Curle must lift his shattered squad
STAGS boss Keith Curle today began the massive task of lifting his shattered squad after Monday's Division Three Play-off final defeat at Cardiff.
And in the next week he will finally sort out his players' futures with all but four of his current squad's contracts expiring at the end of this month.
"As you can imagine, a lot of the players are very down and I now need to start the process of picking them up again," he said.
"But I was very proud of them at Cardiff. They gave a good account of themselves, individually, collectively and as a football club and made me a proud man to be stood there as the manager.
"They are young men and it was a big occasion for them.
"The disallowed goal hurts. But the linesman said the ball was out of play and we have to accept the decision. I don't want to end up talking about the officials. Right or wrong the decision made was an honest one.
"I thought our preparation mentally and physically was spot-on and in extra-time we were able to maintain the level of football we like to play at.
"But when it comes down to penalties it is always going to be a lottery.
"It is pointless practising endless penalties in training as you could never recreate the pressure and atmosphere of Cardiff which was absolutely electric.
"The players who took them made their decisions what they were going to do on the day and they stand by them which I also do.
"I was pleased with our performance level. We earned the right to play football and we played it at the right tempo.
"It is part of the learning curve for myself now. As a football club we are down and as a town we are down. It is my job to lift everyone and believe that next season we can be successful.
"I believe that this has been a good year for us as a club. We've had a magnificent season and I am very proud of them."
Chairman Keith Haslam added: "I am proud of everybody associated with the club. I am proud of our supporters for the way they reacted and supported the club and the town.
"No one let us down on the day. No one could point a finger at any player for not giving 100 per cent.
"It hurts in the stomach right now - worse than it did on Monday. But we have got to be positive and move on.
"Everyone must back the club and we will do our bit too. Next season we want to try to go better and gain automatic promotion. We want to keep this team together and learn from what we have gone through this year."
Huddersfield boss Peter Jackson had words of consolation for his opposite number.
"That was a great advert for the division and the football played at times was excellent," he said. "It was by far the best final of the weekend.
"Kevin Pilkington made some outstanding saves to keep us out.
"I feel very sorry for Keith Curle and his team. It is a horrible way to go out. But, as manager of Huddersfield, I am absolutely thrilled to bits with what we've achieved this year.
"It took a lot of nerve to stand up and take a penalty in the shoot-out. We had watched videos of Stags' penalties against Northampton and I felt it was important we scored the first. After we went 2-0 up I knew we were on top of them.
"It was fantastic for Lee Fowler to score the winner in front of his family in his home town."
Terry Yorath, Huddersfield Town assistant manager, added: " "I've had quite a few telephone calls and messages after the game saying it was a superb game to watch and how it was the best of the play-offs.
"I feel for Mansfield and you think of their emotions now. They've been through 90 minutes, extra-time and they have lost out on penalties. I know that's how they got here, but it's a sad way to lose really."
Cardiff - End of a dream
Mansfield Town's promotion dream was ended in the cruellest of ways on the biggest of domestic stages on Monday.
There is no more dramatic end to a football match than a penalty shoot-out.
And at Wembley in 1987 and in last week's semi final against Northampton Stags tasted the exhilaration of winning a crucial shoot-out.
But on Monday they were forced to sample the bitterness of the other side of the coin as Huddersfield convincingly won the shoot-out 4-1 to clinch promotion to the Second Division and leave Stags with nothing to show for their season's efforts.
Yes, the play-off final at Cardiff's magnificent Millennium Stadium always provides a memorable day out. But defeat there quickly means they are memories the losing team would sooner forget.
Had Stags been well beaten in 90 minutes by the better side it would have probably been slightly easier to accept.
But after a tense and nervous first half in which Mansfield had what seemed a perfectly good goal disallowed, they went on to become increasingly the dominant side against a Huddersfield team they had taken four points off during the season and beaten convincingly in the Terriers' own back yard only three weeks before.
Extra time produced nothing apart from increasingly tired limbs and a dreadful injury to Huddersfield's star defender Efe Sodje.
And so a season of thrills and spills, which began in the Kidderminster sunshine last August, all rested on five crucial kicks of the ball.
After Rob Edwards had given Huddersfield the early advantage, Wayne Corden, so often reliable from the spot in the past, saw his kick saved.
It wasn't the best of penalties, a good height for a keeper to block though, had the keeper gone the other way it would have looked a superb finish. The dividing line is that fine.
Huddersfield coolly went 2-0 up and it was spot king Liam Lawrence. of all people. who then missed the target and left Stags staring in the face of defeat.
Lawrence had confidently slotted home 12 of his 13 spot kicks this season - just one short of the all time record - and was one of the five penalty successes against Northampton in the semi-final.
