Port Vale sealed promotion to Sky Bet League One as they beat Mansfield 3-0 at Wembley.
Quickfire first-half goals from Kian Harratt and James Wilson set Vale on their way in the League Two final play-off, and a 35th-minute dismissal for Oli Hawkins left the Stags with too much to do to get back into the game. Former Mansfield defending Mal Benning then secured the win with Vale’s third late on.
It is a first return to the third tier in five years for Vale. For Mansfield, their wait to return to that level will now stretch from 19 years to at least two full decades by the end of next season.
Vale dominate at Wembley to reach League One
There are so often sliding doors moments in these finals, and this one came so early for Mansfield. After just nine minutes Jamie Murphy was presented with a glorious opportunity to hand his side the lead after James Gibbons had misread a cross – but he was denied by Aidan Stone from close range.
That allowed Harratt the chance to give Vale the lead. Just a minute after he had hit the post with a rasping drive from 20 yards, he did find the goal in 20 minutes as he latched onto Mal Benning’s deflected cross to plant a header into the bottom corner.
post match stats
- For the fourth team in four attempts, Mansfield failed to win promotion via the play-offs (1995, 2004, 2019 and 2022). This was the second time they’ve reached the final and failed to win, having previously lost in a penalty shootout against Huddersfield in 2004.
- Port Vale have now won promotion in two of their three play-off appearances, however this was their first triumph since the 1988-89 season while in the third tier. They are the first team to win promotion via the League Two play-offs after finishing fifth since 2014-15 (Southend).
- Mansfield failed to win all three of their games against Port Vale in 2021-22 (D1 L2), with the Valiants being one of only three to beat Mansfield on multiple occasions this term (also Harrogate and Sutton).
Four minutes later it was 2-0 as David Worrall’s cross from the right was headed onto the bar by Ben Garrity, before the ball dropped kindly for former Manchester United striker Wilson to head in.
The situation soon went from bad to worse for Mansfield. Hawkins, booked just a few minutes earlier, picked up a second yellow for a rash lunge on Wilson – leaving his side with 10 men.
Mansfield could have got back into it just before the break as a free-kick was spilled by Aidan Stone and landed in the path of Rhys Oates, but his shot was hooked off the line by Connor Hall to maintain Vale’s advantage.
There would be no comeback for the Stags, as Benning sealed the game late on for Vale against his old side, volleying home brilliantly from Worrall’s cross.
Vale boss Clarke dedicates win to his late daughter
Darrell Clarke, who missed three months of the season after losing his daughter in February, dedicated this win to Ellie:
“It means everything to me. But I want to dedicate this to my daughter Ellie, who I lost. I dedicate that win to her. She was there helping us out today. I’m so proud of her, and I’m so proud of my family.
“For me, this is amazing, absolutely amazing. We stuck together with our belief, togetherness, spirit and desire. I love those lads and my staff. I just thought it was a fitting end. A special mention to my wife and children, my family have been absolute rocks.
“When you’re working with fantastic people and owners who give you love and support you want to get back and help. I wanted to be a leader of the group. Andy Crosby my assistant was outstanding while I was gone. This one is for the boys. I’m so happy inside, but obviously heartbroken as well.
“There’s nothing wrong with emotion. It’s why we love the game. But you’ve got to control it on the pitch and I thought we were excellent in all departments. To come and win, I’m over the moon.
“I’ve been in the game long enough to know to never count your chickens. You are obviously delighted to be 2-0 up against 10 men, but they kept going and we needed that third goal to wrap it up.
“You’ve got to get yourself back up off the canvas. Life is very short. Hang on to your loved ones, enjoy life and be positive.”
Clough: It wasn’t our day
Mansfield manager Nigel Clough on Sky Sports Football:
“It is difficult at this moment in time, but the best team won. Congratulations to Darrell and Port Vale. We missed a good chances early on and then granted two. It was fine margins, a deflected cross and one off the bar. Then we missed another good chance and when we go down to 10 men it’s game over.
“We are proud of the players and we’ve had a very successful season, but we just couldn’t finish it off and get the job done today. We’ve fallen just short, so maybe we’re not quite ready. There are teams like Forest Green and Exeter who have been trying to get promoted for five years.
“We need to use this as an incentive. We don’t want to come back here next year because I don’t like this place.”
‘A massive step for Asians in football’
Port Vale defend Mal Benning on Sky Sports Football:
“The main thing is we got the win. I’m happy to get the third goal and kill the game off. I talked earlier this week about Asians in football and I don’t care it’s me, it’s not about me, but it’s the massive step today.
“I saw it go into the back of the net and I just thought ‘I’ve scored at Wembley’. The gaffer has come back and we’ve rallied around him and he’s rallied around us.”
‘A real comeback story for Vale’
Jobi McAnuff on Sky Sports Football:
“Couple with everything we haven’t touched on, that is why these moments mean so much because you do have to overcome hurdles, Port Vale more than most this season.
“They got themselves back after a tricky end to the season – that win against Exeter on the last day of the season was absolutely huge – and then to compose themselves and get back into the game against Swindon after going 2-0 down.
“Even in the penalty shootout they missed a few penalties, so it is a real comeback story I suppose – and they have handled it so, so well.”
Man of the Match – James Wilson
A constant menace to the Mansfield defence. In truth, if injuries weren’t a factor it is unlikely that Wilson would be playing at this level at all. At 26, it would be great to see if he could use this season and this performance as a springboard to achieve some of his potential.