CLOUGH AND HAWKINS PREVIEW PLAY-OFFS
Fans have inspired us - gaffer
mansfieldtown.net, Tuesday 10th May 2022
Mansfield Town manager Nigel Clough has stated that his squad has been ‘inspired’ by the fans’ support this season as the Stags’ chief previewed this Saturday’s mouth-watering play-off semi-final first leg against Northampton at One Call Stadium.
The amber and blue finished seventh in the league, securing a play-off spot on the final day of the campaign with a 2-2 home draw against league winners Forest Green Rovers.
After sitting in a relegation spot after 14 games, Clough’s men shot up the table, breaking the club record of consecutive wins this season.
Speaking to the local media in his news conference this morning, the boss said: “The players are excited, and I think most of the supporters are.
“We’ve been inspired by them all season.
“We keep referring back to this poor run we had, and it was really during that time we felt it the most. The supporters didn’t turn on us, they stuck with us.
“I think they understood what was happening with the injuries we had, the suspensions we had and everything going against us.
“The One Call has been electric at times and I hope we’ve entertained them. We’ve scored quite a few goals and had some really good games.”
The first play-off tie will see the Stags face the Cobblers at One Call Stadium this Saturday in a 7:45pm kick-off.
“We haven’t got long to prepare in the week, but it is exciting to get here.
“I think there will be nerves around the place certainly, but I think they [the fans] will go into it with the same amount of optimism that we will.
“I think over the two games things can work either way, so we’ve got to try and not go into the second tie behind, that’s the priority.
“We’re four unbeaten and we’ve scored a few goals in the last four games so confidence is high. Injuries are not too bad at the moment, so I think all those things will help.”
Northampton are in the play-offs after a dramatic final day at the top of the table that saw the Cobblers win 3-1 away from home at Barrow but failed to gain an automatic promotion spot after a remarkable 7-0 win from Bristol Rovers sealed Northampton’s fate.
“They [Northampton Town] will have a renewed determination to not let that freakish final day ruin the season.
“It’s very hard to deal with, for an hour of the game you think you’re going up, you’re 3-0 up and with a seven or eight-goal swing you must be thinking you’re going up.
“You have to get your head around it, deal with it and move on to Saturday and I think we’ll be ready for it.”
Let’s make having home play-off leg first count, says Mansfield Town boss Nigel Clough
chad.co.uk, By John Lomas, Tuesday 10th May 2022
Mansfield Town boss Nigel Clough has urged his players to make having the first leg of their play-off semi-final with Northampton Town at home count on Saturday night (7.45).
Stags will be hoping the Cobblers are still reeling from missing out on automatic promotion in the final game of the season, due to Bristol Rovers' unexpected hammering of Scunthorpe United.
But Clough warned: “We go into the play-offs with good heart. But we are playing a team that really should have had automatic promotion on Saturday.
“I think that will make them come out with a renewed determination to not let that freakish final day ruin their season.
“I think it is very difficult to deal with as, for over an hour of the game, they were up. There will be a large degree of disbelief and disappointment.
“When you go 3-0 up and there has to be a seven or eight goal swing or something like that, they must have though for long periods they were up.
“You have got to get your head round it, deal with it, move on and have a chance on Saturday. I think they will be ready for it.”
He added: “I am not sure about the higher placed team getting advantage from having the second leg at home.
“I can see the thinking behind it. But over the two legs it can work either way.
“We've got to try to get ourselves something and not go into the second leg behind. That is the priority.
“We have won 13 and drawn one of our last 15 home games which is an incredible record. We want to try to take a lead. “You don't want to be chasing the game away from home.
“But we have to be careful how dangerous Northampton are on the break and from set plays and try to keep a clean sheet, which we didn't manage on Saturday.
“If you can't get a lead from the first leg or you lose it, it makes the other side massive favourites for the second leg.”
Port Vale and Swindon Town contest the other semi, but Clough said: “We would take anyone.
“I don't think there is anything between the teams at this stage, looking at all their merits.
“All three have beaten us this season but Port Vale are the only ones we haven't beaten.
“So it's much of a muchness who you get at this stage and we really just have to look at ourselves and say we have to be good enough now.
“We played really well at home against Northampton a few weeks back and it was only the goalkeeper that kept them in it that day with two or three magnificent saves.
“I think he is suspended for the game which won't do any harm.
“Northampton are big, strong and solid, but one concern is they went to Orient a couple of weeks ago and scored four goals in the first half.
“Then they went to Barrow on Saturday and scored three in the first half-hour there.
“They have the reputation of being solid and difficult to break down, but they are more than capable of turning that around and scoring goals away from home.”
