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Harratt And Wilson Seal Promotion For Port Vale Against 10-Man Mansfield

Port Vale have not enjoyed too many sunny days in recent times and they will never forget this one. They are back in League One after five seasons away having overwhelming Mansfield with first-half goals from Kian Harratt and James Wilson, added to by a late Mal Benning volley; it is a fine achievement from a club that had not been fancied in pre-season and an extraordinary moment for their manager.

Darrell Clarke only recently returned to the dugout after a period of absence brought about by a close family bereavement; as the minutes ticked down he leaned upon an advertising hoarding with his head bowed, the emotions swirling, before joining his delirious charges on the pitch at full time.

A point had separated these sides in League Two but they were closer in another sense. Clarke came through Mansfield’s youth system before making 173 senior appearances in the late 1990s and early 2000s; he wore the number eight shirt and, at the club’s instigation, was heralded with an ovation in the eighth minute here. He was visibly moved when saluting the applause, which came from all sides of the national stadium.

It was just as well Jamie Murphy had not complicated the moment a few seconds previously. When the Vale defender James Gibbons left a harmless cross for Aiden Stone to deal with, his goalkeeper had not got the memo. Murphy had read the situation and was given a free header from eight yards; anywhere other than dead centre would have done but he allowed Stone to block and Vale’s back line were off the hook.

Murphy was not so lucky. Vale’s early threat had been limited to a couple of runs from Wilson but they would have the tie half-won by the 24th minute. Harratt had just hit the post with a measured left-footer when, with a stooping header of his own, he showed Murphy how it should be done. A sweeping counter saw Benning, the left wing-back who departed Mansfield a year ago, stride into space and drill a cross that snicked off Oliver Hawkins’ heels. Although Harratt was only six yards out, the ball flew towards him quickly and admirable reactions were required for him to convert.

The Port Vale manager, Darrell Clarke, was emotional after his team’s victory. Photograph: John Walton/PAClarke’s celebrations were restrained, at least in comparison to those of his assistant. He had asked Andy Crosby to lead the team out in recognition of the work done during his compassionate leave; within five minutes Vale could hail another goal and this time Clarke lost himself in the moment. This time it was Benning’s right-sided equivalent, David Worrall, who delivered for Ben Garrity to loop a header onto the bar. Wilson reacted smartly to nod in the rebound and, even at that point, there was a sense Vale would not let go.

That became a near-certainty in the 35th minute when Hawkins idiotically depleted Mansfield’s numbers. He had been booked for a petulant push on Nathan Smith soon after the second goal and then, lunging in on Wilson when he was always second favourite, gave referee Jarred Gillett an easy decision. There had been no need to attempt a challenge like that close to halfway.

Because playoff finals rarely pass with a whimper, Mansfield should still have grabbed a lifeline when Rhys Oates pounced on Stone’s fumble but saw Connor Hall clear off the line, the ball staying out by a couple of centimetres. Vale would merely be tasked with half-decent game management in the second period.

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They duly saw things out, maintaining enough of their earlier intensity against opponents who had a go but always looked beaten. The excellent Jake Taylor volleyed wide and Harratt, bundling in after Bishop had half-saved from Wilson, wheeled away in acclaim of a third goal before sighting an assistant referee’s flag.

A similar fate befell the substitute Harry Charsley with 20 minutes left. Oates drew a save from Stone with Mansfield’s only significant effort; Vale were cruising home when Benning, seeing a high ball all the way before crashing it low past Bishop, completed the job.

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