League Two play-off final: Mansfield 0-3 Port Vale
Port Vale sealed their return to League One in devastating fashion at Wembley, brushing 10-man Mansfield Town aside in an emotion-charged play-off final.
Two headed goals in four astonishing first-half minutes from 19-year-old Kian Harratt and James Wilson had the Valiant support in euphoric voice in their first trip to Wembley for 26 years.
Oliver Hawkins collected two quick yellow cards for needless challenges on Nathan Smith and Wilson, and his dismissal left Mansfield with a huge task.
Connor Hall cleared a Rhys Oates effort off the line before the break to deny the Stags a way back into the game.
That was as close as they would get as Mansfield-born Port Vale manager Darrell Clarke, who spent time away from the club following a family bereavement in February, capped an emotional season in glorious fashion at the home of English football.
A late third from Mal Benning, who made more than 250 appearances for Mansfield before joining Port Vale last summer, completed an electrifying performance and compounded Mansfield’s woes.
Port Vale had Aidan Stone to thank for denying Jamie Murphy an early opening goal from point-blank range after the winger capitalised on a defensive mix-up.
While it would be a celebrated save, it was also a costly miss for the Stags, bidding for a return to the third tier for the first time in 19 years, that Port Vale ruthlessly punished.
With a brilliant diving header to meet a Mal Benning cross, Harratt put Darrell Clarke’s side ahead in the 20th minute just moments after crashing a shot off the foot of the post.
Just minutes later Ben Garrity’s looped header bounced off the crossbar and fell kindly for Wilson to nod home, sparking wild celebrations after 24 promotion-defining minutes.
Stags’ hopes took another heavy knock 11 minutes later when Hawkins was sent off following a second yellow card in five minutes for a reckless tackle on Wilson.
Stones’ failure to control a free-kick from Stephen McLaughlin allowed Oates and the Stags a glimpse of a comeback, as he squeezed a close-range shot underneath the goalkeeper, but Hall got back to clear off the line.
Port Vale searched for a third goal after the break and had the ball in the back of the net twice more, but Harratt and Harry Charsley both had their efforts waved away for offside.
Those calls meant the Stags remained a threat, and it took a great save from Stone to keep Oates out at the other end before Benning’s fine volleyed finish against his former side underscored an emphatic win.
Emotional win under Clarke
For Port Vale boss Clarke, victory against the club where he started his playing career and made more than 170 appearances brought an end to a personally challenging campaign.
He led Vale onto the Wembley pitch in what was his 11th game since returning from six weeks of compassionate leave following a family tragedy.
Before the game – the Valiants’ first at Wembley since the Anglo-Italian Cup final of 1996 – Clarke said they would “try to keep emotion out of the game”.
That was an impossible task, with Mansfield fans holding a minute’s applause for the opposition manager.
It was a show of solidarity which Port Vale fans, who Clarke praised during the week for support shown in trying times, also took up in the eighth minute as the atmosphere at the national stadium hit an early crescendo.
Stone’s save from Murphy and Harratt’s effort off the post had the stadium buzzing before two quick goals set Port Vale on their way back to League One after five seasons away.
Stags fall short after stunning rise
For Stags manager Clough, there would be no celebration on a ground where his late father Brian famously led Nottingham Forest to four League Cup final wins.
In his programme notes the Mansfield boss said it would have “sounded a little bit daft” in October that his side would even be at the national stadium, having been in the relegation zone following a woeful 14-match winless run in all competitions.
A club-record 11 consecutive home league wins between 30 October and 2 April catapulted the Stags to what previously seemed an unfathomable promotion bid.
They were in the race for automatic promotion until the final day, but eventually had to settle for a seventh-place finish.
They saw off Northampton with home and away wins in their two-legged semi-final, but their miraculous rise from drop zone to Wembley ultimately would not take them on to League One.
Defeat also meant there was no storybook ending to the season for defender James Perch, who led Mansfield onto the pitch as captain just nine months on from considering retirement after fracturing his skull.
- 4HewittBooked at 44mins
- 14PerchBooked at 45mins
- 12HawkinsBooked at 35mins
- 44M LongstaffSubstituted forMarisat 65′minutes
- 16QuinnSubstituted forAkinsat 79′minutes
- 7MurphySubstituted forLapslieat 54′minutes
- 8O Clarke
- 7WorrallSubstituted forMartinat 86′minutes
- 17TaylorSubstituted forCharsleyat 67′minutes
- 24HarrattSubstituted forProctorat 77′minutes
- 1Covolan Cauagnari
- Jarred Gillett
Match ends, Mansfield Town 0, Port Vale 3.
Second Half ends, Mansfield Town 0, Port Vale 3.
Attempt blocked. Stephen McLaughlin (Mansfield Town) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked.
Foul by John-Joe O’Toole (Mansfield Town).
Tom Pett (Port Vale) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Substitution, Port Vale. Aaron Martin replaces David Worrall.
Goal! Mansfield Town 0, Port Vale 3. Malvind Benning (Port Vale) left footed shot from the centre of the box to the bottom right corner. Assisted by David Worrall with a cross.
Foul by Lucas Akins (Mansfield Town).
James Wilson (Port Vale) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Substitution, Mansfield Town. Lucas Akins replaces Stephen Quinn.
Foul by George Lapslie (Mansfield Town).
Tom Pett (Port Vale) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Corner, Mansfield Town. Conceded by Connor Hall.
Substitution, Port Vale. Jamie Proctor replaces Kian Harratt.
Attempt missed. Rhys Oates (Mansfield Town) right footed shot from outside the box is close, but misses to the left. Assisted by Stephen Quinn.
Corner, Mansfield Town. Conceded by Aidan Stone.
Attempt saved. Rhys Oates (Mansfield Town) left footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the bottom right corner. Assisted by George Lapslie.
George Lapslie (Mansfield Town) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by James Gibbons (Port Vale).
Offside, Port Vale. Malvind Benning tries a through ball, but Harry Charsley is caught offside.