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Archived News from May 2022

23rd May 2022 15:29

English Football League - Sky Bet League Two - Play-off semi-final 2nd leg
Northampton Town 0 - 1 Mansfield Town (Mansfield win 3-1 on aggregate)
McLaughlin 32
Attendance: 7,619 (1463 from Mansfield)

Date: 18 May 2022


Martin Shaw at Sixfields

Mansfield Town beat Northampton Town 1-0 at Sixfields on Wednesday night, to win 3-1 on aggregate, and reach the League Two play-off final. It was a special night for Stags fans, including the 1,463 crammed into Sixfields and the thousands watching elsewhere on TV. A shame that more Stags fans couldn’t be there, as we could surely have sold two times, even three times, that amount of tickets.

Against Northampton’s well-understood tactics of hurling as many balls into the box as possible, from throw-ins, corners and free-kicks, for their centre-halves to get on the end of, the task for the Stags was to keep them out, and build on the 2-1 lead from the first leg if possible. And Mansfield’s performance was absolutely magnificent. A masterclass in defending: heading it away, kicking it away, getting in blocks. While at the other end, the Stags scored a super goal, quite clearly not offside despite the bleating from home fans and reporters, which still continues by the way.

Nigel Clough aptly described the performance: "It was not like the way we've played most of the season ... we've tried to play a lot of football. This was really digging in and everybody doing their job. Stopping a team creating chances against us. A brilliant performance.”

The Stags made three changes from the first leg. Out went Longstaff, Murphy and Maris. In came Hewitt, Wallace and Akins.

Nigel Clough explained his team selection: “I just couldn't see Matty Longstaff, Jamie Murphy, George Maris, Stirky, having an impact on the game. I thought it was going to be blood and thunder. That's why we went with the team we did. JJ (O’Toole) just pushing into midfield, he did magnificently. Elliott came in a right back ... he's been unlucky not to play recently, so he just slotted straight back in.”
"After the home leg, we started thinking about playing a five (at the back), to be big and solid.”
"We did a bit of work in training on Tuesday morning, it didn't quite sit right and the players weren't overly fussed on changing to a back five, so we went with the 4-2-3-1 and put JJ and Kieran there.”

The back four was: Hewitt, Perch, Hawkins, McLaughlin. O’Toole and Wallace sat in front of the back four. Then Akins, Quinn and Bowery were just behind Oates.

Clough also noted that 7 of the 10 outfield players were over 30, and it was "very important in these circumstances to have that experience."

Rawson was back into the 18 on the bench, with Maris not in the 18.

Northampton were able to bring back first choice keeper Liam Roberts, who’s had a superb season and was outstanding in the league game at Mansfield. He was suspended for the first leg. He replaced Maxted, who in my opinion should have done better with Mansfield’s first goal in the first leg, letting it through his legs. Northampton also brought back Josh Eppiah, who had not been fit enough to start the first leg. He replaced Idris Kanu.

Northampton were off to a fast start and Bishop had to made an excellent save in the opening minute, which was critical. Hoskins crossed from the edge of the area on the left, to beyond the far post, where Eppiah headed back towards the far post and Bishop had to dive at full stretch to turn it away. A fine header from Eppiah and an excellent save.

After 12 minutes, a shot from Sowerby from 22 yards was blocked by Wallace for a corner.

After 24 minutes, a good header away by Akins with Koiki in space waiting to head it in behind him, from an Eppiah cross.

The first run of the evening from Oates, along the byline past a defender, but his cross was deflected to the keeper.

The Stags took the lead after 32 minutes with a goal of huge significance, to double the aggregate lead. Akins, 30 yards from goal, slid the ball forward. Quinn was standing in an offside position, and would have been offside if he had played the ball, but he seemed to get a call from Hewitt, overlapping, to leave it. Quinn did leave it. Hewitt ran on to it, and pulled a great ball across from the byline into the middle for McLaughlin who was first to it on the edge of the six yard box, beating Eppiah to it, to slide the ball into the net. McLaughlin’s 8th goal of the season from left back, to add to his 14 assists (see below). Quite a tally. And what a huge goal this was.

McLaughlin blocked an Eppiah shot after 34 minutes. A minute later, Bishop was out quickly with Eppiah nearly in on it. And a minute after that, Bowery headed away another long throw-in.

