STAGS BEATEN BY COBBLERS...& FACE THEM IN PLAY-OFF
Mansfield Town 1 Northampton Town 2
Larkin 54. Sabin 19, Ullathorne 70
One piece of good news for the Stags is that Cobblers striker Eric Sabin will be suspended for the first leg. - Martin
Liam Lawrence picked up various player of the season awards before the game.
Stags beaten in play-off dress rehearsal
NORTHAMPTON Town clinched their place in the play-offs and a semi-final against Mansfield Town with a 2-1 win over the Stags at Field Mill this afternoon.
It was clear throughout the 90 minutes who needed the result more.
But Stags did pull level on 54 minutes through Colin Larkin to wipe out Eric Sabin's 19th minute opener.
Rob Ullathorne put the Cobblers back in front on 70 minutes and, after Craig Disley had missed a great chance to level, they clung on for glory.
The sides now clash again in the semi-finals. The first leg is at Sixfields next Sunday (3pm) with the return at Field Mill on Thursday, 20th May (7.45pm).
Tickets for the away leg go on sale at Field Mill on Tuesday to season ticket holders and SSA members, one per person, and on general sale the next day, Wednesday, also one per person.
It was a disappointing end to the regular season for Stags with a rather flat display in front of an 8,065 crowd after the euphoria of the win at Huddersfield last week.
Stags boss Keith Curle declined to speak to the media after the game but chairman Keith Haslam said: "Obviously we'd have liked to have won the game but at least we have the second leg of the semi-finals at home.
"We shouldn't be frightened of anyone now. We need big time players and we need to be professional in the two games ahead.
"I thought we played well today and their second goal was dubious as I thought he was offside, though the officials didn't agree.
"We are in with a good chance now. It's amazing how things kept changing constantly with Yeovil in the play-offs one minute and then Northampton back in.
"Look at last week, Huddersfield had champagne waiting on the touchline and yet they are now in the play-offs.
"As the manager said, there are bound to be twists and turns and there probably will be ups and downs in the two semi-final games.
"Northampton are an experienced side who have had a marvellous run. So by no means will it be easy. But we have enough experience in our side now and Northampton told us after the game that we are the best side they've played."
Mansfield made two changes with Clarke replacing Hassell in defence and midfielder Disley dropped to the bench to allow Larkin to come in and partner Mendes up front.
Harper fisted away a third minute corner as Mansfield made a lively start.
The visitors' first threat saw Smith slice well wide from 20 yards in the sixth minute.
But seconds later Sabin muscled his way through the centre in chasing a through ball and, after lifting the ball over John-Baptiste to make space for a finish, he should have done better than sending the ball wide from eight yards.
A minute later a free kick was headed on to Richards who sent a header straight at Pilkington.
Sabin and Hargreaves both had shots blocked in the Cobblers' next raid as they began to build up a head of steam and, on 13 minutes, Lawrence headed clear their first corner.
But the Cobblers were ahead on 19 minutes with a bolt from the blue.
Sabin had the ball just outside the box on the left and let fly with a bullet shot that Pilkington got his fingers to but which was so powerful he could only turn it high into the roof of the net.
Mansfield hit back with two successive corners, Day glancing a header well wide from the second of them.
Another flag kick for Stags then saw John-Baptiste penalised for pushing.
Mansfield's first on-target goal attempt finally arrived on 31 minutes as Clarke went long from the right and Larkin got a back-header on it which produced a comfortable save for Harper.
Low went on a promising run for Northampton, evading two tackles before letting the ball run to Sabin who blazed well over.
Corden was crowded out as he tried to go alone and then Mendes was caught offside as the home frustration grew.
A poor clearance then offered a half-chance to Curtis whose shot trickled tamely wide of the target.
Lawrence's persistence won a corner early in the second half for the Stags. But it was over-hit and then Corden's cross from the other flank was easily caught by Harper.
Richards cut inside Day on the left for the visitors to roll the ball into the path of Smith. But, from 20 yards, his shot wasn't too difficult for Pilkington.
Mansfield were unlucky on 53 minutes when Wiliamson made space in the box for a shot that deflected against the post and wide for a corner.
But from the corner they were level as Lawrence sent it long and over everyone to Larkin at the far post who guided home a low finish into the net.
That gave the side and the home fans a huge lift after a dreary first half and two minutes later Lawrence fired wide first time after a long Clarke ball was cleared to his feet. And shortly after Larkin was muscled out of it in the box by Sampson.
Another good Mansfield move saw Mendes down the left go inside to Corden who, in turn, fed Williamson for a 20-yard shot that dipped just over the crossbar.
Northampton came close to regaining the lead on 67 minutes as Sabin cued up Trollope 20 yards out for a first time shot that clipped the crossbar with Pilkington beaten.
Shortly after Hargreaves had a shot blocked in the box as the visitors tried to raise their game with news coming through that play-off rivals Yeovil were 2-0 up at Lincoln.
The goal they so desperately needed came on 70 minutes as Stags were caught square at the back.
The ball was whipped across from the right and Mansfield were looking for offside as Ullathorne sneaked in behind them on the left and took the ball on before drilling it low past Pilkington.
Disley replaced Corden before play restarted while, shortly after, the visitors swapped Lyttle for Low.
There was comedy as Ullathorne brought down Larkin and the referee accidentally showed a red card instead of a yellow.
Disley was guilty of a dreadful miss on 76 minutes. Clarke sent in an excellent cross from the right which Disley should have tucked away from six yards in front of goal but failed to get a touch on.
The Cobblers made a second change on 79 minutes, Asamoah on for Richards, and the striker soon had a shot blocked.
