutes

  • 6Rawson
  • 7Murphy
  • 8thO Clarke
  • 24prick
  • 25strong
  • 32lapslie
  • 44M Longstaff

Referee:
Robert Madeley

Attendance:
7,619

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