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Season 21/22 Stagsnet Match Report
English Football League - Sky Bet League Two - Play-off final
Mansfield Town  
0 - 3
 Port Vale (at Wembley)
Hawkins sent off 35
 
 Harratt 20, Wilson 24, Benning 85
Attendance: 37,303 (at least 16,500 from Mansfield, at least 16,336 from Port Vale, numbers to be confirmed)
 
Date: 28 May 2022

STAGS BEATEN IN PLAY-OFF FINAL AT WEMBLEY

Martin Shaw at Wembley

Mansfield Town were beaten 3-0 by Port Vale in the League Two Play-off final at Wembley Stadium this afternoon. It was a bitterly disappointing end to a thoroughly enjoyable season, where the Stags came up short at the final hurdle.

The first half was such a bad one for the Stags that the game was effectively over by half time. Mansfield found themselves two goals down and a man down after Oli Hawkins was sent-off on 35 minutes, for a silly challenge when he was already on a yellow card. There was no way back for the Stags, and Port Vale added a third goal after 85 minutes from former Stag Mal Benning who had a brilliant game.

The build-up to the game had been fantastic, ever since the Stags beat Northampton Town home and away in the play-off semi-final 10 days ago. The Stags were backed by at least 16,500 fans (final number to be confirmed) at Wembley, and the atmosphere was rocking.

But the first half turned into a nightmare.

After just 9 minutes the Stags should have been in front and how different the game might have been. Matty Longstaff lifted a cross from the right into the middle. Port Vale defender James Gibbons and former Stags keeper Aidan Stone left it to each other gifting Jamie Murphy a free header at goal from 8 yards out with just Stone to beat. But Murphy headed it straight at Stone who parried it away. A yard either side and it was in. An absolute gift of a glorious chance. Wasted.

Warning bells were ringing for Mansfield when Vale hit the inside of the post after 19 minutes. Benning squared the ball along the edge of the area to Ben Garrity, who laid the ball back to Kian Harratt who fired a precision shot from 22 yards against the inside of the right post. It was a great effort, and a stroke of luck for the Stags that it didn’t go in.

But within a minute, Port Vale were in front. James Wilson sent Benning away down the left with a great pass. Benning got to the edge of the Stags area and fired in a cross-shot that deflected off Elliott Hewitt, who was trying to block it, and Harratt got away from James Perch to head into the net unmarked from 6 yards.

After 24 minutes, Port Vale made it 2-0. David Worrall got away down the right and chipped a cross to the far post where Garrity got above Hewitt to loop a header onto the top of the bar. It bounced down and Wilson headed it into the net, left unmarked by both Perch and Hawkins who watched him head it in.

Benning was getting far too much space down the left, and he brought a good save from Bishop after 34 minutes after another surging run forward.

Worse was to follow after 35 minutes. Hawkins had already been booked 5 minutes earlier, a very soft booking for an off-the-ball incident with Nathan Smith in the Port Vale area. Then, ten yards inside the Vale half, Wilson knocked the ball past Hawkins heading for the touchline in an area of very little danger, and Hawkins was late with the tackle bringing him down. It was a clear yellow card, and Hawkins was sent off. It was a silly challenge from Hawkins when he was already on a yellow card. You just can’t do that and expect to get away with it.

The Stags were within an inch of pulling a goal back after 42 minutes. Stephen McLaughlin’s free kick from the left touchline, halfway inside the Port Vale half, was curled into the area, straight to keeper Stone, who spilled it straight to Rhys Oates. Oates immediately slid his shot under Stone but defender Connor Hall got back to clear it off the line. The goal decision system showed that about 90% of the ball had crossed the line but about an inch hadn’t. In truth, it was the second gift of a glorious chance that the Stags had failed to take.

Wilson curled a free kick just wide of the Stags post in stoppage time at the end of the half.

A disastrous 45 minutes for Mansfield, easily the worst of the season, with defensive lapses leading to two Port Vale goals, a sending-off for Hawkins, while two glaring errors from Port Vale gifted Mansfield two glorious chances which weren’t taken. At 2-0 down, and down to ten men, there was no way back.

Port Vale had two goals disallowed for offside in the second half, from Harratt, and another former Stags player Harry Charsley, on as substitute. And they made it 3-0 after 85 minutes. Worrall got to the byline on the right and chipped a cross into the middle for Benning to volley into the net, unmarked, from 8 yards. It capped a great game for Benning.

