Luton Town 1 Mansfield Town 1 aet (Mansfield win 2-1 on agg), FA Trophy semi-final second leg
GLORIOUS Mansfield Town and their thrilled supporters are celebrating booking the club’s first Wembley final for 24 years.
Against all the odds, Stags travelled to FA Trophy favourites Luton Town this afternoon and, in a white hot intimidating atmosphere, pulled off the 1-1 draw they needed to go through after winning the first leg 1-0 at Field Mill last Sunday.
Luton Town’s players, supporters and management ended a torrid afternoon pointing angry fingers firmly at Oxfordshire referee Graham Scott after he sent off two Luton players in the final six minutes of normal time and also awarded Stags a controversial penalty kick which led to their winner two minutes from the end of extra-time.
But the Hatters have only themselves to blame for committing footballing suicide and, after Stags’ 2-0 defeat at Kenilworth Road earlier this season, when the referee sent off Steve Foster and booked seven other visitors in a dreadful display of refereeing, Mansfield could feel hugely satisfied that things had gone their way this time.
Mr Scott can feel very proud of his handling of this highly-charged and ill-tempered affair as he tried to let play flow without blowing up for everything, but he made the big calls correctly, despite the hostility he knew it would breed, and there is little doubt both were red cards.
Stags, with Tom Naylor really coming of age with his best showing in a Stags shirt, defended magnificently in the first half.
And, although keeper David Grof did make one superb save and Luton also hit the post, Stags missed three good chances to add to their first leg lead.
You wondered if those missed opportunities would come back to haunt them - and they did within 42 seconds of the restart as the ball sat up nicely for Lloyd Owusu to bury the equaliser for the jubilant Hatters.
But Luton could not find a way through again and their late red card double then left them facing the tiring prospect of extra-time with nine men, with which they coped admirably until former Stag Luke Graham’s raised arm blocked a Louis Briscoe shot on 119 minutes.
Mr Scott bravely pointed to the spot and, even though another ex-Stag Kevin Pilkington, made the save, Briscoe tucked away the follow-up to book an FA Trophy showdown with Darlington at Wembley on Saturday, 7th May and bring some joy to a miserable season.
Stags boss Duncan Russell stuck with the same 11 who had won the first leg, having rested six of them for the midweek league defeat at York.
And Stags were roared on by a magnificent travelling army of 912 – more than double the number of Hatters fans at Field Mill last week.
Newton was wide on the turn under pressure in the first minute as Luton, as expected, made the early push.
Kevin Pilkington then safely gathered a nice left wing centre from Spence in Stags’ first raid.Mitchley went down easily in the box to the fury of the home fans under a challenge from George Pilkington.
And on 10 minutes Briscoe fired in the game’s first shot on target which went straight into Kevin Pilkington’s midriff from 18 yards.
Two minutes later George Pilkington got in a close range far post header from a long free kick which forced Grof into a superb reaction save.
An error from Sandwith allowed Barnes-Homer to latch onto a low pass and get into the right of the box and pull back a low cross which saw Owusu slip at the crucial moment as Naylor challenged.
Stags suffered a 20th minute blow as Cain pulled up chasing the ball with a pulled muscle, Smith coming onto the left wing and Briscoe moving across to the right.
With Luton feeling Stags were time-wasting, tempers were starting to simmer and Gnapka was booked for a shove in the back on Naylor as he shepherded the ball out for a goal kick.
On 26 minutes Stags had a let-off after Nix slipped while trying to clear on the edge of the box. The ball rolled to Owusu who scuffed a finish against a post and Naylor completed the clearance.Grof then stood up well to a ferocious near post blast from Gnapka.
On 28 minutes Stags broke away down the left and when Mitchley went past last man Howells, he could have gone on to finish or play it square to Connor but chose to shoot early and tamely at Kevin Pilkington and his big moment was gone.
Another great chance opened up for the visitors on 33 minutes. Smith curled his corner back towards Sandwith who headed powerfully at goal. Naylor got the last touch as Kevin Pilkington got his body in the way and the ball rolled towards Connor who missed the target from six yards.Stags again came close on 38 minutes as Briscoe sent the ball in from wide right, Connor headed on and Mitchley lashed a shot just wide of the right hand post.
Luton stepped it up again and Naylor got in a vital far post head away from a Barnes-Homer cross as the visitors went in for half-time still in pole position, though it was hard to fathom how it was goalless.However, Mansfield were caught cold 42 seconds after the restart as Owusu levelled the tie, beating Grof with an unstoppable right-footed half-volley from 16 yards after controlling a long, hopeful punt forwards with no one alive to the danger.
In reply Briscoe was too high with his header from a Nix right wing corner.
There followed some worrying moments for a shellshocked Stags and Owusu looked well offside on 55 minutes when Gnapka threaded a through ball to him seven yards from goal.
