REPORTS FROM THE NATIONALS
Larkin seals Mansfield's final spot
BY PETER LANSLEY
Mansfield Town 1 Northampton Town 3
(aet; 3-3 on agg; Mansfield win 5-4 on pens)
MANSFIELD TOWN reached their first play-off final as Colin Larkin, a substitute, converted the penalty that secured his team's shoot-out triumph and a date with Huddersfield Town at the Millennium Stadium a week on Monday.
Yet Northampton Town, having established a winning margin inside 46 minutes of normal time, must be wondering how this one got away. Seventeenth in the Nationwide League third division in November, they recovered from the shock of losing their home leg 2-0 to take control last night with three goals in ten minutes either side of half-time.
Having won at Field Mill on the last day of the season to earn their place in the play-offs, Northampton were on the verge of glory as Marc Richards, Chris Hargreaves and, a minute into the second half, Martin Smith, scored. Mansfield were wobbling, but the pivotal moments of the match arrived midway through the second half.
Tom Curtis, already cautioned, was fortunate to stay on the field after he tripped Eric Sabin, who had just committed a savage two-footed tackle on Alex John-Baptiste. Within two minutes Curtis, without a league goal all season, cracked home a shot from the edge of the penalty area to bring Mansfield level on aggregate.
In stoppage time Northampton should have had a penalty when Derek Asamoah was held back by John-Baptiste, but instead the contest went all the way to a shoot-out. Mansfield converted their five penalties and Kevin Pilkington saved Sabin's effort.
MANSFIELD TOWN (4-5-1): K Pilkington — R Hassell, R Day, A John-Baptiste, A Eaton — L Lawrence, T Curtis, L Williamson (sub: N MacKenzie, 120min), C Disley (sub: C Larkin, 54), W Corden — J Mendes (sub: L D'Jaffo, 75). Substitutes not used: J Coates, D Artell. Booked: D'Jaffo, Day, Curtis, Mendes, Disley.
NORTHAMPTON TOWN (3-4-3): L Harper — P Reid, I Sampson, C Willmott — J Low (sub: J Taylor, 117) P Trollope, C Hargreaves, R Ullathorne — E Sabin, M Richards (sub: D Asamoah, 77; sub: M Reeves, 117), M Smith. Substitutes not used: G Thompson, L Chambers. Booked: Ullathorne, Low, Sabin, Smith.
Referee: P Crossley.
Larkin hits the spot for Mansfield
By James Matthews
Mansfield (0) 1 Northampton (2) 3
Agg: 3-3 Mansfield win 5-4 on pens
Substitute Colin Larkin was the hero when he struck the crucial spot-kick as Mansfield claimed a penalty shoot-out victory last night over Northampton and booked a place in the Third Division play-off final against Huddersfield.
Three goals in a 10-minute spell either side of the break had appeared to ensure Northampton a trip to the Millennium Stadium. The tie had almost been put beyond the reach of Northampton, two goals down following defeat in the first-leg, in the opening minutes when Junior Mendes flicked a cross from Wayne Corden past goalkeeper Lee Harper, but the strike was ruled out for offside.
The lively Mendes, scorer of the second in Mansfield's 2-0 triumph at Sixfields on Sunday, continued to threaten and tested Harper with an effort from the edge of the area midway through the opening period as Northampton struggled. But, after 36 minutes, the visitors brought the tie to life as Marc Richards latched on to a through-ball from Eric Sabin and struck home a delicious half-volley.
Four minutes before the interval, Northampton added a second to level matters on aggregate when Chris Hargreaves headed in a Martin Smith free-kick. Within a minute of the restart, Northampton scored a third when Smith was given too much time and space to curl his shot past Kevin Pilkington.
Mansfield's Rhys Day saw a diving header brilliantly saved by Harper and midfielder Paul Trollope was on hand to clear the follow-up from Mendes off the line. Harper frustrated Mendes again when, after the forward had raced into the area, the goalkeeper saved with his feet. But Curtis struck a crucial goal after 68 minutes to make it all square on aggregate after the visitors failed to clear a free-kick.
Larkin puts Mansfield in final
Mansfield Town 1 Northampton Town 3 (aet; 1-3 at 90min; 3-3 on agg; Mansfield win 5-4 on pens)
By Grahame Lloyd
21 May 2004
Mansfield Town will play Huddersfield Town in the Third Division play-off final at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff after winning a penalty shoot-out 4-3 at Field Mill last night.