Nigel Clough: Mansfield Town boss excited for play-offs after 'rollercoaster' season
Boss Nigel Clough says Mansfield Town have gone from "down and out" to "on top of the world" in a "rollercoaster ride" to the League Two play-offs.
A 12-game winless run left the Stags in the relegation places in October before a club-record 11 successive home league wins helped them surge up the table.
A draw with Forest Green on Saturday saw them finish seventh to book a play-off semi-final with Northampton.
"It's exciting. We didn't expect to get there a few months ago," he said.
"So to manage to be in with a chance [of promotion] at this stage has given everyone a real lift.
"To have a run of games where we couldn't get a win or buy a win to save our lives and come back to reach the top seven has been very interesting.
"We have been down and out, then we felt like we were on top of the world with some of the football we have played, especially at home.
"We have to try to continue it now for what is hopefully three more games."
'Don't blow it'
Former Derby County, Sheffield United and Burton boss Clough, who is in his first full season in charge at Field Mill, is looking to guide Mansfield to promotion to the third tier for the first time in 19 years.
When he took over in November 2020, the Stags were third from bottom of League Two.
"Eighteen months ago we were down there, and as recently as six months ago we were down there, so to rise as we have done has been remarkable," Clough, 56, told BBC Radio Nottingham.
"We go into the play-off in good heart. This is nothing like the regular season, you come to these games and it's two mini cup finals.
"If players do their job, and to a good enough standard for two games, we could be going to Wembley and have a chance of getting promoted.
"We have worked unbelievably hard for nine or 10 months to get to this stage - don't blow it."
Clough said he expects to face a Northampton side with "renewed determination" after they were sensationally denied automatic promotion on the final day of the regular season.
Bristol Rovers leapfrogged the Cobblers in the table to claim the third and final automatic place on goals scored after thumping Scunthorpe 7-0.
"They won't want that freakish final day to ruin their season," Clough added.
Experienced Mansfield Town squad won’t be fazed by play-off semi-finals challenge
chad.co.uk, By John Lomas, Tuesday 10th May 2022
Mansfield Town's experienced squad could be the key to play-offs glory believes boss Nigel Clough.
And he has ordered players to spend time with families this week ahead of Saturday's first leg at home to Northampton (7.45), with the return at Sixfields next Wednesday night.
Stags suffered play-off semis heartbreak against Newport County three years ago but Clough said: “Some of these players have experienced play-offs before and it is a fresh group of players, so they won't be affected by what happened here a few years ago.
“We go into it as a new challenge for everybody.
“A few of them have had bigger experiences than the League Two play-offs. People like Stephen Quinn and James Perch have played at the very highest level, so a League Two play-off semi-final won't faze them.
“They need to spread that calmness and composure to the rest of the team.
“It is nothing like the regular season. You play your 46 games then all of a sudden you come to these two and it's like two mini cup finals.
“Players know if they do their jobs to a good enough standard over the two games we could be going to Wembley and a chance of getting promoted.”
To help his squad Clough has told them to go home and spend time thinking of family and anything else but the game for now.
“Preparation will be exactly the same as it's been all season,” he said.
“But we want players to get away and have a bit of time with their families. That's the most important thing.
“You can't spend the next four or five days thinking of nothing else. It would drive you mad.
“We have a lot of experienced players with young children. The weather is nice so they can get out for the day and just think about something else.”
Stags do go into the game unbeaten in four and having won 13 and drawn one of their last 15 home games.
But Clough said: “Form does go out the window to a certain degree as the regular season has finished now and it's like a little cup competition.
“But I don't think it does any harm that we are four unbeaten and we've scored a few goals in the last four games.
“Confidence and injuries are not too bad at the moment, so that has to help.
“You look at the bench on Saturday and how strong it is. That wasn't the case a few months ago when we had around 10 injuries on a regular basis.
“It gives you a great deal of comfort. On Saturday we couldn't even get Faz Rawson or Danny Johnson into the 18.
“Any one of them could start and it does give us some selection headaches.”
Despite the excitement and anticipation for the game, Clough said it was hard to actually enjoy play-off football.
“You can't 'enjoy' the play-offs as all your hard work over 46 games comes down to two now, or maybe three,” he said.
“You see two of the best teams in League One are now out. So I don't think you can say you'll enjoy it.”
Supporters can inspire us to play-offs glory believes Mansfield Town manager Nigel Clough
chad.co.uk, By John Lomas, Tuesday 10th May 2022
The noise created by Mansfield Town fans can help Stags carve out a lead in Saturday's home leg of the play-off semi final with Northampton Town, believes boss Nigel Clough.
Clough said: “We have been inspired by the fans all season.
“It was during that poor run we felt it the most when they stuck with us.
