REPORTS FROM THE NATIONALS
Curle mantra lifts Mansfield
BY RON LEWIS
Northampton Town 0 Mansfield Town 2
IF THERE HAD BEEN ANY DOUBT in Keith Curle's mind that his Mansfield Town players did not listen to him, he found a way around it yesterday. Before his side's third division play-off semi-final first leg away to Northampton Town, Curle decided to dispense with the team talk and instead wrote out a team mission statement, which he made his players, one at a time, read and sign.
“All it said was: 'When it's time to play we will play, when it's time to work, we will work',” the Mansfield Town manager said. “I stuck the note on the board in the dressing-room and made all the players walk up, read it and sign it.” It worked a treat. Halfway through this semifinal, Mansfield find themselves almost at Cardiff, courtesy of a 2-0 lead carved out through solid defending and taking their chances when they came. Northampton showed the passion, the effort, the commitment, Mansfield had the killer touch, scoring twice from set-pieces through Rhys Day and Junior Mendes.
“We spend a lot of time on the training ground and the players can find it quite mundane at times,” Curle said. “But when we have set-pieces, we know where we are in the penalty area, even if the other side don't. But I have too much respect for Colin Calderwood as a person and as a manager to think this tie is dead.” Calderwood, like Curle, is a novice manager and former international defender, although their likeness on the touchline seems slim. Curle, dressed in a suit, spends all his time pointing and waving at his players, Calderwood, in favoured T-shirt and tracksuit bottoms, is far less animated and spent much of the game kicking plastic bottle tops around his technical area.
After a first half that his team dominated without reward, however, there was little Calderwood could say apart from beg his strikers to shoot straight. Chief guilty party for the home side had been Marc Richards, who carved himself three fine chances but missed them all, going closest when he was picked out in the clear by Josh Low, five yards out, but he shot straight at Kevin Pilkington. Five minutes before the break, however, Mansfield took the lead, Day, unmarked from Liam Lawrence's free kick, heading past Lee Harper, as the Northampton defence looked at each other.
The half-time lead proved crucial. With temperatures soaring, Northampton were never likely to maintain their momentum and they also looked capable of getting caught short at the back as their wing backs pushed forward. Just three minutes after the interval, an excellent ball by Bobby Hassell sent Mendes clear. Rushing more than he needed to, he lifted the ball over Harper only for it to sail over the crossbar, too.
The tie went away from Northampton on 67 minutes, after a Lawrence corner. From the edge of the area, Thomas Curtis's low shot could not be held by Harper and Mendes tapped in the loose ball. “It suddenly becomes Mansfield's game to lose,” Calderwood said. “It is up to us to put some pressure on them. We've got to raise our levels beyond anything we've done this season. Everyone's feeling a bit sorry for themselves, but we've got to change the atmosphere before Thursday.”
In injury time, it could have been worse for Northampton. After Wayne Corden and Neil McKenzie went close, Colin Larkin ran clear only to be bundled over by Ashley Westwood, who was sent off — a third goal really would have been the end.
Northampton Town (3-4-3): L Harper 6 — A Westwood 6, I Sampson 7 (sub: P Reid, 75min), C Willmott 6 — J Low 6, P Trollope 5, C Hargreaves 5, R Ullathorne 6 — D Asamoah 7, M Richards 7 (sub: T Youngs, 62 5), M Smith 5 (sub: J Taylor, 75). Substitutes not used: G Thompson, M Reeves. Booked: Trollope. Sent off: Westwood.
Mansfield Town (4-4-2): K Pilkington 7 — R Hassell 6, A John-Baptiste 6 (sub: N McKenzie, 63 6), R Day 7, A Eaton 5 — L Lawrence 7, T Curtis 7, L Williamson 6, W Corden 5 — J Mendes 6 (sub: L D'Jaffo, 84), C Disley 5 (sub: C Larkin, 77). Substitutes not used: J White, D Artell. Booked: Day, D'Jaffo.
Shots on target: (h) 7 (a) 9. Fouls: (h) 14 (a) 11. Offsides: (h) 5 (a) 3
Northampton rue missed chances
Northampton Town 0 Mansfield Town 2
By Jon Culley
17 May 2004
Mansfield are strong favourites to reach the Millennium Stadium on 31 May after cashing in on poor Northampton finishing in the first leg of the Third Division play-off semi-final at Sixfields. To make matters worse for the home side Ashley Westwood will miss Thursday's second leg after being sent off in stoppage time.
