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.

By James Heneghan
Wednesday, 18th May 2022, 10:01 pm
Cobblers striker Danny Rose shows his disappointment as a chance goes begging against Mansfield Town
Cobblers striker Danny Rose shows his disappointment as a chance goes begging against Mansfield Town

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.

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Mitch Pinnock battles for possession with Manfield's Jamie Murphy

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, Appéré

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