“They understood what was happening with the injuries, suspensions and every single thing going against us. I think they saw past the results.
“They have travelled in great numbers all season and the atmosphere at the One Call has been electric at times.
“We have tried to entertain them, scored a few goals and had some brilliant, brilliant games.”
He added: “I am sure there will be some nervousness around the place, but I am sure fans will go into it with the same optimism we do.
“One or two supporters have said it's been the most exciting season they've ever seen - for good and bad reasons.
“We have been down and out and felt like we've been on top of the world with some of the football we've played, especially at home.
“First and foremost we are calming down from Saturday - we haven't got long to prepare.
“But it is exciting to get there. We didn't really expect to get there a few months ago.
“So to be in with a chance still at this stage has given everyone a real lift. The players are excited and I think most of the supporters are too.
“To rise as we have done has been a remarkable run considering where we've come from - 18 months ago we were down there and then six months ago we were down there.”
Clough wary of 'heartbroken' Cobblers and says play-off tie will be decided at Field Mill
‘We need to make sure we are in with more than a chance after the first leg.’
Mansfield boss Nigel Clough believes his side’s play-off semi-final with the Cobblers will be decided in the first leg at Field Mill on Saturday night.
The Stags finished in the final play-off spot after drawing 2-2 with Forest Green on the final day, setting up a two-legged affair with Northampton.
“I think we are going into the play-offs in good heart and with some momentum,” said Clough.
“It was an incredible finish to the season and absolutely heart-breaking for Northampton, but congratulations to Bristol Rovers on going up.
“I think the home leg of the play-offs against Northampton will be where it the tie will be decided. Our performances at home this season have been outstanding.
“We need to make sure we are in with more than a chance after the first leg.”
Mansfield did have an outside chance of finishing third going into the final day but Clough was happy to secure a play-off place.
He added: “We are still in with a chance of promotion and before kick-off we'd have taken that.
“Our aim at the start of the season was to get in the top seven and obviously we'd have loved automatic promotion.
“Bristol Rovers were always going to win so it was all about making sure we got that point. It was tough but we got there.
“They (Forest Green) needed a point to win the league so it couldn't have worked out better for both teams.”
Mansfield Town boss Nigel Clough expects to face a Northampton side with "renewed determination" in the League Two play-off semi-finals.
The Cobblers won their final game at Barrow but missed out on automatic promotion on goal difference after Bristol Rovers beat Scunthorpe 7-0.
"There will be large degree of disappointment and disbelief probably that that they missed out," he said.
The winners will meet either Swindon or Port Vale at Wembley on 28 May.
"For them to win at home as they did and the other team to score seven is a freakish couple of results but they have to deal with it," Clough told BBC Radio Nottingham.
"It might give them a renewed determination not to let the season end on that note."
He added: "It's much of muchness who you get this stage. We really have to look at ourselves and we have to be good enough now - don't be looking at the opposition."
Stags captain Ollie Clarke could make his first appearance since mid-March, having been an unused substitute in the final two games of the regular season after recovering from injury.
Defender Kellan Gordon is the only player not available to Stags boss Clough, who has overseen an astonishing turnaround in the team's fortunes after they failed to win any of their first 14 games in all competitions this season.
It is their first play-offs appearance since losing at the semi-final stage in 2019, and speaking before Saturday's home leg, the former Burton, Derby and Sheffield United boss said: "There will be a nervousness around the place, but I think they will go into it with a degree of optimism.
"I don't think we will be affected by what happened a few years ago. We go into it as a new challenge for everybody.
Mansfield achieved a club record 11 successive home wins following their poor start to the campaign, and a draw with champions Forest Green was enough to secure seventh spot, one point clear of Sutton United.
"The regular season is finished and it is like a little cup competition now," said Clough. "I don't think it does any harm to be four unbeaten and scoring a few goals in the last four games. All those sort of things have got to help."
Northampton will be without suspended goalkeeper Liam Roberts after he was sent off in added time at Barrow for handling outside the area, so Jon Maxted may deputise.
Defender Aaron McGowan remains doubtful with a leg injury sustained in their 1-1 draw with Exeter City at the end of last month.
Manager Jon Brady insists last weekend's frustration and disappointment is now behind them.
"We're not wasting a minute on anything else but focusing on the task ahead," he told BBC Radio Northampton.
"We've had a lot of setbacks throughout this season and fought back from them - there's the goal that was never a goal against Forest Green, things like that, and us having Covid for 21 days.
"A lot of people had written us off for the play-offs, let alone push for automatic promotion, and we're at our best when we're being pushed to our limit, backs against the wall and no-one believes in us."
Northampton are unbeaten in six games, winning four of them, since losing 1-0 at Mansfield on 2 April, the game in which the Stags set their record and Paul Lewis of the Cobblers was shown a red card with 15 minutes to go.