Port Vale were left to celebrate their promotion. Mansfield were left to reflect on a very poor performance, missing two glorious chances gifted to them, conceding two goals, and going down to ten men with a sending off from a silly challenge, all in the first half.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the season. A terrible run of 12 league games without a win, being second bottom near the end of October, was followed by an incredible run of form, with records being set along the way, including 8 successive wins between the end of November and the end of January (a club record in the Football League), and 11 successive home wins between the end of October and the beginning of April (another club record in the Football league). The Stags had a chance of automatic promotion until the final day of the season, ultimately finishing three points behind third place. Beating Northampton home and away in the play-off semi-final brought memorable scenes, but in the end the Stags fell short at the final hurdle.

Nigel Clough, his management team, and the players have done a very good job to get the club this far in a short space of time, and will be hoping to go one better next season.

Congratulations to Port Vale. Manager Darrell Clarke is a Mansfield lad, who suffered a close family bereavement earlier this year and there was a wonderful moment after 8 minutes of the game when both sets of fans started a minute’s applause for him to show solidarity with him. After the game, Darrell Clarke said "For those Stags fans to do that touched me, I have a great affinity with the club.”
Mal Benning of course was a great favourite with Mansfield fans during his six years with the club, but he had a job to do today, and he had a brilliant game, making one and scoring one goal. I spoke with Mal after the game. He kept apologising to me. I told him there was no need to apologise, he always gave everything for Mansfield and now he had to do that for Port Vale. He said he desperately hoped Mansfield get promoted next season.

So that’s it. It will of course take time to get over this. Thanks for reading this season and thanks for listening and watching too. In just over a month we’ll be back for pre-season and we’ll go all over again. See you then.

DETAILED REPORT

Mansfield made two changes from the second leg at Northampton. Longstaff and Murphy came in for Wallace and Akins. Maris was back in the 18, on the bench, in place of Rawson.

Clough said it had been “very difficult” picking the team. “Akins had had a slight knock this week” said Clough in his pre-match interview with Sky. And he added that Wallace had done “exceptionally well” against Northampton. But he explained that he brought in Murphy and Longstaff as “we have to play a little bit more than we did at Northampton”.

Port Vale were unchanged from the second leg against Swindon. Former Stags Stone and Benning started. Charsley was on the bench.

VAR was used for the first time in a Stags game. Nigel Clough wasn’t very pleased at this decision, telling Sky in his pre-match interview: “I've no idea (how VAR will affect this game). I'm completely puzzled. The ref's just handed the team sheets in and he said "it's business as usual" and I said "well, it's not for us" because we're now experiencing something we haven't for 55 games this season. To not even have been consulted as a club, we're very, very disappointed. I would rather just have a good referee doing the final. The referee we had at Northampton got everything spot on as the replays proved. He should be refereeing the final, but he is not experienced with VAR so he can't do it.”

It was Mansfield’s second play-off final, the previous one being a defeat on penalties to Huddersfield at Cardiff. It was Mansfield’s third visit to Wembley, the previous ones being the FA Trophy defeat to Darlington 11 years ago, and the Freight Rover Trophy win on penalties against Bristol City in 1987.

Wembley is a magnificent venue, and the support from both clubs made it a magnificent occasion.

But the first half turned into a nightmare.

After just 9 minutes the Stags should have been in front and how different the game might have been. Matty Longstaff lifted a cross from the right into the middle. Port Vale defender James Gibbons and former Stags keeper Aidan Stone left it to each other gifting Jamie Murphy a free header at goal from 8 yards out with just Stone to beat. But Murphy headed it straight at Stone who parried it away. A yard either side and it was in. An absolute gift of a glorious chance. Wasted.

After 14 minutes, Stone was out of his area to head away a Stags ball over the top.

Warning bells were ringing for Mansfield when Vale hit the inside of the post after 19 minutes. Benning squared the ball along the edge of the area to Ben Garrity, who laid the ball back to Kian Harratt who fired a precision shot from 22 yards against the inside of the right post. It was a great effort, and a stroke of luck for the Stags that it didn’t go in.

But within a minute, Port Vale were in front. James Wilson sent Benning away down the left with a great pass. Benning got to the edge of the Stags area and fired in a cross-shot that deflected off Elliott Hewitt, who was trying to block it, and Harratt got away from James Perch to head into the net unmarked from 6 yards.
A bit of luck for Vale that the cross deflected straight to Harratt.

On 22 minutes, Gibbons played a 1-2 to get into the Stags area but he fired well wide from a difficult angle.

After 24 minutes, Port Vale made it 2-0. David Worrall got away down the right and chipped a cross to the far post where Garrity got above Hewitt to loop a header onto the top of the bar. It bounced down and Wilson headed it into the net, left unmarked by both Perch and Hawkins who watched him head it in.
McLaughlin was completely out of position, on the halfway line, allowing Worrall a massive gap to get his cross in. Murphy got back to try to cover, but then was standing on the byline doing nothing as first Garrity then Wilson got in their headers, and was playing Wilson onside by doing so (otherwise he would have been just offside).