A real chance for the Cobblers after 40 minutes. A Pinnock long throw-in was headed up in the air. Bishop came to claim it, but spilled it giving Hoskins a free shot at goal from 8 yards with Bishop out of position, but Hoskins skied it over the bar. A let-off for the Stags. As the throw had come in, Horsfall had gone to ground under a challenge from O’Toole off the ball. The referee wasn’t interested in a penalty.

The rain was now coming down, and was to continue for the rest of the evening.

A double chance for Mansfield after 44 minutes. Oates chipped a cross into the middle, it reached Akins, he chested it down and his shot from 12 yards was blocked by his own man Bowery. It came out to Hewitt, whose shot from 18 yards was also blocked by his own man Akins. Both shots were goalbound.

The Stags ahead on the night at the break, and two ahead on aggregate.

Half time 0-1

Northampton had calls for a penalty after 49 minutes. Eppiah got past McLaughlin on the right. His low cross was towards Appere. He went down under a challenge from O’Toole. Then Sowerby went down under a challenge from Oates on the edge of the area. Neither was a foul and the referee correctly played on.

O’Toole was booked for a foul after 53 minutes. The resulting free kick from Hoskins was straight to Bishop.

Great defending by Bowery after Hoskins got past Hawkins after 62 minutes.

A controversial moment after 63 minutes. Wallace put in a bad and late challenge on Eppiah halfway inside the Cobblers half. Wallace received a yellow card. In my opinion, if that had been red, Wallace could not have complained. A bit of luck there.

Danny Rose was on for Northampton after 65 minutes, replacing Mills. Hoskins moved to right back.

Appiah had been injured by the challenge from Wallace and he was replaced after 68 minutes by Chanka Zimba.

After 69 minutes, following yet another Pinnock long throw, a shot from Hoskins was blocked by Hawkins. Then Sowerby’s shot from 22 yards was blocked by Akins for a corner. Bowery headed away the corner.

Zimba was nearly through on goal after 70 minutes, but he was just eased off the ball by Hawkins.

Bishop punched away a free kick after 71 minutes.

Another moment of controversy after 71 minutes. Quinn was blocked off by McWilliams as he chased the ball. Quinn biffed McWilliams out of the way. The referee gave a free kick against Quinn. That should have been a yellow card, and could even have been a red card in my opinion for Quinn, but the referee just gave the free kick. A bit of luck for the Stags again. The resulting free kick was headed away by Bowery.

Nearly a spectacular goal for the Stags after 73 minutes. Hewitt got to the byline and crossed in, Bowery headed it down, and Quinn sent an overhead kick over the bar. Two minutes later, Oates fired in a shot on the turn which was blocked.

Wallace cut out a cross for a corner after 80 minutes.

Bishop punched away a corner after 81 minutes. Then Appere’s shot was blocked through to Bishop.

Lapslie replaced Quinn after 82 minutes. Quinn had run himself into the ground.

Lapslie was into the action heading away a corner after 84 minutes.

Ollie Clarke replaced Wallace after 85 minutes.

Bishop was out to catch a cross after 86 minutes.

After 87 minutes, a dreadful challenge by Pinnock on McLaughlin. Pinnock was booked. It was every bit as bad as Wallace’s challenge earlier, so at least the referee was consistent.

A couple of Northampton fans invaded the pitch from the main stand after 90+2 minutes, and one went straight to Bowery and pushed him. Disgraceful behaviour, and the stewards were slow to react, eventually hauling the idiot away.

After 90+6 minutes, a shot from Koiki was blocked by Perch.

The full time whistle brought great scenes as the Stags players were able to celebrate in front of the joyous visiting fans.

A Nigel Clough tactical masterclass. He becomes only the third manager to take Mansfield to Wembley (after Ian Greaves and Duncan Russell). The Stags deserved the win over the two legs, albeit having a couple of bits of luck, with Oates’ goal in the first leg being offside, and Wallace and Quinn could have been sent off in the second leg. Having said that, Pinnock’s challenge on McLaughlin was every bit as bad as Wallace’s challenge, so at least the referee was consistent.

The Stags are going to Wembley. One more game to win.