"I expect Nigel's team to be hugely organised and really strong, like they have been for the last two-thirds of the season," said Brady.
"They have turned their season around brilliantly well. They are a very good team and have got a great manager, someone I really respect."
Stags determined to maintain strong home form - defender
mansfieldtown.net, Tuesday 10th May 2022
Mansfield Town defender Oli Hawkins is determined to help the Stags continue their strong home record when Northampton Town visit One Call Stadium this Saturday for the much-anticipated League Two play-off semi-final first leg.
The Stags are looking to build on an extremely impressive home record this season which has seen Mansfield win 13 out of their last 15 games at One Call Stadium.
Nigel Clough’s men are expected to play in front of a sell-out crowd for the second consecutive game and 30-year-old Hawkins is determined to put on a solid performance for the Stags’ fans.
“I’ve said it all season, the fans have been brilliant home and away,” said Hawkins.
“All we can do is our best and hopefully come out with a victory.
“Ideally, we would have liked to get automatics which obviously didn’t happen for us, but we’ve worked really hard and it’s an achievement to get into the play-offs considering where we were at the start of the season.”
The former Portsmouth defender also reflected on his previous experiences in the play-offs with Pompey and Dagenham & Redbridge.
“I’ve been involved in a couple [of play-offs] and lost a couple in my time at Portsmouth in two semi-finals and I also had a previous one in the Conference with Dagenham too.
“It’s important to be relaxed and not be pressured. You’ve got to play your own game like you’ve played all season.”
The 2021-2022 season has seen Hawkins successfully transition from centre-forward to centre-back.
“It’s strange really because obviously I came here as a centre-forward having played centre-half previously in my career. But I never thought I’d have played as many games at centre-half as I have this season.
“Obviously I’m a target man and our team do like to play good football, so it’s probably benefiting me going back there to see the other side of my game and potentially prolong my career knowing I can play another position.”
Oli Hawkins hoping for play-offs glory at the fourth attempt as Mansfield Town get set to take on Northampton Town
chad.co.uk, By John Lomas, Tuesday 10th May 2022
Oli Hawkins is hoping to taste play-off glory at the fourth attempt as Mansfield Town go into the League Two semi-finals against Northampton Town this weekend.
The big utility player has tasted play-off heartbreak before though has also been a winner at Wembley.
“I have been involved in play-offs in my time and lost two semi-finals at Portsmouth and a previous one in the Conference at Dagenham. So I know what it's like,” he said ahead of Saturday’s night’s first leg.
“It is intense and losing a semi-final is tough.
“You just have to concentrate and be relaxed. Hopefully my time this time will be winning a semi-final and I will see it differently.
“If you have not played in a play-off before it is an experience for a start and something you can learn from whether you win or lose.”
He added: “If you don't go up automatically then the next best thing is winning at Wembley.
“There is no better feeling. I have won there in the past in the Johnstone Paints final and winning there is the experience of a lifetime.
“So if we could win there and get promotion as well it would be amazing.
“The boys will have that fire in them just to get promoted. Throw Wembley in as well and it makes it even more exciting.”
Hawkins said Stags' superb home record of 13 wins and a draw in the last 15 games at the One Call Stadium is intimidating to visiting sides.
“Any team hates coming to us as we're so dominant at home,” he said.
“We are pretty strong at home and if we can get a good win it will calm us down going into the second leg knowing what we need.
“All we can do is play the same way we've played all season at home, play with a smile on our faces, and hopefully get a good victory to take away.
“Ideally we would have liked to have got automatic last weekend, but it didn't happen for us.
“But we have worked really hard and it's still an achievement to get into the play-offs.
“Now we really have to focus on the next two games and know we are capable of winning three games to get promoted.
“I think this week will drag out a bit - we are really looking forward to it.”
On opponents Northampton, he said: “They are a strong side and would have got promoted without Bristol Rovers having that mad game.
“They are big, strong and organised, but we have coped with them once at home.
“We know what they are about and what we need to do to win the game.”
In the meantime boss Nigel Clough has told his players to relax and spend some time with their families this week - ideal for Hawkins, who has just become a father for the second time.
“He is doing really well,” he said of his new-born.
“The first week is a bit of a blur. We are now into the second week. It's all new to me having a second child.
“The first one was hard enough so looking after a second one is keeping us on our toes.
“Having this time with family is very important and the gaffer does that very well with us. He always says about family first. Previously in my career managers have not been so lenient and you are in working hard every day, and getting home late.
“We need a relaxed mindset and hopefully by Saturday we will be up for it and ready to go.
“It's about being relaxed and not letting the tie take you over and worrying too much.”