Taking a long run up he tried a cheeky chip straight down the centre. But, instead of dipping under the bar, it landed six inches higher than it should have done and clipped the top of the bar before bouncing behind. Again the dividing line was that fine.
At least Neil MacKenzie kept hopes alive in getting Stags off the mark.
But it was too little, too late as Lee Fowler completed a perfect day for him in his home city with the decisive spot kick.
For Mansfield's players there was nowhere to hide as they sat disconsolate and shattered in front of the glare of the Sky TV cameras.
Words of consolation would have meant nothing as they began to face up to the prospect of another year in the football league's basement division, despite being one of its leading lights for the entire campaign.
The day had begun so promisingly with Stags and Huddersfield supporters mingling happily in the Welsh capital as they enjoyed banter and beer in the warm sunshine.
The atmosphere was electric as the fans roared their teams onto the field to a cacophony of fireworks.
But there were few fireworks to follow in that tense first half with genuine chances at a premium as the sunshine turned to rain.
In the second half Mansfield gradually began to turn on the passing style that has won them many friends up and down the country this season, particularly after going to a 4-4-2 formation.
Adam Eaton was back to his electric best at left back, Tom Curtis was the pick of the midfielders with a dynamic display and Alex John-Baptiste came up with some magnificent tackles.
Stags enjoyed good spells of possession but were unable to find a way through Huddersfield's resolute defence.
Wayne Corden must have thought he had struck the winner in the final minute only to see Paul Rachubka produce a stunning save.
Even crueller luck was to follow for Stags in stoppage time as Laurent D'Jaffo turned the ball back from the by-line into the path of Colin Larkin who blasted home.
Elation turned to dejection as the officials decided the ball had already gone out of play before D'Jaffo set up the chance.
Stags fans will agonise over TV replays of this crucial incident as the Sky coverage suggested the ball had stayed in play and the goal was a good one. For a split second Stags were up.
Instead we were left with the prospect of another 30 minutes of strength-sapping extra time on the vast Millennium Stadium surface.
That extra time produced just two major talking points as Kevin Pilkington made his second excellent save of the contest while Sodje's afternoon came to a painful and premature end as he was stretchered off for the visitors.
By that stage the two sides were beginning to resemble two punched-out boxers in the last round as tired passes went astray and the reality of a penalty shoot-out began to dawn.
Keith Curle said after the game how proud he was of his side and rightly so.
The Stags have spent the entire season in the top seven and Huddersfield failed to beat them over 90 minutes on three occasions.
But that all counts for nothing now and Curle and his talented young side must quickly look to next season which, with pre-season training less than five weeks away, isn't too far away already.
In his first full season as the club's manager it was a great achievement for Curle to get his side to Cardiff.
They are more than capable of building on this season and even gaining automatic promotion without the need for the lottery of the play-offs.
But with all but four of the current squad out of contract this summer and, indeed, Curle himself not under any contract at Field Mill Stags fans will have to wait to see who jumps ship or are pushed overboard before they start laying bets on their team's prospects.
THE MATCH DETAILS
STAGS: Pilkington, Hassell, Eaton, Day, John-Baptiste, Curtis, Williamson (McKenzie 98), Lawrence, Cordon, Mendes (D'Jaffo 68), Disley (Larkin 60). Subs not used: Coates (GK), Artell.
TERRIERS: Rachubka, Mirfin, Lloyd (Edwards 112), Holdsworth, Booth, Carss, Sodje, Abbott (McAliskey 91), Yates, Worthington (Fowler 85), Schofield. Subs not used: Senior (GK), Brown.
REFEREE: Mark Clattenburg (Tyne and Wear).
SHOOT-OUT: Edwards (Huddersfield) scored 1-0; Corden (Stags) missed; Schofield (Huddersfield) scored 2-0; Lawrence (Stags) missed; Carss (Huddersfield) scored 3-0; MacKenzie (Stags) scored 3-1; Fowler (Huddersfield) scored 4-1.
CAUTIONS: Stags - Eaton 64 (foul on Worthington); Hassell 90 (foul on Mirfin). Terriers - Sodje 65 (foul on Mendes).
STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Adam Eaton.
Brave Stags beaten in penalty shoot-out
MANSFIELD Town's promotion dream was wrecked in a dramatic penalty shoot-out at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium this afternoon.
Stags and Huddersfield Town fought out a tense 0-0 draw in the Third Division Play-Off final and, when extra-time failed to produce a winner, it was down to the thrilling lottery of spot kicks.
Stags had already showed their prowess from the spot in their semi-final penalties win over Northampton.
But their touch deserted them when it mattered most as Huddersfield won the shoot-out 4-1.
