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Archived News from May 2004

21st May 2004 14:35

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COLIN Larkin and Kevin Pilkington were the shoot-out heroes as Mansfield Town needed the drama of penalties to finally kill off brave Northampton Town and book a place in the Third Division play-off final at Cardiff.
Stags were firmly in the driving seat with a 2-0 first leg advantage from Sixfields last Sunday.
But the Cobblers have a superb away record and, after surviving a sixth minute scare when Junior Mendes had an effort disallowed for offside, they stunned the 9,243 crowd with two goals in five minutes to level the tie through Marc Richards and Chris Hargreaves.
Worse was to come as Martin Smith punished sloppy play to net within 35 seconds of the restart and put the Cobblers ahead on aggregate for the first time.
But two crucial decisions swung the tie Stags' way.
Tom Curtis was lucky not to be sent off for what appeared to be his second bookable offence of the night and, within a minute of escaping with a warning, he netted only his second Stags goal on 70 minutes to level the tie.
Then Alex John-Baptiste escaped a last minute penalty call after his challenge saw Derek Asamoah tumble in the box.
Extra-time produced no more goals which left the drama of penalties.
"What a game, what a finish - that was awesome," beamed Stags boss Keith Curle.
"Losing 2-0 at half-time I just told the lads to have belief, take a deep breath and let that belief come out.
"In my 18 months here I have learned there's the easy way, the hard way and the Mansfield Town way.
"I have to be honest, we don't practice penalties here. It's a bit false on the training field. It's not the same as the pressure of a shoot-out.
"It was just a case of the first five players to pick up the ball, put it on the spot and have the belief to put it in the net."
Despite having the entire back four on the treatment table this week, Stags were unchanged from the side that won 2-0 in the first leg at Sixfields on Sunday.
Welsh U19 international keeper James Coates replaced injured fellow youngster Jason White on the bench.
Northampton welcomed Eric Sabin back from suspension, in for Derek Asamoah up front, while Ashley Westwood, suspended after being sent off on Sunday, was replaced in defence by Paul Reid.
The game began at a hectic pace to the background of an electric atmosphere from the stands.
And Stags had the ball in the net within six minutes only to see the effort ruled out for offside.
Disley fed Corden on the left and his near post cross was touched home by Mendes only for the celebrations to be cut short.
Disley then went on a good run down the centre, beating three opponents but just failing to find Mendes.
Stags threatened again with a cross from the left by Mendes which looped over Harper and Ullathorne had to head out for a corner before Lawrence could reach it.
Although the visitors were putting together some neat passes in midfield, the home defence were coping well and it was Stags again who threatened as Harper had to stretch to catch another dangerous Corden cross.
Low went on a rampaging run down the right and it took a great interception by Day to stop his low cross reaching Richards.
On 17 minutes Day was very lucky to escape at least a booking for recklessly hacking down Sabin on the left as the Frenchman went past him towards the by-line. And Richards' free kick came to nothing.
However, two minutes later Day again brought down Sabin and this time the yellow card was shown.
Stags comfortably cleared the visitors' first corner on 22 minutes after a misplaced pass from Williamson put his side under pressure.
A break from a Northampton free kick saw Williamson hold the bal up and the chance eventually broke for Mendes to get in a low shot from a tight angle which was never going to trouble Harper at his near post on 24 minutes.
Lawrence tried a cheeky free kick from 25 yards three minutes later as, with everyone expecting him to go far post, he tried a grasscutter towards the near post, but Harper was alert and comfortably across.
Ullathorne saw the visitors' first yellow card of the night on 31 minutes for upending Williamson in full flight.
On 35 minutes Low joined him in the book for following through on Pilkington after the keeper had gathered a through ball.
Richards got away down the left for the Cobblers but his far post cross found no one.
However, the visitors drew first blood on the night with a superb goal from Richards on 36 minutes.
Trollope played the ball forward and, although Day was close at his back, Richards made space to let fly a thunderous shot from 20 yards that had bulged the back of the net before Pilkington could get there.
Curtis went in with studs showing on Smith to earn a caution on 40 minutes as the tackles continued to fly in.
Disaster then struck for the Stags on 41 minutes as the Cobblers levelled the tie.
Smith sent a free kick over from the right and Hargreaves headed home from close range at the far post.
Stags won a free kick over 35 yards from goal which Curtis touched to Lawrence who rifled in a low shot that Harper had to stretch to turn aside near his left hand post.
Mendes was the fifth player to be booked in stoppage time for speaking out of turn to the assistant referee.
Lawrence again tried his luck from range with a curling low 30 yard shot just before the break which Harper was again easily behind.
Mansfield needed to get off to a good start to the second half but couldn't have made a worse one as the Cobblers snatched the overall lead for the first time.
Corden gave the ball away to Trollope who quickly pushed it forward to Smith on the edge of the box. And he evaded Day's challenge before tucking the ball past Pilkington.