Stags lost midfield dynamo Curtis with injury on 82 minutes, D'Jaffo coming on, while Day was being booked for shirt pulling.
Huge cheers erupted round the ground from the mass of away fans as news filtered through that Lincoln had pulled it back to 2-2
Taylor came on for Smith on 86 minutes as the away fans' tension returned with news that Yeovil had now gone 3-2 up at Sincil Bank.
Larkin controlled a Lawrence cross and then sent a flicked volley over with two minutes to go as the Cobblers hung on for glory.
Shortly after the final whistle, the visitors were allowed a lap of honour to take the applause of almost 2,500 away fans.
Northampton's Director of Football John Deehan said: "Getting into the play-offs looked almost unattainable at Christmas so this is a tremendous achievement.
"You have to feel for Yeovil who are probably the first team to get 74 points and not make the play-offs. But we will savour this tonight and then it's back to work on Monday.
"We have two big games with Mansfield to look forward to now. For me they are probably the best footballing team in the division.
"They play terrific football and showed no malice in the game. But I think we were just about worthy winners.
"It was a fantastic goal from Eric Sabin. Then after Mansfield equalised there was a 20 minute spell when I think we were back out of the play-off places.
"We planned to gamble all and throw the kitchen sink at them in the last 10 minutes but it didn't come to that.
"Rob Ullathorne grabbed us the winning goal. I had him at Norwich and, although his goalscoring record is not fantastic, once he gets into that sort of position, he is a good finisher."
Team manager and former Stags star Colin Calderwood added: "This a great achievement but I genuinely believe my players deserve some sort of success.
"Mansfield are a very good side and when we played them at our place you would have thought they would go close to automatic promotion.
"Recent results show they are very capable and their performance today, in patches, showed they can cause us problems next week.
"We are just delighted to have the chance to play them. We respect them as a team."
Report from ntfc.co.uk:
On the final day of the league season, Northampton Town made the trip to Field Mill to meet Mansfield Town. For the Cobblers, Rob Ullathorne was passed fit to return to the squad and he came in for Chris Carruthers, but Paul Reid (hamstring) was again missing. Des Lyttle had shaken off the effects of a virus to be named among the substitutes.
The Cobblers were roared on by more than 2,500 supporters, and both the fans and players knew that in order to make the play offs the Cobblers had to equal or better the result that Yeovil Town picked up at Lincoln City.
The game kicked off in a noisy and vibrant atmosphere, and it was the Cobblers who were just inches away from an early lead. Eric Sabin latched on to a high ball and held off two defenders but as keeper Pilkington came out to narrow the angle, Sabin's shot was narrowly wide of the post.
The first goal was not long in arriving however, and Eric Sabin was the man to break the deadlock on 19 minutes. He cut in from the left, and fired home a 25 yard right footed shot that Stags keeper Pilkington could only palm into the roof of the net to give the Cobblers the lead.
Rhys Day headed a twenty third minute corner narrowly wide as the home side looked to respond, while seven minutes later a Colin Larkin back header tried to catch Lee Harper unawares, but he was alert to the danger and made a comfortable save.
Eric Sabin then curled a shot just over the bar from the edge of the area after a surging run from Josh Low, but the Cobblers left the field at half time one goal to the good.
The second half began with the news that Yeovil had taken the lead against Lincoln at Sincil Bank, while back at Field Mill, Josh Low ran the whole length of the field down the Cobblers right but his low cross was cleared.
Lee Williamson came close to finding an equaliser eight minutes after the break, but his shot hit the post and bounced clear. The Stags were back on level terms however from the resulting corner, with Colin Larkin firing home a low shot at the far post through a crowd of players.
The atmosphere and tension both went up a notch, and Liam Lawrence fired in a low shot just wide of Lee Harper's right hand post. Just after the hour mark Lee Williamson's shot from the edge of the box was just a fraction too high and the ball flew over the cross bar.
The Cobblers responded, knowing they needed a goal to make the play offs, and Paul Trollope sent in a blockbusting 25 yard drive that hit the cross bar and agonisingly bounced away to safety.
With twenty minutes left, news filtered through that Yeovil had scored a second at Lincoln, and the Cobblers knew they had to score again to finish in the top seven, but right on cue Rob Ullathorne stepped up to score his first goal for the club, driving home from 12 yards.
Craig Disley somehow sidefooted a Liam Lawrence cross wide from six yards with fifteen minutes left, but soon afterwards news came through that Lincoln had equalised against Yeovil, to spark much celebration amongst the mass of travelling supporters.
Yeovil went straight back in front against Lincoln at Sincil Bank, but that didn't matter as the Cobblers managed to hold on to record a 2-1 win and secure a place in the Division 3 play offs.
Mansfield: Pilkington, Clarke, Baptiste, Day, Eaton, Lawrence, Williamson, Curtis (sub D'Jaffo 81), Corden (sub Disley 70), Larkin, Mendes.
Subs not used: White, Artell, McKenzie
Cobblers: Harper, Low (sub Lyttle 74), Ullathorne, Westwood, Sampson, Willmott, Trollope, Hargreaves, Smith (sub Taylor 85), Richards (sub Asamoah 79), Sabin.
Subs not used: Thompson, Chambers.
Referee: Mr M Thorpe
Booked: Ullathorne (73), Williamson (80)
Sent off: None
Stags /Match Stats/ Cobblers
1 Goals 2
4 Shots on Target 9
7 Shots off Target 4
5 Corners 2
12 Fouls 8
5 Caught Offside 5
1 Yellow Cards 1
0 Red Cards 0
Latest | May 2004