McLaughlin strikes as magnificent Mansfield Town book play-off final place at Wembley with win at Northampton Town
chad.co.uk, By John Lomas, Wednesday 18th May 2022

Magnificent Mansfield Town completed the job and booked their place in the League Two play-off final at Wembley after Stephen McLaughlin's goal gave them a 1-0 win at Northampton Town in tonight's second leg to beat the Cobblers 3-1 on aggregate.

McLaughlin struck on 32 minutes to ease any nerves the visitors had.

But they defended brilliantly for 90 minutes and Nathan Bishop's only real save came in the opening seconds from Northampton's first raid.

In truth there were few real chances at either end as Northampton's direct game was repelled superbly by the visitors.


The team celebrate their first half goal at Northampton Town. Photo by Chris Holloway / The Bigger Picture.media

The Stags side showed three changes from the first leg with George Maris ruled out with a knock and Matty Longstaff and Jamie Murphy dropped to the bench.

In came Kieran Wallace, Elliot Hewitt and Lucas Akins as Clough elected to push John-Joe O'Toole into an unexpected midfield role at his former club.

The Cobblers welcomed back first choice keeper Liam Roberts after he missed the first leg with suspension while Josh Eppiah also came into the starting XI.

Paul Lewis was named on the Cobblers' bench after recovering from a broken foot.

Amid a magnificent atmosphere, the home side almost grabbed the lead inside 50 seconds.

Hoskins crossed from the left after good work by Appere and Eppiah met it with a far post header that forced a superb save from Bishop to his right.

Both sides had corners cleared, then Stags then had to defend a couple of dangerous Pinnock long throws while a poor Perch clearance reached Sowerby, whose vicious shot cannoned up and over the top off Wallace.

Nigel Clough had said getting through the first 15 minutes would be crucial and Stags had safely negotiated that hurdle.

Instead the visitors roared into the lead on 32 minutes.

Hewitt was onside as he broke to the right by-line and crossed hard and low for the incoming McLaughlin to tuck away from close range.

Quinn would have been offside if he'd touched the ball so he intelligently left it for Hewitt to run on to.

McLaughlin then got a good block in on Eppiah's shot while Bishop crucially won a race to a through ball for the same player as the home side looked for a swift reply.

Wallace was hurt by a Sowerby blast he took full in the face but was able to continue.

On 40 minutes another long Pinnock throw caused a scramble in the six yard box in which Northampton were screaming for a penalty for a push with Hoskins eventually firing the loose ball over.

The earlier sunshine had by now long gone and heavy rain began to fall on Sixfields.

On 44 minutes Stags got into the home box again and both Akins and Hewitt had shots charged down as the visitors went in 3-1 to the good on aggregate and the tie theirs to lose.

A block tackle by Guthrie had Quinn in agony on the restart but the veteran was able to continue.

Two more tackles in the Stags box saw two more calls for a penalty with the home fans now incensed with the officials.

On 53 minutes O'Toole was booked for a foul, followed on 63 minutes by Wallace after he caught Eppiah late.

Ex-Stag Rose joined the action and dangerman Eppiah also had to be replaced as he continued to limp.

Hoskins saw a shot charged down and Sowerby an effort deflect wider as the home team desperately looked for a lifeline.

In a rare Stags raid on 74 minutes Quinn was too high with an overhead kick from 12 yards and soon after Oates had a snapshot blocked.

Wave after wave of home attacks were repelled superbly as Stags defended for their lives.

Lapslie took over from Quinn with eight minutes of the 90 to go and three minutes later Wallace was replaced by Clarke to give Stags fresh legs in midfield.

Bishop's handling continued to be magnificent as the balls continued to be pumped his way.

A frustrated Pinnock was booked for his challenge on McLaughlin on 87 minutes as the noise from the away fans increased with the finishing line approaching.

Five minutes were added and the home side forced two more corners, but Stags were in no mood to spoil their deserved clean sheet, which was the icing on the cake.

But, just after Horsfall was booked for dissent, the game was halted after a couple of minutes as three home fans inexplicably ran on the pitch, threw a smoke bomb in the direction of Stags players and one barged into Bowery before stewards wrestled them down and threw them out.

That couldn't take away from the final whistle celebrations as Stags basked in the glory of a forthcoming day out at Wembley.

