Mansfield Town 2-1 Northampton Town: Stags hold on for play-off first leg win

Mansfield Town beat Northampton over two legs the last time they met in the play-offs in 2004

Mansfield takes a slender lead into the League Two play-off semi-final second leg at Northampton after holding on for a 2-1 win at the One Call Stadium.

Rhys Oates put the ball through the legs of Cobblers keeper Jonny Maxted, in for the suspended Liam Roberts, to give the Stags an early lead.

Jordan Bowery then made it two with a tap-in finish at the back post.

Ali Koiki’s first Cobblers goal ensured they head home on Wednesday with hopes high of turning the tie around.

The last time Mansfield reached the fourth division play-off final in 2004, they needed penalties to get past Northampton in the second leg of their semi-final at home after winning the first leg 2-0 at Sixfields.

Stags boss Nigel Clough named an unchanged side following the final day draw against League Two title winners Forest Green Rovers, while Northampton were forced to make two changes – which included having Maxted deputise for Roberts.

In an even start, Oates was unable to direct an inviting cross from Stephen McLaughlin home while Louis Appere tested Stags goalkeeper Nathan Bishop with a fierce effort from outside the box.

A crucially intercepted pass by McLaughlin in the Stags’ half started the move for the opener, with the marauding full-back playing the ball to Bowery, whose pass in behind the Cobblers defense teed Oates up for his well-taken first-time finish.

Bowery’s effort to make it 2-0 was easier to take, rushing in at the back post to meet a drilled low cross from Jamie Murphy in the 32nd minute.

Maxted crucially denied Oates early in the second half, with the Cobblers then threatening through Sam Hoskins before Koiki pulled a valuable goal back for the visitors.

The defender did well to control a poked pass from Appere before carving out space at the edge of the box to beat Bishop with a low shot.

Fraser Horsfall went closest to leveling in a frantic finish, heading just wide from a corner.

Ali Koiki of Northampton Town scores
Ali Koiki’s first Northampton goal came in his 49th appearance for the club

A 14-game winless run in all competitions between mid-August and late October left Mansfield languishing in the relegation places, with little suggestion that they would go on to miraculously turn their season around and mount a promotion challenge.

A club-record 11 home league wins after that, however, catapulted them to the brink of automatic promotion in Clough’s first full season in charge.

A seventh-placed finish – just three points adrift of Bristol Rovers, who clinched the third and the final direct ticket to League One – has still ensured the Stags have a shot of getting back to England’s third tier for the first time in 19 years.

Before the first-leg meeting, Clough said he expected the Stags to face a Northampton side with “renewed determination” after the “freakish” way they missed out on automatic promotion on the last day of the regular season.

The Cobblers won their final game at Barrow but missed out on automatic promotion on goals scored after Bristol Rovers beat Scunthorpe 7-0.

In the lead-up to the play-offs, manager Jon Brady said the Cobblers were “not wasting a minute” dwelling on that astonishing near miss as they focus on going straight back up to League One.

While Mansfield hit the visitors with two goals in a dominating first half, the Cobblers did well to recover and salvage something from the first leg.

‘We have something to hold on to’ – reaction

Mansfield Town manager Clough told BBC Radio Nottingham:

“I’m disappointed we conceded the goal having gone 2-0 up, but we could have then conceded again with the pressure that we were put under in the last half hour of the game.

“We are delighted to have the lead. It’s better than a draw, going [to Sixfields] with a 2-2 or a loss.

“We have something to hang on to. You can see with the way they play, they are going to put you under pressure and put a lot of balls into the penalty area. We are going to have to defend well to protect it and certainly play better than we did tonight going forward.”

Northampton Town boss Jon Brady said:

“We are very much still in it.

“We’re looking forward to taking them back to Sixfields, we have been strong at home all season, we were in the ascendancy in the second half and we need to take that into the second leg.

“We acquitted ourselves well in the second half, we were a lot more purposeful in our play and a lot more aggressive in the things we did.

“We had some good entries into the final third and we just spoke at half-time about needing to do the things we have done well all season.”

Line-ups

Mansfield

Training 4-3-1-2

  • 1Bishop
  • 14perchBooked at 61mins
  • 35O’Toole
  • 12Hawkins
  • 3McLaughlin
  • 44M LongstaffSubstituted forWallacedid 60′minutes
  • 10HusbandsBooked at 50mins
  • 16quinnSubstituted forStirkedid 77′minutes
  • 7MurphySubstituted forAkinsdid 86′minutes
  • 9Bowery
  • 18Oates

Substitutes

  • 4Hewitt
  • 8Oh Clarke
  • 23Wallace
  • 24Stech
  • 25Stirke
  • 32Lapslie
  • 34Akins

Northampton

Training 4-2-3-1

  • 26Maxted
  • 23mills
  • 6Horfall
  • 5Guthrie
  • 14Koiki
  • 4Sowerby
  • 17McWilliamsBooked at 22mins
  • 19KanuSubstituted forFelix Eppiahdid 56′minutes
  • 11Pinnock
  • 7Hoskins
  • 24AppearedSubstituted forPinkdid 66′minutes

Substitutes

  • 2Harriman
  • 12Pollock
  • 18Zimba
  • 21Felix Eppiah
  • 32Pink
  • 35Dyche
  • 36woods

Referee:
Anthony Backhouse

Waiting:
7,469

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