The Stags defence had been watertight against Northampton, but was now all over the place.

Wilson shot well over the bar from 20 yards after 32 minutes.

Benning was getting far too much space down the left, and he brought a good save from Bishop after 34 minutes after another surging run forward.

Worse was to follow after 35 minutes. Hawkins had already been booked 5 minutes earlier, a very soft booking for an off-the-ball incident with Nathan Smith in the Port Vale area. Then, ten yards inside the Vale half, Wilson knocked the ball past Hawkins heading for the touchline in an area of very little danger, and Hawkins was late with the tackle bringing him down. It was a clear yellow card, and Hawkins was sent off. It was a silly challenge from Hawkins when he was already on a yellow card. You just can’t do that and expect to get away with it.
It was Hawkins' first red card for Mansfield, and only the second in his career (the first was in an FA Cup game for Dagenham in 2016).

Clough had his heads in his hands. The self-destruct button had been pressed.
O’Toole moved back to centre-half.

The Stags were within an inch of pulling a goal back after 42 minutes. Stephen McLaughlin’s free kick from the left touchline, halfway inside the Port Vale half, was curled into the area, straight to keeper Stone, who spilled it straight to Rhys Oates. Oates immediately slid his shot under Stone but defender Connor Hall got back to clear it off the line. The goal decision system showed that about 90% of the ball had crossed the line but about an inch hadn’t. In truth, it was the second gift of a glorious chance that the Stags had failed to take.
It was Stone’s second big mistake of the game, and he was lucky to get away with it.

Hewitt was booked for a late tackle on 44 minutes. The resulting free kick from Benning was headed back across goal and wide by Smith.

Then Perch was booked for a late challenge on Garrity on 45+4 minutes.
Wilson curled the resulting free kick just wide of the Stags post. Two minutes later, Wilson cut inside and sent a low shot straight at Bishop.

A disastrous 45 minutes for Mansfield, easily the worst of the season, with defensive lapses leading to two Port Vale goals, a sending-off for Hawkins, while two glaring errors from Port Vale gifted Mansfield two glorious chances which weren’t taken. The Stags had afforded Vale wing-backs Worrall and Benning far too much room. At 2-0 down, and down to ten men, there was no way back.

Half time 0-2

After 53 minutes, Jake Taylor volleyed well wide from 25 yards.

Lapslie replaced Murphy after 54 minutes.

The Stags fans were getting right behind their side. Fantastic.

On 60 minutes, Quinn’s corner reached McLaughlin who sent a shot on the turn just wide from the edge of the box.

Port Vale had a goal disallowed for offside after 64 minutes. Benning’s short low corner towards the near post was fired goalwards by Wilson from 10 yards. Bishop parried the shot, it fell for Harratt, who poked it into the net from 2 yards. Harratt was standing a yard offside as Wilson took his shot.

Maris replaced Longstaff after 65 minutes. Former Stags Charsley replaced Taylor after 66 minutes.

Port Vale had another goal disallowed for offside after 70 minutes. Harratt sent Benning away down the left. Benning slid the ball diagonally forward for Charsley, just on as substitute, who took a touch before slotting the ball past Bishop. Charsley was two yards offside when Benning played the ball to him. The officials didn’t even need VAR to check this one.

After 72 minutes, Maris played a one-two with Hewitt before playing inside to Lapslie who teed up Oates to take aim with a shot from the edge of the box. The shot took a slight deflection and was palmed away by Stone. A nice move and a good save from Stone.

A minute later, Oates got the ball onto his right foot 25 yards out, and he fired across Stone and wide of the left post.

Akins replaced Quinn after 79 minutes.

Port Vale made it 3-0 after 85 minutes. Worrall got to the byline on the right and chipped a cross into the middle for Benning to volley into the net, unmarked, from 8 yards. It capped a great game for Benning.
Bowery was beaten too easily by Worrall to get in the cross, while Oates was sleeping, allowing Benning to get away from him.

After 90+3 minutes, a shot from McLaughlin was blocked through to Stone.

Port Vale were left to celebrate their promotion. Mansfield were left to reflect on a very poor performance, missing two glorious chances gifted to them, conceding two goals, and going down to ten men with a sending off from a silly challenge, all in the first half.

Nevertheless an enjoyable season, finishing the regular season just three points behind 3rd placed Bristol Rovers. The Stags’ finally tally of 77 points was the best points tally in the Football League for 20 years since 2001/2002, when 79 points earned automatic promotion.

And how the fans responded, turning up in numbers, and giving incredible support even when the side wasn’t doing so well.
The average attendance at home of 5,151 was Mansfield's highest since 2003/04, and, unbelievably, the second highest average attendance at home since the 1970s (1979/80 to be precise).