NORTHAMPTON: Roberts, Sowerby, Guthrie, Horsfall, Hoskins, Pinnock, Koiki, McWilliams, Eppiah (Zimba 68), Mills (Rose 65), Appere. SUBS NOT USED: Harriman, Lewis, Kanu, Mexted, Dyche.

STAGS: Bishop, McLaughlin, Hewitt, Bowery, Hawkins, Perch, Quinn (Lapslie 82), Oates, Wallace (Clarke 85), Akins, O'Toole. SUBS NOT USED: Rawson, Murphy, Stech, Stirk, Longstaff.

REFEREE: Ben Toner.

ATTENDANCE: 7,619 (1,463 away).


Promotion dream over as Cobblers suffer play-off heartbreak against Mansfield
Cobblers saw their hopes of promotion to League One and a trip to Wembley ended by defeat to Mansfield Town in the second leg of their play-off semi-final on Wednesday.

northamptonchron.co.uk, By James Heneghan

The Stags already had a 2-1 advantage from the first leg at Field Mill and they made their position more secure through Stephen McLaughlin’s controversial first-half strike at Sixfields.

Town did have their moments in either half but failed to create many clear-cut chances and must now face up to another season in League Two.

Jon Brady will, though, be left with a burning sense of injustice after a series of decisions went against during Wednesday's game.


Two clear penalties were turned down either side of half-time and Kieran Wallace was fortunate not to see red for a wild challenge early in the second-half. McLaughlin's goal could also have been chalked off for offside.

Nonetheless, Mansfield defended well and did what they needed to do to ensure Cobblers' mostly excellent season ended in a double dose of frustration after the drama of the final day of the regular season.
Liam Roberts returned from suspension to start in goal and he was joined in the team by Josh Eppiah as Brady made two changes from the first leg.

A superb atmosphere greeted the two teams and Eppiah would have given home supporters the perfect start if not for the finger-tips of Stags goalkeeper Nathan Bishop who flung himself to his right to keep out the forward’s header inside the first 60 seconds.

The two teams took contrasting approaches to the first 20 minutes, Town starting with plenty of energy and intensity as they looked to wipe out the deficit and the visitors happy to slow things down.

Lucas Akins almost headed into his own net at the end of a well-worked Cobblers move but Mansfield were largely doing a good job of keeping the hosts at arm’s length and limiting shots on their goal.

That said, the goal they scored on 31 minutes came out of nothing and had more than a hint of controversy to it.

Stephen Quinn was clearly offside and seemed to make a move for the ball but left it for an onside Elliott Hewitt and his cross was turned in by McLaughlin.

Town responded with a brief flurry of pressure but Fraser Horsfall saw a strong penalty shout turned down and Hoskins blazed over and Mansfield were able to get into half-time with their two-goal advantage intact.

Cobblers’ luck with the officials did not improve in the second-half when this time Louis Appéré appeared to be felled in the penalty box but again nothing was given.

Wallace was also perhaps lucky not to see red for a reckless lunge on Eppiah.

Northampton had virtually all of the ball in the second-half but they did not get very far with it as Mansfield soaked up pressure and protected their goal stoutly.

The visitors put their bodies on the line and produced so many blocks and vital last-ditch challenges to frustrate the home side and secure a place at Wembley.

Match facts

Cobblers: Roberts, Mills (Rose 65), Horsfall, Guthrie, Koiki, McWilliams, Sowerby, Pinnock, Eppiah (Zimba 68), Hoskins, Appere

Subs not used: Maxted, Harriman, Dyche, Lewis, Kanu

Mansfield: Bishop, Hewitt, Perch, Hawkins, O’Toole, McLaughlin, Wallace (Clarke 85), Quinn (Lapslie 82), Akins, Oates, Bowery

Subs not used: Stech, Rawson, Murphy, Stirk, Longstaff

Referee: Ben Toner

Attendance: 7,619

Mansfield fans: 1,463


Northampton Town 0-1 Mansfield Town (agg 1-3): Stephen McLaughlin's first-half goal clinches League Two play-off semi-final for the Stags to send Nigel Clough's side to Wembley


Mansfield Town book place at Wembley to play Port Vale or Swindon
Northampton Town appeared shell shocked throughout both legs of the tie
The Cobblers missed out on automatic promotion on goals scored
Pitch invaders and flares continue to blight the play-offs and end of season
Mansfield lucky to end the game with 11 players on the field after two incidents


So often the play-offs are about momentum.