After Rob Edwards had netted Huddersfield's first, Wayne Corden's poor kick was saved by Paul Rachubka.
Danny Scofield made it 2-0 before Liam Lawrence, so prolific from the spot all season, tried to be too clever and saw his deft chip down the centre clip the top of the crossbar as it bounced over.
Stags were in big trouble now and Anthony Carss made no mistake to put the Terriers 3-0 ahead.
Neil MacKenzie kept hopes alive when he finally opened Mansfield's account. But it was too little too late as substitute Lee Fowler stepped up to send Kevin Pilkington the wrong way and send Huddersfield into the Second Division.
It was a heartbreaking end to the season for the Stags who had dominated the game after half-time and through extra-time.
They even had an effort disallowed in the 90th minute when Colin Larkin thought he had bagged a winner only for the referee to rule the ball had gone out of play before Laurent D'Jaffo had pulled it back into Larkin's path.
For all their possession, Stags only forced one big save out of keeper Paul Rachubka, turning aside a goal-bound Wayne Corden effort in the 90th minute.
Pilkington had two excellent saves to make, denying Pawel Abbott on 36 minutes and then thwarting Anthony Lloyd in extra-time.
Stags boss Curle kept faith with the 11 players who saw him through the two semi-final legs with Junior Mendes facing another tough battle on his own up front.
The Terriers made two changes with Rob Edwards dropped to the bench, Anthony Carss preferred, and Iffy Onuora left out altogether, Pawl Abbott replacing him up front.
The sides walked out to a cacophony of noise with spectacular fireworks and a sea of flags to greet them.
And after the traditional pre-match presentations and National Anthem, it was down to work and the serious business of gaining promotion.
Mansfield were first to show as Mirfin gave the ball straight to Disley in the Terriers' penalty box. The Stags midfielder made space but shot weakly and it was easily intercepted.
In the second minute Huddersfield had the first shot on target as Booth tested Pilkington from 20 yards with the keeper always ideally placed to gather.
Carss was warned for a late tackle on Williamson. But the free kick was cleared and Eaton found himself with two Huddersfield players hot on his heels.
There was panic as Eaton slipped. But somehow he was able to control the ball and clear.
Huddersfield almost netted on seven minutes when the powerful Booth jumped well to beat Pilkington to a cross. It should have been keeper's ball but Booth was allowed to steal a header that dropped inches wide of the gaping goal.
A good run from Schofield earned the day's first corner. Carss sent it over and, when Lawrence headed upwards, it was a melee of bodies jumping together with Sodje getting there first to head just over.
Stags replied with an attack down the right which saw Williamson causing a scramble with a low ball in. When Huddersfield got that away, Hassell let fly from 30 yards with a low shot that wasn't far wide of the far post.
Lawrence was next to have a shy at goal after turning neatly. But his 25-yard effort sailed straight into the keeper's midriff.
On 24 minutes Abbott crossed from the right and Schofield guided a downward header on target at the near post only to again find Pilkington well placed.
Three minutes later Mansfield won their first corner when Lawrence's shot from 25 yards was deflected just over the bar. But the flag kick came to nothing as Mansfield were penalised for pushing.
Stags had settled the best of the two sides and pieced together more neat passing movements. But still the end product was lacking.
Huddersfield threatened again on 35 minutes as Carss sent a 30-yard snapshot just over the bar.
A minute later we saw the first real save of the game as Sodje's long throw from the right was helped on to Abbott who, from a tight angle left of the box, got away a fierce shot which Pilkington beat aside.
The Terriers almost caught Stags on a swift counter attack on 38 minutes when Schofield raced clear on the right. But, having pipped Pilkington to the ball he found himself on the by-line with no angle at all and, having crossed towards the empty net, Hassell was there to head behind for a corner.
Mansfield replied with a raid down the right in which Lawrence fed the overlapping Hassell. He crossed to the far post where Corden knocked the ball into the path of Eaton who disappointingly dragged his finish wide from 15 yards.
Stags won a free kick near the right corner flag, though there was a hold-up while Mendes received treatment after taking an elbow from Sodje in the face. However, the kick was easily cleared and half-time was reached without a goal.
Huddersfield opened up the Mansfield defence two minutes after the break as Schofield slipped a neat pass through to give Abbott sight of goal. But Pilkington was down bravely at his feet and both players needed treatment.
There was a similar situation at the other end within four minutes as Easton put Disley through and Rachubka needed two attempts to grab the ball as he dived bravely at Disley's feet.
Disley and Mirfin needed treatment after both went into a tackle on the touchline 25 yards into the Huddersfield half.
