Ali Koiki handed Northampton a precious play-off lifeline after they were left staring at another promotion disaster.
The former Burnley full-back, watched last night by his ex-Clarets manager Sean Dyche, struck a vital goal after Rhys Oates and Jordan Bowery had put Nigel Clough’s team in control.
Koiki finishing into the bottom corner after a brilliant 61st minute break by Mitch Pinnock and assist from Louis Appere.
Ali Kouki (L) pulled a goal back for Northampton in the second half against Mansfield
He was congratulated by his team-mates, who knew what a vital goal it could prove to be
Mansfield (4-3-1-2): Bishop; Perch, O’Toole, Hawkins, McLaughlin; Longstaff (Wallace 59), Maris, Quinn (Stirk 77); Murphy (Akins 86); Bowery, Oates
Booked: Maris, Perch
Manager: Nigel Clough
Northampton (3-4-1-2): Maxted; Mills, Horsfall, Guthrie; Kanu (Eppiah 56), McWilliams, Sowerby, Koiki; Pinnock; Appere (Rose 66), Hoskins
Manager: Jon Brady
It was just the morale-boost Jon Brady’s team needed after losing out on automatic promotion last weekend and threatening to be swept away by Mansfield in the first half.
The heartache of missing out on automatic promotion only on goals scored – after Bristol Rovers hammered Scunthorpe 7-0 on the last day of the season – had been hard for Northampton to stomach.
But, after barely half an hour of their play-off semi first leg, they were staring at yet another potential disaster as Clough’s team raced into a two-goal lead.
It was also a sad reminder that, while Northampton were winning their own last game at Barrow last weekend, first-choice keeper Liam Roberts was picking up a red card that left him suspended for the first leg.
And the first test his stand-in Jonny Maxted faced saw him let a 13th minute wide-angled shot from Oates pass through his legs and into his net.
The goal came from a fine interception by Stephen McLaughlin and a defence-splitting pass from Bowery but Maxted would still have expected to save the final effort.
Rhys Oates had given Mansfield the lead inside the opening 15 minutes at Field Mill
Oates passionately celebrated his goal in front of the home fans
Jordan Bowery (L) netted just after the half hour mark to double Mansfield’s advantage
Mansfield’s second, after 32 minutes, was equally well worked as Stephen Quinn’s pass switched play to Jamie Murphy on the left.
His tricky footwork took him to the by-line where his cross was deflected off the boot of Maxted for Bowery to convert into an open goal.
Mansfield, who were playing non-league football as recently as 2013, could sense the chance to kill off the tie and Oates and James Perch threatened with strong shots before the break.
Maxted had the chance to make amends early in the second half as he made a fine diving save to keep out an Oates strike as he raced clear on goal – a stop which proved crucial as his team finally responded.
Nigel Clough’s Mansfield side have the edge heading into the second leg on Wednesday