Stags came desperately close to opening their account for the night on 52 minutes. A Lawrence corner found Day who saw his close range effort somehow clawed upwards by Harper against the underside of his crossbar and down on to the goalline before being cleared.
Disley was booked for sliding into Harper on 54 minutes and that proved to be the Stags midfielder's last action as he was brought off to accommodate more firepower in the shape of Larkin.
Low was allowed space to run and he cut in to let fly with a shot that sailed well over.
Stags again came desperately close as Curtis threaded a pas through to send Mendes in on goal. But Harper spread himself to keep out the striker's finish.
John-Baptiste got on the end of a Lawrence corner, but his glancing header was well wide.
Tackles continued to fly in and after John-Baptiste was caught late by Sabin, Curtis came in with a late tackle in retribution on Sabin.
After much scuffling between the players and discussions between officials, Sabin was booked and Curtis escaped the second yellow card that would have seen him dismissed.
Incredibly Curtis then put Stags back in the tie within a minute with only his second goal for the club.
Larkin had a shot blocked and the ball rolled invitingly to Curtis 18 yards from goal to drive low through a crowd of players and into the net.
Soon after Mendes sent a low cross in front of goal with no one able to capitalise.
Sampson headed inches wide from a corner at the other end as the thrills continued to flow.
D'Jaffo replaced Mendes up front for Mansfield on 76 minutes while the Cobblers sent on Asamoah for Richards a minute later.
Larkin pulled a shot wide for the Stags as the tie headed towards extra-time.
Lawrence brought another superb save out of Harper with a curling free kick from the edge of the box that the keeper had to dive to turn round his near post.
When that corner was cleared, the visitors almost broke clear from halfway and the Stags did well to get back to snuff out the danger.
A Lawrence cross almost sneaked its way in at the far post but Harper just managed to get there.
Hassell also tried one from 30 yards but Harper was there again.
It was all Mansfield in the closing minutes and Lawrence and then Hassell both sent pot shots well off target.
But the visitors were screaming for a penalty in stoppage time as Asamoah went down under the challenge of John-Baptiste, the referee waving play on.
Then Curtis needed treatment after he almost swallowed a blast from Asamoah.
Extra-time began with a dipping shot from Trollope that fell just over the Stags crossbar.
Pilkington then superbly took hold of Low's corner from the left.
D'Jaffo sent Larkin racing down the right but when the ball was returned to him, the veteran was off balance and well wide with his finish.
Larkin twisted and turned on the left before coming inside the curl a finish inches wide of the far post on 102 minutes.
But a Northampton corner in first half stoppage time saw Sampson flick a header over at the near post as the turn-round arrived without further score.
Mansfield were first to try after the short break with Williamson whipping a shot just over from 20 yards.
Curtis then sent a cross field ball into the path of Lawrence who burst into the box and forced Harper to save his low shot with his legs.
Another loose pass from Corden gave the ball to Asamoah who screwed a shot wide of the far post from a tight angle.
Stags forced a corner which was cleared as the agony of penalties began to get nearer and nearer.
D'Jaffo, after a couple of warnings, was booked for a late challenge on Sampson on 115 minutes.
Low ran and went past Williamson, who appeared to be suffering cramp, but saw his shot deflect up into the air and Sabin's overhead follow-up was well over.
Taylor replaced Low and Reeves replaced fellow sub Asamoah for the last three minutes as Northampton had a last throw of the dice.
Stags sent on MacKenzie in the last minute to replace the hobbling Williamson as Stags prepared to take a corner which came to nothing.
One minute was added on before the whistle finally signalled the drama of a penalty shoot-out.
Reeves sent Pilkington the wrong way to put Northampton ahed in front of the North Stand.
Corden did the same to put Stags level before Smith found the bottom right hand corner inches away from Pilkington's fingertips to restore the Cobblers' advantage.
Lawrence sent Harper the wrong way to find the same corner for 2-2, Pilkington guessed the right way but couldn't stop a powerful kick from Reid that made it 3-2 before MacKenzie squared it up again with a confident finish into the top right corner.
The sides were finally split when Pilkington produced a superb save to his left to top Sabin's kick.
D'Jaffo confidently tucked his kick inside the right hand post which left Willmott having to score.
With the pressure on, he stepped up to blast it home down the middle.
It was left then to the ice cool Larkin to step up and find the bottom right corner and send two sides of Field Mill into wild celebrations.
"It's a beautiful game, but only sometimes," lamented former Stags star and Cobblers boss Colin Calderwood.
"My players didn't get the reward they deserved. How well they did to come from 2-0 down to lead is lost in the dismay we all feel.
"But every one of my players is a hero and I am proud to be a manager of a group of lads who have gone beyond themselves on numerous occasions this season.
"Some decisions didn't go for us on the night. The referee blew for a foul on Eric Sabin but then gave the kick to Mansfield from which they went on to score.
"And I thought it was telling that a couple of Mansfield fans told me they thought we should have had a penalty at the end. But there's no way back, the decisions have been made."
Tickets now go on sale this Sunday from 10am for the Millennium Stadium final on Monday, 31st May (3pm).
Keith Curle revealed Mansfield had decided against practising penalties ahead of their thrilling shoot-out victory over Northampton.

