HE has had his critics and he is only under contract until the summer, but Stags manager Duncan Russell is tonight celebrating taking his side to Wembley for the FA Trophy final on 7th May.
The 1-1 draw against nine-man Luton Town in today’s semi-final second leg gave them a 2-1 aggregate win over the competition favourites.
The Hatters thought they had managed to get through extra-time with only nine men after Alex Lawless and Claude Gnapka were sent-off near the end of the 90 minutes.
But Louis Briscoe was the hero as he tucked the ball home at the second time of asking on 118 minutes after Kevin Pilkington had saved his spot kick.
A delighted Russell, despite still having abuse shouted at him by furious home fans as he met the press, said: “That was absolutely unbelievable.
“I am very proud of my players tonight.
“It has been 24 years since the club last played at Wembley and I am really happy not just for the club but for the whole town to be going to Wembley.
“We are giantkillers. We have come here against all the odds and beaten the bigger club.
“We rode our luck at times, though we also had some great chances to go in front.
“I told them at half-time to keep working at it and don’t fall asleep. Unfortunately Luton equalised straight away and I was unhappy with how we let them score.
“At that point I thought it was going to be ones of those games. I certainly didn’t want extra-time.
“Then Luton suddenly had two men sent-off and both were sendings-off without a doubt. Both were ludicrous as our men were not going anywhere.
“Kyle Nix was knocked unconscious after being smashed on the back of the head and he won’t be allowed to take part on Tuesday now either.
“The nine men defended very well and got men behind the ball. We should have tried to beat them by playing one and two touch passing, but we didn’t do that as it seemed everyone wanted to be the hero and win the game for us.
“I can’t say for sure if it was a penalty or not, I couldn’t really see it and will look again on the DVD.
“Louis put it away on the follow up and he is delighted – especially as he knows he gets a goal bonus – and I am very happy for him.
“I think his girlfriend and having a baby have calmed him down a bit and he is staying in more and looking after his body better and reaping the rewards.”
He added: “I have told the lads to go out and enjoy themselves tonight. But not tomorrow as I want them in on Monday to train for Tuesday’s trip to Histon.
“It is open who will be in the first 11 for Wembley so there is no sitting back in the league.
“I want to finish as high as possible and anyone not making effort in the league won’t figure in my mind for the FA Trophy final.”
Russell faces an anxious wait over his own future in the summer and added: “The chairman is away on holiday right now so I can’t go knocking on his door.
“I could be out of a job the following day after Wembley. They gave me until the end of the season and I hope I have proved my worth.
“But I have always said as long as I am in this post I will continue to keep doing my best.”
Furious Luton boss Richard Money said: “It was a day that will be pivotal in my reign here as I thought that as a football club – players and fans – today we showed what we are capable of together for the rest of the season.“I don’t want to comment much on the decisions, but I do know that George Pilkington has a massive hole in his foot from Louis Briscoe’s challenge who went on to score the winner.
“I don’t think either of the (Claude Gnapka’s) yellow cards were yellow cards – they were about worth a yellow between them – and Alex Lawless jumped for the ball and did not lead with his arm.
“If he (the referee) wants to send two of our players off, Mansfield could have had three or four sent off. But that’s football.
“For the penalty, how was the lad going to get out of the way of that?
“It wasn’t to be for us today. We have to learn lessons and one is that the away leg is important.
“We did everything we needed to do today. But not scoring at Mansfield last weekend has come back to bite us.”