Port Vale and emotional Darrell Clarke seal promotion against Mansfield

With the minutes ticking down Darrell Clarke sat back on an advertising hoarding, head bowed, and composed his thoughts. Port Vale were going up to League One, that much was certain: their excellent left wing-back Mal Benning had just volleyed in the third goal and, in truth, the game had been settled long before then. Only Clarke can know exactly what emotions were swirling around during those moments but, when the final whistle blew, the spell of personal reflection had passed. Vale’s players cavorted deliriously on the Wembley pitch, their manager soon joining them, and the overwhelming sense was one of delight at a job exceptionally done.

Clarke had returned to the dugout earlier this month after a phased return to work, which followed a six-week period of compassionate leave upon the death of his eldest daughter, Ellie. He could hardly have pitched himself into a more meaningful run of fixtures; everyone involved has surpassed themselves and the pride will be coursing around a club that had become used to life in the doldrums. Once they had taken the lead through Kian Harratt, Vale never looked like losing a tie that had appeared too close to call at the outset. They were helped by Mansfield’s capacity to self-destruct, manifested most glaringly in Ollie Hawkins’ stupid red card, but this was a performance of intensity and craft that befitted its destination.

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