If only the Stags hadn’t had that terrible run of 12 league games without a win, being second bottom near the end of October.
Following that run, in the final 32 games of the season, the Stags picked up more points than any other team in League Two (one point more than Bristol Rovers).
And only 5 teams in the top 4 leagues won more games in that same period (Man City, Nottm Forest, Liverpool, Rotherham and MK Dons; source: playmakerstats).
And during that incredible run of form, records were set along the way, including 8 successive wins between the end of November and the end of January (a club record in the Football League), and 11 successive home wins between the end of October and the beginning of April (another club record in the Football league).

If only.

See you next season.

Man of the match: O’Toole

Here’s the final tally of various stats this season:

Goals (league, cup and play-offs): Oates 12, Bowery 9, Hawkins, McLaughlin 8, Johnson, Lapslie 7, Longstaff 6, O.Clarke 4, Maris, O’Toole 3, Charsley, Quinn, Stirk 2, Akins, Caine, Forrester, Hewitt, Murphy, Perch, Rawson, Sinclair 1. 3 OG

Assists (league, cup and play-offs): McLaughlin 14, Bowery, Oates 8, Quinn 5, Charsley, O.Clarke, Hawkins, Hewitt, Johnson, Longstaff, Maris, Murphy, Sinclair 3, Lapslie, Rawson, Stirk 2, Akins, J.Clarke, Gale, Law, Wallace 1
(note: in the case of a penalty, the player who earns the penalty gets an assist. In the case of a solo goal, such as Maris against Newport at home, nobody gets an assist. In the case of the scorer scoring from the rebound after a shot is saved or blocked, the player who had the shot saved gets an assist. In the case of an own goal, the player who caused the own goal gets an assist, for example McLaughlin against Newport away where his shot was deflected in for an own goal.)


Footnote: these are my average player ratings based on the 56 games (46 league, 3 play off, and 7 cup games):

Only includes rating if they started the game ie. sub appearances not included (number of games in brackets)
Only including players who have started at least 10 games.

7.42 O'Toole (32)
7.41 Oates (41)
7.38 McLaughlin (49)
7.31 Perch (18)
7.30 Quinn (43)
7.14 Hawkins (44)
7.11 Maris (35)
6.93 O.Clarke (28)
6.92 Hewitt (45)
6.92 Stirk (26)
6.85 Bishop (53)
6.84 Akins (16)
6.74 Lapslie (25)
6.72 Bowery (32)
6.72 Rawson (27)
6.69 Longstaff (18)
6.65 Charsley (13)
6.56 Murphy (16)
6.45 Johnson (11)

Thanks to Pete Wright for his spreadsheet.


Report by: Martin Shaw at Wembley



Line Up:
(4-4-2 diamond in midfield)
Bishop 6 Did ok with no mistakes.
Hewitt 5 Should have done better for the second goal when he was outjumped by Garrity. And throughout the game Benning was afforded too much space.
Perch 5 Could have done better for the first goal and should have done better for the second goal.
Hawkins 4 Absolute nightmare of a game. Should have done better for the second goal. Then sent off for a stupid challenge after just 35 minutes leaving the rest of the side an impossible challenge for the rest of the game.
McLaughlin 5 Completely out of position for the second goal.
O’Toole 6 Didn’t make any mistakes.
Longstaff 5 Never got into the game. Replaced after 65 minutes.
Quinn 5 A shadow of the player we’ve watched this season and last. Probably hampered by his ongoing injury from when he got whacked on the hip against Crawley.
Murphy 4.5 Missed a free header after just 9 minutes, as he headed straight at Stone. What a difference that might have made. For the second goal, he did nothing other than play Wilson onside. Replaced after 54 minutes.
Oates 5.5 Should have buried his chance after 42 minutes when it was cleared off the line. Got in a couple of decent shots in the last 20 minutes.
Bowery 5 Didn’t really get involved in the game.
Sub Line Up:
Lapslie (for Murphy, 54 mins) - Did ok. Teed up Oates for a shot.
Maris (for Longstaff, 65 mins) -
Akins (for Quinn, 79 mins) -
Subs not used: Stech, O.Clarke, Wallace, Stirk.
Opposition Line Up:
(3-4-1-2) Stone; Gibbons, Smith, Hall; Worrall (Martin, 86), Taylor (Charsley, 67), Pett, Benning; Garrity; Harratt (Proctor, 77), Wilson. Subs not used: Covolan, Amoo, Robinson, Edmondson.
Referee:
Jarred Gillett 6 Most decisions were right, including the two disallowed goals. I think the first Hawkins booking was soft, but that didn’t excuse Hawkins’ stupidity for the second booking.


Season 21/22 Reports