Port Vale 1-0 Swindon Town (6-5 pens) – the Valiants’ promotion dreams are still alive after one of the most dramatic and nailbiting games at Vale Park in years.
In front of a packed stadium, Darrell Clarke’s side won a penalty shootout despite being down by two goals at one point.
Manager Darrell Clarke made three changes to his line-up with Jake Taylor, Kian Harratt and James Gibbons all starting. Harratt made an excellent start with his forward play setting up James Wilson for an early goal to calm the nerves while Gibbons forward instincts worked a treat in helping Vale push forward early doors.
Wilson had already missed one close range opportunity as Vale started strongly but made no mistake on eight minutes when he sidefooted home on eight minutes. It brought the tie level on aggregate with all to play for.
Swindon, who had put Vale under so much pressure in the first-leg were well marshalled and only had a penalty claim for a handball in a first 45 minutes largely dominated by Vale. Defender Nathan Smith, of all people, came closest to giving Vale an aggregate lead when he turned and hammered a shot against a post.
Half-time: Port Vale 1-0 Swindon Town
The visitors came into the game more in the second period but with little to show for it. Connor Hall was doing a great job in containing Harry McKirdy, who was rounded booed by the Vale fans on every touch.
The Swindon fans chants of “empty seats” at this stage seemed bizarre – especially as Vale are not alllowed to fill their 19,000 seater stadium due to safety regulations. In Wiltshire, it seems you can only be a proper football side if you have a stadium that can be filled to capacity. It’s odd that they seem oblivious to their neighbours Forest Green – who showed that games are won by what goes on the pitch not how many fans you can attract.
Vale did have chances in the half with Benning and Wilson both hitting efforts off-target and Nathan Smith putting a header wide. Meanwhile, the game entered extra-time after the last chance of the 90 minutes when defender Mathieu Baudry’s shot was tipped over by Aidan Stone.
Full-time: Port Vale 1-0 Swindon Town
To their credit, both sides did push in the extra period but it did look inevitable that it would go to a shootout as both sets of players tired. There was one flashpoint when manager Darrell Clarke clashed with Robins captain Dion Conroy and the Vale boss was dismissed.
So, the match went to penalties and it looked grim for the Vale after David Worrall and Ryan Edmondson both missed. However, Harry McKirdy, of all people, gave Vale a glimmer of hope with a casual effort blased over the bar and when Aidan Stone saved Josh Davidson’s effort, the other Vale efforts were clinical as Ben Garrity, James Gibbons and Mal Benning all scored. It was left to Stone to prompt a pitch invasion as his save from Ellis Iandolo took Vale to Wembley.
A pitch invasion was inevitable but some of the scenes took the shine off the victory as Swindon fans threw seats at Vale supporters while some Vale fans confronted the Swindon players – both actions are inexcusable in the circumstances and we would hope that any people found to be involved are given the appropriate punishment.
Nevertheless, the majority of Vale fans celebrated in the right manner. There’s now just a Wembley game against Mansfield Town between the side and promotion. What a season this has been so far.
Port Vale: Stone; Gibbons, Smith, Hall; Worrall, Pett, Taylor (Charsley), Garrity, Benning; Wilson, Harratt (Edmondson)
Subs: Covolan, Hurst, Amoo, Robinson
Vale bookings: Pett, Wilson
Attendance: 11, 669 (2,115 away)