Manager Nigel Clough says Mansfield Town’s players and staff ‘deserve a huge amount of credit’ after the team reached the Sky Bet League Two play-off final following a well-earned 1-0 victory over Northampton Town at Sixfields.
The Stags defeated the Cobblers 3-1 on aggregate to reach the play-off final at Wembley and will face either Port Vale or Swindon Town on Saturday 28 May.
Stephen McLaughlin’s 32nd minute strike secured Mansfield’s second victory over Northampton in five days.
“[It was] hard work but I thought it was an incredible effort by all the players tonight and over the two legs,” he told iFollow Stags.
“Tonight, I thought we were very good at denying the opposition a lot of opportunities.
“[It was one of our best defensive performances this season] to keep the clean sheet, certainly, but it started at the front. I thought Quinny [Stephen Quinn] and [Rhys] Oates started that off [the defensive effort]. Then Jordan [Bowery] and Lucas [Akins] doing their defensive duties was outstanding tonight in wide areas.”
Previously, Stags lost 2-0 in their last visit to Sixfields, on 16 October 2021 and fell to 22nd place in the league and the gaffer highlighted the squad’s progress since.
“We were absolutely down and out [the last time we came to Sixfields],” he said.
“Then we put in an incredible performance on the [following] Tuesday against Port Vale and everything picked up from there.
“Then in seven months we’re going to Wembley.
“I think the players and staff deserve a huge amount of credit. When you’re joint bottom of the league after nearly a third of the season to then reach Wembley is just an incredible achievement.
“I think that bad run we had [was down to] a lot of things going against us which was out of our control, the players kept believing, kept playing and it accumulated in tonight.”
The Stags had to dig in and defend resolutely in order to reach the final stage of the play-offs and the boss also credited his goalkeeper, Nathan Bishop, in keeping a clean sheet.
“The most important save was after about 30 seconds when he tipped one [over the bar],” he said. “If they get a goal then it’s a whole different ball game.
“I thought his handling, his positioning [and] his kicking was good tonight. He’s played over 50 [professional] games this season for the first time in his life, it’s been a brilliant experience for him.”