The flag stayed down but Grof made himself big and by the time Owusu had made some space to finish, with defenders racing back in his way, he lifted the ball over the bar from 10 yards to the jeers of the Stags army behind the net.
Graham upended Smith to earn a booking on 57 minutes. Then Sandwith guided a downward header wide of the post from Stags’ second corner of the half.
Newton had a shot blocked as Luton again raised their pace and Grof was there to make another save from a deflected Barnes-Homer shot.
On 71 minutes Adam Smith had homes hearts fluttering with a curling shot across goal that only just beat the far post.
However, with six minutes left, the wheels suddenly began to come off for the favourites.
Gnapka left his foot in as he came in late on a tackle on Spence and, with one yellow card under his belt already, he could have little complaint when a second yellow and a red were shown at him.
A minute later action man Naylor, who had covered every blade of grass on Kenilworth Road, was too high with an acrobatic overhead kick while Thompson made a great tackle on Barnes-Homer as he burst into the box as both sides went for a winner.
But, incredibly, a minute from time the home side went down to nine men as referee Mr Scott produced an instant red when Lawless jumped into the back of Nix and led with his arm.
He was nowhere near the ball and his challenge left Nix unconscious on the floor right in front of the furious Stags bench as again tempers ran high.
Nix came back round but was obviously unable to play any further part and will also miss the trip to Histon in midweek from that challenge.
Sub Steven Istead was wide in the sixth minute of stoppage time as the game ended 1-0 to Luton and all square on aggregate.
That left the Hatters facing the uneasy prospect of 30 minutes of extra-time two men short and Stags firmly in the driving seat.
With the home fans creating a cauldron of noise, the Hatters were the first to show as Barnes-Homer cued up Walker for a shot that sliced off the outside of his right boot and spun wide of goal.
Briscoe headed over from a Smith corner as Luton tried every trick in the book to waste time, Kevin Pilkington eventually warned by the referee.
With Luton working their socks off, Stags found few chances, Connor firing tamely on the turn to Pilkington before the break.
Luton were running on empty as Stags pressed hard but, agonisingly, the winning goal remained elusive.
But Briscoe was wide of the far post, Naylor sent a 25 yard shot skidding through to force Pilkington to save and claims for a penalty kick by Danny Mitchley were rightly ignored.
Tempers boiled over yet again after a clash between Istead and George Pilkington as Luton hung grimly on.
Sandwith was inches wide with a header from a free kick and Smith ballooned one over from 25 yards with an ambitious shot as we hurtled towards penalty kicks.
But referee Mr Scott took centre stage once again two minutes from the end as he decided Graham’s hands had gone up deliberately to block Briscoe’s shot in the box and pointed to the spot.
Luton argued long and hard, Walker shown a yellow card for dissent, but Stags suddenly had the chance to win it.
But the drama was far from over. Briscoe stepped up to try to drive the spot kick straight down the centre.
However, Pilkington guessed right and stuck up a strong arm to make a fabulous save. Unfortunately for Pilkington, Briscoe was alert and following up and made no mistake as he poked home the loose ball.
That sparked wild celebrations with the home crowd baying for the referee’s blood and coins and missiles hurled at Briscoe.
The timing of the goal could not have been better as it left Luton no real time to come back and avoided the lottery of penalties when Luton’s two-man deficit would have meant nothing.
The final whistle soon after sparked ugly scenes all round the ground with Luton convinced they had been robbed and not enjoying seeing Mansfield’s celebrations.
But they had only themselves to blame, despite manager Richard Money’s interesting protestations afterwards that neither sending-off was just, the penalty decision was wrong, and that Stags should have had three men, including Briscoe, sent off instead.
Stags can now look forward to their big day out at the spiritual home of football where they will face a Darlington side they have twice draw with but dominated on both occasions this season.
And, whatever their shortcomings this season in the league, this team and manager Duncan Russell, will make club history for the right reasons on 7th May.
LUTON: K. Pilkington, Keane, Graham, G. Pilkington, Newton (Walker 69), Barnes-Homer (Morgan-Smith 112), Kroca, Lawless, Howells, Gapka, Owusu (Crow 77). Subs not used: Tyler, Poku.STAGS: Grof; Silk, Naylor, Sandwith, Spence; Cain (A. Smith 22), Nix (Istead 90+2), Thompson, Briscoe; Connor, Mitchley. Subs not used: Marriott, Foster, Stonehouse.
REFEREE: Graham Scott of Oxfordshire.
ATTENDANCE: 6,133 (912 away).
GOALS: Luton – Owusu 46mins. Stags – Briscoe 118mins.
CAUTIONS: Luton - Gnapka 24mins, Graham 57mins, Walker 118mins, Crow 119mins.
DISMISSALS: Luton – Gnapka 84mins (second yellow card), Lawless 89mins (violent conduct).
CHAD STAGS MAN OF THE MATCH: Tom Naylor.