07/07/2022

Port Vale hasn’t had a lot of sunny days lately and they will never forget this day. They returned to the Premier League five seasons later after crushing Mansfield with two first-half goals from Kian Hart and James Wilson, supplemented by a late Mal Benning shot. It’s a beautiful performance from a club that didn’t take credit last season and an exceptional moment for their manager.

Daryl Clark recently returned to the bench after a period of absence due to a family bereavement; As the minutes ticked by, he leaned against a billboard with his head bowed, emotions erupted before he joined his crazy team on the field after full-time.

A point separated these teams in the second tier, but they were closer in other words. Clark came through Mansfield’s youth system before playing 173 major games in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He wore the number eight shirt and, at the club’s instigation, was celebrated here with a standing ovation in the eighth minute. He was visibly moved when he welcomed the applause that erupted from all sides of the National Stadium.

It was just like Jimmy Murphy didn’t hold the moment a few seconds earlier. When Vale defender James Gibbons gave Aiden Stone a harmless cross to work on, his guard didn’t get the warrant. Murphy read the situation and earned a free header from eight yards; He could have done anywhere other than dead center, but he let Stone block and Vale’s backline was off the hook.

Murphy wasn’t so lucky. Vale’s early threat was limited to a few runs from Wilson but they would have won a first-half equalizer in the 24th minute. Harratt had just hit the post with a calculated left foot when he showed Murphy how it should be done with his own header. A sweeping counterattack saw Benning, the left-back who left Mansfield a year ago, step into space and drill a cross that hit Oliver Hawkins’ heel. Even though Harratt was only six yards away, the ball was coming his way quickly and it took great reflexes to convert it.

Port Vale manager Daryl Clark was emotional after his team’s win. Photo: John Walton/PA

Clarke’s celebrations were low-key, at least in comparison to those of his assistant. He asked Andy Crosby to direct the team in recognition of the work done during his merciful leave; Within five minutes, Vale managed to celebrate another goal and this time Clarke lost the moment. This time it was Benning’s right-hand equalizer, David Worrall, who provided Ben Garrity for a vertical grind on the crossbar. Wilson reacted maliciously with a nod of nod upon rebounding and even at that point there was a feeling that Phil wasn’t about to let go.

This became almost certain in the 35th minute when Hawkins foolishly exhausted Mansfield’s numbers. He was warned about a furious alert at Nathan Smith shortly after the second goal, and then when he roasted Wilson, who was always the second favorite, he gave referee Jared Gillett an easy call. There was no need to attempt a challenge like this about halfway through.

With playoff finals seldom going through with boobs, Mansfield still had to grab a lifeline when Rhys Oates thrust into Stone’s stumble, but saw Conor Hall veer off the line and the ball stayed inches away. Vale will only be tasked with managing the game well halfway through the second period.

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They looked decent and retained enough of their former strength against competitors who tried but always looked defeated. Superb Jake Taylor missed a shot and Harratt, who rolled past Wilson after Bishop saved a run, celebrated third before spotting an assistant referee flag.

A similar fate befell substitute Harry Charley 20 minutes before the end of the match. Oates Stone saved with one notable Mansfield effort; Vale was driving home when Benning finished the job, who saw a highball along the road before crashing into it deep away from Bishop.