PREVIEWS FROM NORTHAMPTON CHRONICLE
Westy's wary of Mansfield threat
DEFENDER Ashley Westwood admits that Mansfield Town are still something of an unknown quantity – despite the Cobblers beating them 2-1 only six days ago.
Town went to Field Mill on Saturday and won to set up Sunday's Sixfields play-off semi-final clash against the Stags, but Westwood is uncertain as to whether that was the best Keith Curle's men could offer.
Mansfield had already secured their place in the play-offs with a 3-1 win at Huddersfield the previous week, and Westwood said: "They were under no pressure and that can work in two ways. They could have relaxed and played some nice football, or maybe they didn't give it their all, we will have to see when we meet up.
"But one thing's for sure and that is that they're a good footballing side and they work the ball well, so we will definitely have to be on our mettle."
Westwood has become a key figure for the Cobblers in recent weeks after battling for most of the season against shoulder and knee problems.
The former Sheffield Wednesday man is set to continue at the heart of the Town defence on Sunday as skipper Paul Reid struggles to shake off a hamstring strain, and the 27-year-old admits he is just glad to be at last playing his part in an unexpected chase for promotion glory.
"To be honest just before Christmas, just staying up was more realistic than trying to get into the play-offs, because we were down near the bottom two," he said.
"But it's been an incredible run that the lads have been on and I'm just glad I've got fit and can get involved now."
Westwood will start alongside Ian Sampson in the middle of the back three on Sunday, and the Cobblers stalwart is convinced last weekend's win over the Stags has given Town a crucial advantage.
"I think we have struck a psychological blow," said Sampson. "I'm sure it will be in Mansfield's minds when we play them on Sunday. "We know it will be tight, there will be a lot of tension in them, but maybe we've got the edge now."
Sampson has now played 447 games in a remarkable Cobblers career, and the 35-year-old admitted: "It would be fantastic to get to Cardiff and reach 450 games for the club, but we've got two tough games coming up against Mansfield.
"We know what they're about. It will be tight, they're always tight these play-off semi-finals, so we're just looking forward to it now."
Atko tipping Town for a 1997 repeat
IAN ATKINS still bursts with pride when he talks about winning the Nationwide League Division Three play-offs with the Cobblers back in 1997 – and he's backing Colin Calderwood to match his achievement.
Not surprisingly, Atkins rates guiding Town to Wembley glory and victory over Swansea City as one of the high points of his career in football management.
Following his acrimonious departure from Oxford United in March, Atkins is now gearing up to take control of Bristol Rovers this summer.
But he took time out to play his part in Ian Sampson's testimonial match at Sixfields on Monday and, after getting his breath back following 20 pretty impressive minutes 'in the hole', tipped the Cobblers to see off Mansfield and set up a final clash at the Millennium Stadium on May 31.
There aren't many people who know more about division three football than Atkins, and although he rates Mansfield as a very dangerous opponent for the Cobblers, he feels Calderwood's men will have enough in the tank to get through.
"You get to this stage and it is all about who performs on the day," said Atkins, who isn't surprised Calderwood has turned things round at Sixfields.
Atkins unwittingly played his part in bringing the Scot to Sixfields as his Oxford side's 3-0 win over Town at the Kassam Stadium in September signalled the end of the road for Martin Wilkinson, and he added: "Northampton didn't need that many changes from the team that started the season, all they needed was organising because the players were already there.
"To be fair, Northampton are as good a side as anybody in the division and you could say that they are now in their rightful position."
The Cobblers rose from 19th place on Boxing Day morning to finish the season in a mightily impressive sixth place, and Atkins feels they have the momentum going into the play-off clash with the Stags.
"The thing about the third division is that once you get on a roll you can go all the way because, when you have good players as Northampton do, they might not play so well but they can get a goal out of nothing," he said.
"That makes a big difference and Northampton have got every chance now.
"Mansfield are a very good side, although they are very unorthodox. The thing about them is they do create a lot of chances and they do score goals, but they do concede as well.
"A lot will depend on whether the Mansfield team fancy it on the day. If they fancy it then Northampton will have problems because they are a good side, but if it's not a good night for them then you can quite easily go and beat them by three and four.
"It depends what face Mansfield wear over the two games."
As a boss of a division three club and somebody who has spent almost all of his managerial career in the lower leagues, Atkins is hoping that the Cobblers and their massive following can get to the final – for a showdown against Huddersfield Town.
"I think a Northampton against Huddersfield final would be perfect," he said. "If that came about then there would be 65,000 or 70,000 people there and it would be a great day and good for the third division as well.
"I really do hope Northampton make it, but it is in the lap of the Gods. You don't know what will happen, decisions can go against you and a lot of it is down to the mental strength your team possesses as much as the ability on the pitch."
Latest | May 2004