Colin Larkin scored the decisive spot kick after captain Kevin Pilkington had saved Eric Sabin's effort.
A Mansfield goal 20 minutes from time thwarted an incredible Northampton comeback to send this scintillating play-off semi-final into extra time. Two goals in five first-half minutes from Marc Richards and Chris Hargreaves and a third immediately after the break by Martin Smith appeared to have booked the Cobblers their place at the Millennium Stadium but Tom Curtis's low drive kept the home side's hopes alive.
Seven minutes from time, only a flying save from Lee Harper denied Mansfield's Liam Lawrence a match-winning goal with a well struck free-kick from the angle of the area on the left.
Not surprisingly, after their 2-0 win at Northampton, Mansfield kept the same side while the Cobblers recalled their captain, Paul Reid, in place of the suspended Ashley Westwood and Sabin returned after suspension as Derek Asamoa returned to the bench. Mansfield looked to have taken the lead in the fifth minute when Wayne Corden's cross was flicked past Harper by Junior Mendes but he was ruled offside.
With Mansfield dominating, Northampton's chances were strictly limited, but two unlikely goals in five minutes changed the game. Richards brought the visitors back into the tie with his 11th goal of the season after 36 minutes. Five minutes later, the Cobblers were level when Hargreaves touched in Reid's free-kick.
Straight from the restart, Hargreaves turned goal-maker by sending in Smith to beat Pilkington for his 15th goal of the season. On the hour, a superb pass from Curtis sent Mendes clear, but his low drive was brilliantly turned away by Harper. Mansfield pulled back a crucial goal with 20 minutes left when Bobby Hassell's free-kick from the left was not cleared properly and Curtis fired home a low drive from just outside the penalty area.
Mansfield Town (4-5-1): Pilkington; Hassell, Day, John-Baptiste, Eaton; Lawrence, Kurtin, Williamson, Disley (Larkin, 54), Corden; Mendes (D'Jaffo, 73). Substitutes not used: Coates, McKenzie, Artell.
Northampton Town (3-5-2): Harper; Reid, Sampson, Willmott; Low, Trollope, Hargreaves, Smith, Ullathorne; Sabin, Richards (Asamoah, 75). Substitutes not used: Thompson, Chambers, Reeves, Taylor.
Referee: P T Crossley (Kent).
Pilkington saves Mansfield's final chance
Dylan Allen at Field Mill
Friday May 21, 2004
Mansfield progressed to the Third Division play-off final thanks to a save by their captain Kevin Pilkington from Northampton's French striker Eric Sabin in a dramatic penalty shoot-out. Northampton were earlier denied victory when Tom Curtis's second-half goal sent this exhilarating semi-final tie into extra-time.
Goals by Marc Richards, Chris Hargreaves and Martin Smith looked to have taken the Cobblers through but Mansfield, having squandered their 2-0 first-leg lead, clawed back to level when Curtis fired home from the edge of the area after the Northampton defence failed to clear Bobby Hassell's free-kick.
They were denied a winner seven minutes from time when Liam Lawrence's free-kick from the angle of the area on the left was brilliantly turned away by Northampton's Lee Harper.
Mansfield's manager Keith Curle had a shock on Monday when he found all his back four in the treatment room but they all emerged for last night's game whereas Northampton replaced the suspended Ashley Westwood with the captain Paul Reid and Sabin returned up front from suspension in place of Derek Asamoah.
Mansfield seemed to have made a dream start when Junior Mendes flicked home Wayne Corden's left-wing cross in the fifth minute but the flag was up for offside.
The game was then turned on its head as Northampton scored twice in six minutes. Richards cracked in a right-foot drive from just inside the area on 36 minutes. Then Reid's free-kick was touched home by Hargreaves in a crowded six-yard box to bring the Cobblers level overall.
There was more drama to come because within seconds of kicking off the second half, Northampton scored again. Hargreaves fed Smith, who fired home his 15th goal of the season with a low left-foot drive from outside the box.
In the end, though, Mansfield were clinical with the penalties. "The players were so calm when they took them because they had belief," said Curle. "This night is going to stay with me for a long time."
For his opposite number Colin Calderwood there was only sadness. "There are lots of reasons to be proud and not too many to be disappointed but at the end the disappointment overrides everything."
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