Mansfield Town, who did not exactly squeeze in as the table would suggest, would still have felt pleased to have been in the play-offs.

Can there be a more painful club to support in the entire English football pyramid than Northampton Town? All of that time spent in the automatic promotion places to then miss out, it is such a common story up and down the land but it makes it no less agonising.

The Cobblers, who missed out on promotion to League One in the most painful of circumstances after a goal swing between them and Bristol Rovers the like of which has seldom been seen in English football league history, likely cannot stand the sight of what many in football call the ultimate lottery.

The Stags had raced into an early 2-0 lead last week within 32 minutes and here, having weathered some early Cobblers pressure, struck with what proved to be the ultimate sucker-punch.

It came on 31 minutes.

Lucas Akins played a ball through that both Stephen Quinn and Elliott Hewitt went for. Quinn knew he was offside so left it for the on-rushing Hewitt, who picked out Stephen McLaughlin. His calm finish through the legs of Liam Roberts resembled that of a true centre forward.

Jon Brady had called on the 7,000-strong Sixfields Crowd to drive on his team in the second leg of their play-off semi-final with Mansfield Town on Wednesday night, but they appeared as shell-shocked as the players.

Two goals down after 32 minutes at Field Mill, Brady's side had clearly been sent out with the instruction to keep it tight and to stay in the tie early on.

They had carried out their manager's instructions pretty adequately, with the game often appearing tense and like a chess match for the early periods.

Northampton's problem, having lost the first leg, was that such a policy also suited Mansfield.

The Cobblers emerged from the break having clearly been spoken to by their manager Brady. Two convincing penalty appeals came and went, the first of which looked a very convincing shout when Jack Sowerby nicked the ball in front of Jonjo O'Toole.

O'Toole appeared fortunate, and was even more fortunate five minutes later when he was booked, knowing it could, and perhaps should, have been his second booking.

It was announced this week that all three Football League play-off finals would have VAR in place. Northampton will be wishing it was in operation here.

As the rain began to fall in the second half, the Cobblers appeared to resort to launching the ball long. Nathan Bishop, in the Mansfield goal, gratefully received a number of hopeful balls forward.

It ends what has been a deeply painful two weeks for a Northampton side aware of the lottery of the play-offs

It ends what has been a deeply painful two weeks for a Northampton side aware of the lottery of the play-offs

Mansfield were fortunate to still have 11 players on the pitch, two incidents should have seen them reduced to 10 and then nine players. First, midfielder Kieran Wallace went steaming through Josh Eppiah and it appeared it was the adverse weather conditions that saved him when referee Ben Toner only brought out a card of the yellow variety.

Then, with 20 minutes remaining in the game, Quinn did something mad. Chasing after a ball he bizarrely lashed out with his arms at Shaun McWilliams. Only Quinn will know why, only the referee will know why he did not send him off.

Having not been booked, it is reasonable to assume that the Irishman could receive retrospective punishment.

Northampton continued to push. Chanka Zimba, introduced for Eppiah, produced a great opening that was cleared by Wallace for a corner.

The pressure the Cobblers tried to exert was admirable, but it often appeared as though they lacked the quality in the final third to test the well-coached and resolute Mansfield backline. Oliver Hawkins, in particular, was magnificent.

From around 80 minutes the Mansfield fans behind the goal which Northampton were attacking in the second half began to be heard in full, singing the customary 'Que Sera Sera' songs.

Indeed, it will be them heading to Wembley next Saturday as Northampton are left to rue another season of what could have been.

Northampton Town (4-2-3-1): Roberts; Mills, Horsfall, Guthrie, Koiki; Sowerby, McWilliams; Felix-Eppiah, Pinnock, Hoskins; Appéré

Substitutes: Harriman, Lewis, Zimba, Kanu, Maxted, Rose, Dyche

Manager: Jon Brady

Mansfield Town (3-4-3): Bishop; Perch, O'Toole, Hawkins; Hewitt, Quinn, Wallace, McLaughlin; Akins, Oates, Bowery

Substitutes: Rawson, Murphy, O Clarke, Stech, Stirk, Lapslie, M Longstaff

Manager: Nigel Clough

Referee: Ben Toner

Attendance: 7,619



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