Mansfield Town vs Northampton Town. Sky Bet League Two Play-Offs Semi-Final.
One Call StadiumAttendance7,469.
Report and free match highlights from the Sky Bet League Two play-off semi-final first leg between Mansfield and Northampton at the One Call Stadium as goals from Rhys Oates and Jordan Bowery helped the Stags establish the lead in the tie; Ali Koiki pulled one back to halve deficit
Saturday 14 May 2022 23:29, UK
Mansfield survived a second-half comeback to beat Northampton 2-1 and take control of their League Two play-off semi-final.
Rhys Oates and Jordan Bowery struck as Nigel Clough's men established a two-goal lead with just over half-an-hour on the clock (13, 32), before Ali Koiki pulled one back at the end of a menacing counter to set up a tense final 30 minutes (61).
The Stags were defensive in their approach as the game wore on, but though the expected onslaught came, they held firm to maintain their slender advantage, ahead of Wednesday night's second leg, which is live on Sky Sports Football.
Jon Brady's Cobblers missed out on automatic promotion on the final day of the League Two season - following Bristol Rovers' unprecedented 7-0 win over Scunthorpe - and, naturally, there were fears of an untimely lapse in morale.
Mansfield lost out to Newport in the play-off semis back in 2018/19 and - backed by a capacity crowd at the One Call - they quickly set about avenging the heartache suffered three years prior.
The hosts managed to get a grip on the game after an open first 10 minutes and were soon in front. Bowery's exquisite through ball broke the lines, with Oates keeping himself onside to fire through Cobblers goalkeeper Jonny Maxted's legs.
Northampton worked their way back in and looked to be building a level of momentum that would see them threaten Mansfield, but no sooner had they built up a head of steam, they found themselves two goals down.
Newcastle loanee Matty Longstaff intuitively switched the ball from the right to Jamie Murphy on the left, whose cross hit Maxted and dropped kindly for Bowery, who was presented with a simple finish from a couple of yards out.
With an hour on the clock, the visitors looked no closer to carving a route back into the game - until a brilliant counter, that was. Louis Appere charged down the left, steadied himself and worked the ball to Koiki, whose deflected shot found its way into the net.
It was Northampton who dominated thereafter, with Mansfield forced to defend as though their lives depended on it. And though it became nervy, they succeeded in seizing control of the tie.
The Mansfield man had a quiet second half at the One Call, but it was his goal in the first half that set the Stags on the way to an important victory on home soil.
Mansfield's Nigel Clough: "It was another home victory, which is 14 out of 16, which is incredible. A lot of credit to Northampton after they got the goal - they put it on us and we had to defend extremely well. The effort and endeavour was remarkable tonight, as it has been for most of the season. We didn't play anywhere nearly as well as we have done in recent weeks and months, but that's the nature of the play-offs.
"They did very well at stopping us playing our normal game tonight. I wish the second leg was tomorrow as I think we can play a lot better than we did tonight. I think our nerves were a bit edgy at times and we didn't get our foot on the ball and play. I think we will be better away from home. We are still in there after 47 games."
Northampton's Jon Brady: "We showed character and spirit to come back into the game second half and I thought we acquitted ourselves well in that second half. Credit to Mansfield. It was a strong game tonight. We are now looking forward to taking them back to Sixfields. We have been strong at home all season. We definitely felt we were in the ascendancy in the second half and we're going to make sure we take that momentum into the next game.
"We did come back to 2-1 but we know we still have a lot to do. But we know what we can do. At half-time we told them there were certain things we'd done all season that we weren't doing, and we looked a lot more purposeful and aggressive in our play. We have come back when we have had setbacks and we are probably at our best when our backs are against the wall. We come out fighting and we get results."
The teams return for the second leg at Sixfields at 7.45pm on Wednesday May 18, in a game live on Sky Sports Football.