Play swung from end to end as a low Corden cross bypassed everyone in the box until Mirfin got in a foot. Then Huddersfield broke with Schofield going on a brilliant run that saw him skip past three opponents before Eaton slid in just as he was preparing to shoot.
Sodje was screaming for a penalty as he lost out on an aerial challenge to John-Baptiste. And a minute later he forced Pilkington to save his header from a long free kick.
Mendes was given help up front on the hour as Larkin replaced Disley.
Stags wasted a free kick situation on 62 minutes as Corden touched the ball to Lawrence who wasn't ready and Corden ended up touching it again as an opponent came in, giving the free kick to the Terriers.
Eaton saw the afternoon's first yellow card for taking out Worthington from behind, Sodje following him a minute later for a similar tackle which sent Mendes flying into the air.
Mendes required lengthy treatment before limping off to be replaced by D'Jaffo with 21 minutes to go.
Huddersfield created two chances inside a minute as Booth saw his header from a long free kick saved by Pilkington. And then Curtis produced a superb block four yards from goal as Schofield was picked out with a neat pass.
Pilkington has to race out his box to clear ahead of the chasing Abbott.
Larkin was almost away on goal but his touch let him down and he had to be content with a corner. When Huddersfield failed to clear that, the ball reached Larkin but his shot was weak and didn't cause Rachubka any problem.
Corden warmed Rachubka's hands after cutting inside to fire in a low shot on target.
A minute later another good Corden cross again sailed through everyone.
Williamson made good progress down the left and burst into the box. But, with team mates better placed, he sent a wild and ambitious effort well over in a search for glory.
Stags were really starting to buzz now and looking more of a threat with 4-4-2.
But Huddersfield almost caught them on the break again on 84 minutes. Abbott found Booth and with no offside flag, away he sped only to lob harmlessly wide if the far post.
Fowler came on for Worthington on 85 minutes as extra-time beckoned.
Hassell tried to release Larkin but Sodje was across to get a foot in.
Holdsworth was well over at the other end shortly after.
Lawrence went off on a solo run down the right with less than two minutes remaining only to sail his shot well over the top.
Corden forced the first big save out of Rachubka in the final minute as his shot from 30 yards saw the keeper tip away at full stretch.
There followed two successive Mansfield corners an almighty scramble in the Huddersfield box as Mansfield went for it.
And they thought they had it won when D'Jaffo somehow turned a long cross from the right back in Larkin's path and the Irishman drilled home.
However, a flag was up to indicate the ball had gone out before it was turned back and the 'goal' was ruled out.
The four minutes of stoppage time saw D'Jaffo get in a low shot on target which couldn't beat Rachubka. And in the dying seconds Booth headed over from a Fowler free kick after Hassell had fouled Mirfin, which earned the Stags man booking.
Stags had finished the 90 minute with a flourish. But they couldn't find the finish as well and we were faced with 30 nail biting and strength-sapping minutes of extra-time.
Carss went desperately close on 94 minutes as he sent a dipping shot narrowly wide from almost 30 yards with Pilkington well beaten.
On 98 minutes Williamson was taken off, to be replaced in midfield by MacKenzie.
Mansfield were continuing to enjoy the lion's share of possession and another Corden cross picked out D'Jaffo who sent a header wide of the near post.
D'Jaffo was in there again just afterwards as Rachubka parried a Corden cross into the air. D'Jaffo's header was on target but he couldn't get any power in it.
MacKenzie was in the thick of the action and after beating two opponents he blazed a shot narrowly over from 20 yards as half-time of extra-time arrived with the sides still deadlocked.
It was telling at this stage that the Stags fans were in full cry and the Huddersfield fans quiet.
On the restart Pilkington came up with the save of the game. Lloyd's shot from just outside the box looked a goal all the way as it headed for the top right hand corner. But Pilkington flung himself to his left and clawed it round.
Stags then survived two Huddersfield corners and weathered some Terriers pressure before D'Jaffo was inches away from getting on the end of Eaton's cross with an attempt at a diving header.
Edwards came on for Lloyd and with almost his first touch sent a shot skidding well wide.
As the fourth official signalled one minute of stoppage time, the game was held up by treatment for two Huddersfield players.
Holdsworth was first up but Sodje stayed down after his collision with Larkin as he blocked the Irishman's run.
A stretcher was brought on and, sadly, Huddersfield's man of the match was eventually strapped onto it and carried off. He was fitted with a neck brace and taken to hospital as a precaution with a neck injury.
When the free kick was finally taken, Lawrence touched it towards Mackenzie who was well wide of goal.
That final minute only lasted 30 seconds as the referee decided to end the contest and we were down to penalty kicks.
And sadly Stags could not reproduce that stunning semi-final success from the penalty spot against Northampton as their dream died on the biggest of stages.
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