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Donegal man McLaughlin secures Mansfield's spot in Wembley play-off final

The ex-Finn Harps and Derry City man scored the only goal in tonight’s second leg as his side progressed 3-1 on aggregate.

Stephen McLaughlin celebrates at the full-time whistle.
Stephen McLaughlin celebrates at the full-time whistle.
Image: PA

DONEGAL MAN STEPHEN McLaughlin secured Mansfield’s place in the English League Two play-off final at Wembley with the only goal of tonight’s semi-final second leg against Northampton.

The Stags led 2-1 after the first leg and extended their advantage at Sixfields through the 31-year-old left-back’s goal just after the half-hour mark.

McLaughlin, who began his career with Clonmany Shamrocks FC before starring for Finn Harps and Derry City in the League of Ireland between 2008 and 2013, has since plied his trade at several clubs in England’s Football League and joined Mansfield in September 2020 on what was initially meant to be a short-term deal.

Mansfield also count on their books the 18-times-capped Republic of Ireland international Stephen Quinn. The 36-year-old last appeared for the Boys in Green in 2016 and started tonight’s play-off success.

“I’d rather it have been more comfortable to be honest”, McLaughlin told Sky Sports afterwards, “but yeah, tough game.

“To come here and get a clean sheet, like, is brilliant.

“We came here during the season and we got beat 2-0. We were on our knees, like, second from bottom. And now look: we’ve come back here, we get a clean sheet, we’re off to Wembley. It’s a credit to the lads, to the gaffer, to everybody… Where we’ve come from, to get to Wembley.”

Opponents Northampton applied plenty of pressure in the second half and felt they should have been awarded at least one penalty, but Mansfield defended stoutly to book their place at Wembley where they will play either Swindon or Port Vale on 28 May.

Goalkeeper Liam Roberts returned from suspension to start for Northampton and he was joined in the team by Leicester loanee Josh Eppiah as manager Jon Brady opted for two changes from the first leg.

Stags boss Nigel Clough went one better and made three alterations with Elliott Hewitt, Kieran Wallace and Lucas Akins all recalled to the starting line-up.

Northampton would have had the perfect start at a raucous Sixfields if not for the fingertips of Nathan Bishop, who was at full stretch to claw away Eppiah’s headed inside the first 60 seconds.

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The onus was on the Cobblers to take the game to their visitors and they started with lots of energy but Mansfield did well to ride out the early storm.

And the Stags took a giant stride towards Wembley just past the half-hour mark when Hewitt latched onto a through pass and squared for McLaughlin who fired a low first-time shot past the sprawling Roberts.

Northampton responded with a brief flurry of pressure and Fraser Horsfall was adamant he should have won a penalty after being bundled to the floor but nothing was given before Sam Hoskins blazed over.

Louis Appere saw another strong shout for a spot-kick turned down early in the second half but Mansfield stood firm and soaked up plenty of Northampton pressure.

Hoskins fired in a shot that was well blocked and the visitors continued to put their bodies on the line all the way to full-time to withstand everything Northampton could throw at them and secure a place in the play-off final a week on Saturday.

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