Keith Curle's side, relegated last season, survived sustained pressure before Rhys Day put them in front after 41 minutes. Junior Mendes scored in the second half after Rob Ullathorne had squandered a golden chance to equalise.
Northampton had half a dozen chances before Day's goal stunned the home crowd. Martin Smith wasted the first, mis-kicking from Derek Asamoah's inviting cross. The Mansfield goalkeeper Kevin Pilkington saved twice from Marc Richards, who also went close with a spectacular overhead kick. Smith then failed by inches to convert a Paul Trollope cross, and Richards fired over from another Asamoah pass.
However, Northampton's defence were at fault for allowing the 21-year-old former Manchester City trainee Day to score with a free header from Liam Lawrence's free kick.
In the second half, Mansfield posed more of a threat and Mendes might have scored within moments of the restart but his chip cleared the bar. Harper then pulled off a good save to deny Craig Disley. Ullathorne's miss came on the hour. Picked out unmarked by Asamoah's cross, he headed straight at Pilkington and though the ball squeezed under the keeper's body, it failed to cross the line, defender Bobby Hassell hacking it to safety.
Then on 67 minutes Harper, having just saved well from Mendes, fumbled a low shot by Thomas Curtis, and Mendes pounced to force in the loose ball.
Substitute Colin Larkin had broken away in search of a third in stoppage time when Westwood pulled him down. A red card was the inevitable result. A delighted Curle said: "Before the game I asked the players to read and sign a piece of paper with the words 'when we have to work, we work; when we have to play, we play' and their response was terrific."
Goals: Day (41) 0-1; Mendes (67) 0-2.
Northampton Town (4-4-2): Harper; Westwood, Sampson (Reid, 75), Willmott, Ullathorne; Low, Hargreaves, Trollope, Smith (Taylor, 75); Richards (Youngs, 61), Asamoah. Substitutes not used: Thompson (gk), Reeves.
Mansfield Town (4-4-2): Pilkington; Hassell, Day, John-Baptiste (Mackenzie, 62), Eaton; Lawrence, Williamson, Curtis, Corden; Mendes (D'Jaffo, 83), Disley (Larkin, 77). Substitutes not used: J White (gk), Artell.
Referee: M Jones (Cheshire).
Bookings: Mansfield: Day, D'Jaffo. Northampton: Trollope.
Sending-off: Northampton: Westwood.
Man of the match: Mendes.
Curle's paperwork pays off for Mansfield
Grahame Lloyd at Sixfields
Monday May 17, 2004
Northampton transformed themselves into the form team of the division to reach the play-offs but yesterday they paid the price for failing to take their chances.
The hosts, 19th in the table at Christmas, spurned a host of opportunities in yesterday's first-half purple patch, and were eventually well beaten by an organised Mansfield side. To make matters worse their central defender Ashley West wood will miss Thursday's return leg after being sent off.
"I pinned a note on the board in the changing room," said Mansfield's manager Keith Curle. "It read, 'When it's time to play, we're going to play and when it's time to work we're going to work', and I made the players accept it and sign it. Sometimes the harder you work, the luckier you get."
After a bright opening in which Wayne Corden failed to make the most of two opportunities, Northampton took control. Kevin Pilkington saved a low shot on the turn, an overhead kick went wide, Marc Richards shot tamely at the keeper and the same player blazed over from the edge of the area.
Five minutes before the interval, Northampton paid for their profligacy. Liam Lawrence's free-kick sailed into the box and the unmarked Rhys Day beat Lee Harper with a header from six yards.
Mansfield scored again after 67 minutes, when Lawrence's corner was headed to Tom Curtis on the edge of the area. Harper spilled his superb volley, but Junior Mendes was on hand to drive home his 13th of the season, from two yards.
Westwood was sent off in injury time for hauling down Colin Larkin as he ran towards the area. "We were thankful it didn't end up 3-0," said Northampton's manager Colin Calderwood, "because the task would probably be a step too far. The tie is now Mansfield's to lose but we'll give it a right go."
Curle concurred: "The tie is still alive. [And] I'll think of something [else] for the players to sign before Thursday."
Man of the match : Tom Curtis (Mansfield)
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