The Stags, 2-0 ahead after the first leg, eventually booked their place in the Division Three play-off final at The Millennium Stadium by edging the Field Mill shoot-out 5-4 in the return after Colin Larkin swept home the decisive spot-kick.

Curle later paid tribute to his side's character and insisted they had never stopped believing, even after going behind 3-0 behind on the night, and he said: "It's a tremendous feeling and this will stay with me for a long time.

"We didn't practice penalties because I am a big believer you just know where to put it, go up and do it.

"I've said all season there is the right way, the wrong way and the Mansfield way and we proved that again last night.

"When their player went up to take the first spot-kick, I stood away from the rest of the players and had a look around to take in the atmosphere and savour it."
Calderwood proud of players after play off disappointment
Northampton Town Official Site
Northampton Town boss Colin Calderwood was proud of his players after the epic play off semi final with Mansfield Town ended with the Stags progressing to the final on penalties.
"Football can be a cruel game at times," said the Cobblers boss.
"We haven't got the rewards that our efforts deserved. There are lots of reasons to be proud and not too many reasons to be disappointed, although the disappointment takes over and it is hard to take.
"There were one or two decisions in the game that went against us. In the build up to their goal, the referee blew for a foul on Eric, and then whatever happened the decision was changed to a free kick for Mansfield. I think we have just cause to feel that one or two key decisions went against us.
"In the last minute everyone from a Northampton point of view felt we should have had a penalty. A couple of Mansfield people have also said they thought it was a penalty but there is no way back for us now and the decision has been made. We have to use this as an inspiration and make sure we come back next season determined to do well.
"We had to do something special here to take this game to penalties. The players deserve more acclaim than they will get for this performance. The goal from Marc Richards set us off, and after that we took the performance on. There are no faults to be levelled at this team tonight.
"I feel very disappointed for the fans because like the players, they deserve more than we got. Eric Sabin is very upset about the penalty but someone has to miss and he did as much as anybody to get us here. He has nothing to be upset about.
"We need to keep the belief building next season and use this as a foundation. It's a cruel way to go out but I am a big fan of the play offs and I won't say it's unfair. The play offs create real excitement and it shows that the Nationwide League is thriving.
"It's been a real exciting season for us but we haven't managed to go to the next level. Normally after a defeat we say never mind, we can get a ball out on Monday and start again. If I see a ball next week it will end up being booted in the river!"
Northampton Chronicle and Echo:
TWO mind-boggling decisions from referee Phil Crossley denied brilliant Cobblers an historic play-off semi-final triumph at a feverish Field Mill.
Trailing 2-0 from the first-leg, on-fire Cobblers were 3-0 up inside 46 minutes and heading for a Millennium Stadium final date with Huddersfield Town – but then Crossley took centre stage.
Town were 23 minutes away from victory when the outstanding Eric Sabin went in for a crunching 50-50 challenge with Alex John-Baptiste on the halfway line.
There was no whistle and Sabin came up with the ball, only to be crudely hacked down by Tom Curtis, who had already been booked, and this time Crossley, who was three yards away, blew the whistle.
Players from both sides jumped in for a bit of handbags and Crossley calmed things down before consulting both of his assistants and the fourth official. Curtis, who had been pulled to one side by the referee, must have feared the worst – but amazingly Crossley changed his initial decision, awarded Mansfield a free-kick and booked Sabin!
To rub salt into Town's wounds, Adam Eaton pumped the free-kick into the Cobblers' box, the ball fell to Curtis 18 yards out and he scored.
Town should have been 3-2 up on aggregate with Mansfield down to 10 men, instead it was all square with the man who should have been sent off the scorer!
