Port Vale sealed their return to the top flight in a devastating fashion at Wembley, shedding 10-man Mansfield Town in an emotionally-charged final.
Two headed goals in four stunning first-half minutes from 19-year-old Kian Hart and James Wilson made Valiant’s support delightful on their first trip to Wembley in 29 years.
Oliver Hawkins collected two quick yellow cards for needless challenges to Nathan Smith and Wilson and left his Mansfield dismissal with a big job.
Conor Hall cleared Race Oates’ attempt to break out of the line before the break to keep Stags back in the game.
It was as close as could be to Mansfield-born Port Vale manager Daryl Clark, whose time away from the club after a family death in February capped an emotional season in glorious fashion in the home of English football.
The late third player from Mal Benning, who played more than 250 games for Mansfield before joining Port Vale last summer, completed a thrilling performance and exacerbated Mansfield’s problems.
Port Vale had thanks to Aidan Stone for denying Jamie Murphy an early start from close range after the winger exploited a defensive blunder.
While it would be a celebrated save, it was also a costly mistake for Stags, who were vying for a return to the Third Division for the first time in 19 years, which Port Vale punished harshly.
A superb header jump from Benning’s cross gave Harratt Clark the lead in the 20th minute, just moments after his shot hit the post.
Just minutes later, Ben Garrity’s header bounced off the crossbar and gently nodded, leading to wild celebrations 24 minutes into the promotion.
Stags’ hopes received another serious blow 11 minutes later when Hawkins was sent off for a reckless tackle on Wilson after a second yellow card five minutes into the match.
Stones’ failure to control Stephen McLaughlin’s free kick gave a glimpse of Oates and Stags’ comeback as he hit a close ball under the goalkeeper, but Hall came back to clear the goal line.
Port Vale looked for the third goal after the break and put the ball into the net two more times, but Hartt and Harry Charsley were reported for offside.
Those calls meant Stags remained a threat, and it took a fine save from Stone to fend off Oates at the other end before Benning fired a fine shot against his former side for a sure win.
An emotional victory under Clark’s leadership
For Port Vale Clarke manager, the personal challenge season ended with a win over the club as he started his football career and played more than 170 games.
He drove Val to Wembley for his eleventh game since returning from a six-week sabbatical after a family tragedy.
Before the match – the first for the Valiants at Wembley since the 1996 FA Cup final – Clarke said they would “try to take the emotion out of the game”.
This was an impossible mission as Mansfield fans applauded for a minute for the opponent’s coach.
It was a show of solidarity for Port Vale fans, which Clark praised throughout the week for supporting her through tough times, He also started in the eighth minute, when the atmosphere at the National Stadium heated up early on.
Stone’s blocking of Murphy and Harat’s shot from the post ignited the stadium atmosphere before Port Vale’s return to the league after five seasons with two quick goals.
Deer fall immediately after climbing breathtaking
For Clough, manager of Stags, there will be no celebration at a site where his late father Brian has repeatedly triumphed with Nottingham Forest.
In his program notes, the Mansfield coach said he would have looked “a bit ridiculous” in October even if his team were at the National Stadium after being in the relegation zone after a dismal 14-game win-less win in all competitions.
The club recorded 11 consecutive home wins between 30 October and 2 April, prompting Stags to attempt the previously incomprehensible promotion.
They were in contention for the automatic upgrade until the last day, but in the end had to settle for seventh place.
They have had two games against Northampton in the semi-finals with home and away wins, but their miraculous rise from the relegation zone to Wembley will not see them end up in League One.
The defeat also meant there was no picture-perfect season for defender James Birch, who captained Mansfield after just nine months. He is thinking of retiring after his skull fracture.
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- 4HewittBooked in 44 minutes
- 14perch45 minutes to book
- 12Hawkins35 minutes to book
- 44m long stickreplace itMarisin 65protocol
- 16Queenreplace itAkinsin 79protocol
- 7Murphyreplace itLassleyin 54 ‘protocol
- VIIIHey Clark
formation – composition 3-4-1-2
- 7the scientistreplace itMartinin 86′protocol
- 23a house
- 17Taylorreplace itCharlesin 67protocol
- 24haratreplace itProctorin 77protocol
- 1Covolan Cauagnari
- Jared Gillette
- to share:
Match ends, Mansfield Town 0, Port Vale 3.
The end of the second half, Mansfield Town 0, Port Vale 3.
Prohibited attempt. Stephen McLaughlin (Mansfield Town) is blocked with his left foot from outside the penalty area.
Error by John Jo O’Toole (Mansfield Town).
Tom Pet (Port Vale) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Replacement, Port Vale. Aaron Martin replaces David Worrall.
Goal! Second half starts Mansfield Town 0, Port Vale 3. Malvind Benning (Port Vale) left footed shot from the middle 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.
Toggle, Mansfield Town. Lucas Akins replaces Stephen Quinn.
Error by George Lapsley (Mansfield Town).
Tom Pet (Port Vale) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Corner, Mansfield Town. It was cashed by Connor Hall.
Replacement, Port Vale. Jimmy Proctor replaces Kean Hart.
The attempt failed. Rhys Oates (Mansfield Town) with his right foot from outside the penalty area is close but crossed to the left. Assisted by Stephen Quinn.
Corner, Mansfield Town. Cashed out by Aidan Stone.
Attempt saved. Rees Oates (Mansfield Town) left footed shot saved from the middle of the penalty area in the lower right corner. Assisted by George Lapsley.
George Lapsley (Mansfield Town) won with a free kick in the attacking half.
Error by James Gibbons (Port Vale).
Far away, Port Vale. Malvind Benning attempts a through pass, but Harry Charsley is caught offside.