NORTHAMPTON CHRONICLE & ECHO REPORT
Northampton Chronicle and Echo
Still in it!
COBBLERS boss Colin Calderwood was in defiant mood after seeing his side crash to a 2-0 play-off semi-final first-leg defeat against Mansfield Town at sweltering Sixfields.
Goals from Rhys Day and Junior Mendes have left Town with a mountain to climb in Thursday's return leg at a sold-out Field Mill, but Calderwood is adamant his team can turn the tie around.
The Cobblers wasted a string of chances in the first half before an impressive Mansfield side took control , but Calderwood still believes his side has a real chance of progressing.
"We have to dust ourselves down and regroup," said the Cobblers boss. "We have to raise our levels on Thursday and go beyond anything we have achieved this season.
"We will go to Mansfield and we will give it a right go because you just never know what could happen.
"Everybody is feeling pretty sorry for themselves at the minute but we have to change the atmosphere in the dressing room. When we go out at Field Mill we have to be as buoyant and aggressive as if we were ahead or level. We have to change the situation and change it as early in the game as possible.
"We have to make it a physical and difficult encounter for Mansfield. It is a huge task for us but it is one that if we were to achieve it would be something to be very proud of.
"But we need everything to go in our favour."
Town will have to make do without Ashley Westwood on Thursday following his injury-time dismissal for a professional foul on Mansfield striker Colin Larkin yesterday.
Westwood immediately serves a one-match ban and should be available for the final if the Cobblers do see off the Stags.
The Cobblers picked up no fresh injury problems, although Calderwood revealed both Martin Smith and Marc Richards played despite suffering badly with illness.
Both should be fully recovered for the second leg while Calderwood confirmed striker Eric Sabin will be back in the starting line-up after missing yesterday's game through suspension.
One player who definitely won't be involved is defender Des Lyttle, who has been released by the club. The former Nottingham Forest defender, who was signed on a free transfer in November, was released over the weekend.
Field Mill miracle needed
Cobblers 0 Mansfield 2
Sixfields, Sunday May 16, 2004
IT'S not over yet. The Cobblers' promotion hopes have taken a dent with this first-leg defeat, but Colin Calderwood's men are still alive and, if not quite kicking, the legs are still twitching.
Town face a massive task in turning this semi-final tie around at Field Mill on Thursday, but an upbeat Calderwood believes that if any team can work this particular little miracle, this one can.
"You just never know what is going to happen with this group of players," said the Cobblers boss. "They are so strong-minded and you are never dead.
"We have to cope with what Mansfield throw at us and we just have to hope we can do something early in the game on Thursday that puts us back in the tie."
The first goal in the second leg will be massive. If Town notch then the jitters will set in for the home side, but if Mansfield go 3-0 up on aggregate that would be curtains for the Cobblers.
Town could easily have put themselves in the driving seat yesterday. They created the better chances in the first half but failed to take them, and were punished for their profligacy.
Five minutes before the break, Liam Lawrence whipped in a free kick from the right and Rhys Day, who had earlier been lucky to escape with only a yellow card after hauling down Derek Asamoah, ran in unmarked to power home a header from six yards out.
There was more than a hint of offside about the goal as Junior Mendes and Lee Williamson, who had been loitering on the toes of Lee Harper in the six-yard box in a bid to create confusion, moved away from goal before delivery – but the marking was non-existent.
Town should have been ahead by then, Marc Richards twice being denied by Kevin Pilkington while Martin Smith was a stud's length away from connecting with a Josh Low cross from the right. The goal was gaping. Richards blasted over after being played in by the lively Asamoah and he also saw an acrobatic overhead kick fly wide.
A rousing second-half performance was called for after the break and it came – but unfortunately it was Mansfield who turned up the heat on a scorching day.
Mendes should have increased the visitors' lead on 48 minutes, but lifted his shot over the top when clean through, and Harper showed great reactions to block Craig Disley's close-range effort before Pilkington somehow kept out Rob Ullathorne's diving header at the far post, the defender meeting Asamoah's super cross.
Harper turned Mendes' low drive around the post but from the corner the goalkeeper failed to hold Tom Curtis' well-struck 25-yard volley and Mendes stabbed the ball home.
The Cobblers toiled to get back but Mansfield were dominant and, a Chris Hargreaves header over the top apart, they failed to create another decent chance.
It could have been worse when, four minutes into injury-time, Colin Larkin broke free and was odds-on to score until he was bundled over by Ashley Westwood. The defender was red-carded and misses the second-leg – but sacrificing himself to make sure it stayed 2-0 could still prove a pivotal moment. Let's hope so.
Latest | May 2004