Port Vale will be playing League One football next season after running out 3-0 winners against Mansfield Town in their League Two Play Off final meeting at Wembley this afternoon.
The Valiants, who came into today’s game seeking a return to England third tier action following their relegation in 2017, expected a strenuous affair but fiinished the contest as comfortable victors with The Stags playing the final 55 minutes with one man down.
Darrell Clarke’s men finished the regular season two places and one point above Mansfield Town but came into the playoffs having lost three games across four matches. Getting here proved to be the hardest part as they’d lose the opening leg of their semi-final against Swindon, but James Wilson’s away goal in that 2-1 setback was decisive as the 26-year-old former Manchester United academy graduate netted the only goal in the second leg forcing extra time and then penalties which they won 6-5.
Those heroics followed him into the home of English football, Wilson — a past recipient of the Jimmy Murphy Academy Player of the Year award — doubled Port Vale’s lead four minutes after Kian Harratt broke the deadlock shortly after the quarter-hour mark. Any hope of a Mansfield comeback was evaporated moments later when Oliver Hawkins was given his marching orders, following a cynical block on Wilson, it came a few minutes after his first booking. That being said, before the half-time interval an effort from Rhys Oates was hooked off the line at the vital moment by Connor Hall.
A relatively quiet second half culminated with Mal Benning putting the game well beyond Mansfield; it felt like a watershed moment for Benning, who before today’s final spoke about Asians in football. “The main thing is we got the win. I’m happy to get the third goal and kill the game off,” he said.
“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 a 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.”
As for Mansfield they are set to navigate outside England’s third division for a 20th consecutive year. Even more painful is the fact Mansfield have now failed to win promotion via the play-offs (1995, 2004, 2019 and 2022). This was also the second time they’ve reached the final and failed to win, having previously lost in a penalty shootout against Huddersfield in 2004.