For the next 20 minutes both sides created and spurned chances, but in injury time substitute Derek Asamoah tricked his way past John-Baptiste in the Mansfield area and, as he went to pull the trigger, the Stags defender pulled him back with two hands.
It was a clear penalty with Crossley and his assistant having excellent views – yet they both did nothing.
"It was such a clear penalty I didn't even appeal, I just thought it would be given," said Paul Reid. "It was only when I realised he wasn't going to blow his whistle I started shouting at him."
For a referee to be centre of attention after what was such an amazing game is so frustrating – but the decisions were massive and Crossley got them badly wrong.
Yes, the Cobblers played a huge part in their own downfall by losing the home leg 2-0 in the first place, but after producing a stunning performance to get themselves ahead, it was galling to see glory snatched away from them by the man in black.
Town had scrubbed out the Stags' advantage after 41 minutes thanks to a brilliant strike from Marc Richards and a Chris Hargreaves header.
Martin Smith fired Town 3-0 ahead on the night seconds after the re-start and the Cobblers fans were in dreamland – but had Town peaked too early?
Lee Harper pulled off a couple of excellent saves as the Stags got into gear before Asamoah's penalty claim was turned down.
Extra-time was cagey with the only clear-cut chance seeing Harper save well from Liam Lawrence – and that meant 10 months of graft over the season came down to a penalty shoot-out.
With the shoot-out score at 3-3 Sabin, who had a superb game, saw his firm penalty saved low to his left by Kevin Pilkington and it was advantage Stags. Laurent D'Jaffo and Colin Larkin just had to keep their cool to send Mansfield to Cardiff, and they did.
It was a heartbreaking way for Town's season to end but every single player can hold their head high after such a monumental effort – I wonder if referee Crossley will be able to do the same?
Northampton Chronicle and Echo:
Heroes all
EMOTIONAL Colin Calderwood hailed his
players as heroes following their heartbreaking penalty shoot-out play-off semi-final defeat at Mansfield Town last night.
On a night of high drama, brilliant Town overturned the 2-0 deficit from Sunday's first-leg at Sixfields to beat the Stags 3-1 after extra-time, only to lose 5-4 in a nail-biting penalty shoot-out.
Eric Sabin was the unfortunate Town player to see his penalty saved by Kevin Pilkington, but no blame can be attached to the Frenchman and Calderwood, who at one point was holding back the tears, only had praise for his team.
"There are no faults to be levelled at this team, in my mind they are all heroes," said the Cobblers boss. "Football is called the beautiful game but it can be a cruel game at times.
"My players haven't got the rewards that our efforts deserved from this game. There are lots of reasons to be proud and not too many reasons to be disappointed, although the disappointment from this game takes over and it is hard to take."
The Cobblers went into a 3-0 lead on the night inside the opening 46 minutes thanks to goals from Marc Richards, Chris Hargreaves and Martin Smith, but Tom Curtis' 70th-minute goal was enough to level the match for the home side.
Curtis was lucky to still be on the pitch as moments earlier he got away with a kick at Eric Sabin, while Derek Asamoah was also denied what looked a clear penalty in the dying seconds of normal time.
"There were one or two decisions in the game that went against us," said Calderwood. "I think that overall we have just cause to feel that one or two key decisions went against us.
"For the penalty incident at the end, even a couple of Mansfield people have come up to me and said they thought it was a penalty, but it's gone now.
"We have to use this performance as an inspiration and make sure we come back next season determined to do well."
Town Chairman David Cardoza also heaped praise on the team and the astounding 2,600-strong travelling support, saying: "I hope the supporters are proud of the club, because the club is certainly proud of the supporters.
"I would like to thank Colin Calderwood, John Deehan and the players for their hard work this season. Yes, we are disappointed, but we will be back firing in August."


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