An early Wilson strike and a Valiant win on penalties sends us to the Play-Off Final
The Valiants came into the second leg 2-1 down and wasted no time pushing forwards, James Wilson came close to breaking the deadlock in the 4th minute, but the striker skewed his shot narrowly wide from Kian Harratt’s headed cross. However it was the same pair who linked up just 4 minutes later to draw the fixture level on aggregate.
David Worrall whipped in a low cross, which found Harratt at the back post. The young forward squared the ball across the mouth of the goal to the onrushing James Wilson, who only had to tap home from close range to bring the score to 2-2. It was a goal which sent Vale Park into pandemonium, with the sides all square after just 8 minutes.
Swindon battled back into the game after going a goal down, slowing Vale’s relentless attack and restricting their chances. Despite this, the Valiants continued to look the greater offensive threat, as Nathan Smith almost doubled our lead with a spectacular low curling effort, which deflected off the post and out of play.
The goal-scoring pairing of Harratt and Wilson almost bore fruit again towards the end of the second half, Harratt breaking through into the box and attempting to feed Wilson across the front of goal for a carbon copy of the equalising strike. However this time a Swindon defender managed to get a toe on the ball and push it just out of Wilson’s reach at the far post.
The Robins struggled to break Vale down throughout the first half, and failed to register a single shot on target. By contrast Darrell Clarke’s men looked confident in the opening 45 and went into half-time 1-0 up on the day, 2-2 on aggregate.
Swindon came out with a point to prove in the second half, and Vale were forced into a bout of resolute defending as the away side came forward. Josh Davison was almost released through on goal, but David Worrall’s brilliant tackle pushed the ball out for a Vale goal kick.
Vale rode this period of Swindon possession, before the game began to open up. Mal Benning took on a shot from range which soared over the crossbar, whilst at the other end Jonny Williams dragged his effort wide from outside of the area.
The Valiants almost took the lead in the 74th minute through goal-scorer Wilson. Kian Harratt, a bright spark all evening for Vale, dribbled into Swindon’s box before teeing up Wilson, whose close range effort was parried by Lewis Ward. Wilson snatched up the rebound, but his second attempt looped over the crossbar.
Darrell Clarke’s men came close to sealing the win within 90 minutes, when Nathan Smith rose to meet Worrall’s cross in a crowded penalty area in the 85th. The defender sent the ball back across goal, but with slightly too much power as the ball sailed wide of the sticks to send the game into extra time.
The first period of extra time was a typically tense affair, in which tempers flared and fine margins were hotly contested. Clarke was dismissed five minutes into extra time after an altercation on the touchline which also saw Swindon captain Dion Conroy receive a yellow card. Vale remained the brighter side however as they had done throughout regular time, although both teams struggled to produce attempts on goal in the final third as legs grew weary. Man of the Match Nathan Smith produced a critical, crunching tackle on Harry McKirdy right before the break, as the former Vale man broke through towards goal, to keep the score level heading into the final 15.
The second half of extra time was a similar stalemate, although Josh Davison missed a golden chance to win it at the death for Swindon. A lofted through ball fell kindly for the attacker, but he caught it weakly on the volley for Stone to easily clear. Vale also almost won it themselves in the final second of the game, but Ben Garrity’s header was tipped over by Ward and the tie was sent to penalties.
A dramatic shoot-out saw Vale have to battle back from behind, after Ward made two huge saves to give the advantage to Swindon. However Aidan Stone stepped up at the crucial moment to save Josh Davison’s penalty, which accompanied by a huge missed penalty from McKirdy, took the shootout to sudden death.
With a play-off final spot on the line, the pressure couldn’t have been higher. Mal Benning drilled his penalty down the left of the keeper to put Swindon’s fate in the hands of Ellis Iandolo. The defender skied his spot kick into the Robins end to hand Vale a hard–earned victory and spark scenes of ecstasy and emotion across Vale Park.
Port Vale | Stone, Gibbons, Hall, Smith, Worrall, Garrity, Wilson, Benning, Taylor (60’ Charsley), Pett, Harratt (74’ Edmondson)
Unused Subs | Covolan, Hurst, Martin, Amoo, Robinson
Swindon Town | Ward, Iandolo, Conroy, Baudry, Davison, Payne, McKirdy, Egbo, Barry (81’ Gladwin), Williams (105’ O’Brien), Reed
Unused Subs | Wollacott, Odimayo, Mitchell-Lawson, Aguiar, Parsons