Mansfield boss Nigel Clough hailed the “incredible” achievement of reaching the League Two play-off final after his side’s 3-1 aggregate win over Northampton.
The Stags carried a 2-1 lead from the first leg and then built on that when Stephen McLaughlin fired home 31 minutes into Wednesday’s return game at Sixfields.
A gritty and determined defensive effort then saw off heavy Northampton pressure in the second half and secured Mansfield’s place at Wembley.
Clough said: “It took a lot of hard work but I thought it was an incredible effort from the players over the two legs and over the last eight or nine months.
“I thought we were very, very good this evening in denying the opposition too many opportunities – it was properly one of our best defensive performances all season, certainly to keep a clean sheet.
“It all started at the front and I thought Jordan (Bowery) and Lucas (Akins) did their defensive duties and the team was outstanding in all areas.
“We were at our lowest ebb when we came here (Sixfields) earlier in the season and we were down and out but we put in a good performance in the next game and then everything picked up from there.
“When you are down at the bottom after a third of the season and then you go and reach Wembley, the players and staff deserve a huge amount of credit to turn it around.
“We still have a job to do at Wembley but it’s an incredible achievement.”
Northampton manager Jon Brady was happy enough with his side’s performance but felt aggrieved by some key refereeing decisions, particularly two penalty shouts either side of half-time.
He said: “I felt we played really well tonight and we dominated most of the game but our best chance probably came with Josh Eppiah’ss header in the first minute or two.
“Mansfield put their bodies on the line. There were loads of blocks and loads of clearances. We had a lot of entries into the final third and into their box but credit to them, they battled and worked hard.
“We dominated the play in all of the stats but unfortunately we did not test their goalkeeper enough.
“But I’ve been told we should have had two penalties, one in the first half on Fraser Horsfall which the referee’s assessor has almost apologised for, and then the one on Louis Appere which is a foul in the box.
“We have had to deal with some tough decisions all season, but I have to congratulate Nigel Clough and Mansfield and we wish them all the best.
“We have had a fantastic season but unfortunately we have just missed out on promotion.”