League Two’s Play-off Final: Who Will Come out on top Between Mansfield Town & Port Vale?
The final action of the League 2 season commences on Saturday, as the people of Mansfield and Stoke will descend on Wembley Way.
Mansfield, who finished the season in seventh place, come into the game against a Port Vale side that finished fifth, with both evenly matched in the betting markets. Let’s break down each team to see if there’s any inclination of who will be playing League 1 football next season.
League Two Play-off Final Tips
MANSFIELD TO WIN IN 90MINS AND BOTH TEAMS TO SCORE @ 11/2
It’s been a real turnaround for Mansfield Town and manager Nigel Clough this season, as the Stags are now on the prophecies of a return to League 1 for the first time since 2003.
The start of the season was pointing towards a relegation battle for Mansfield, a team who have been in England’s fourth tier for nine years.
After winning their opening two league games, it would be another 13 matchdays before Mansfield tasted victory again. At this point, only goal difference separated Mansfield from being bottom of the Football League. Scunthorpe United were the only team below the Stags, with the Iron eventually finishing 18 points from safety.
Nigel Clough knew his side needed a big performance to turn around their season and that came against Tranmere Rovers. A 2-0 win with goals from Danny Johnson and Rhys Oates was the source of magic that Clough had been looking for and after that, Mansfield soon became an unstoppable force and won 10 of their next 11 games.
If the season started from the Tranmere game, the Stags would have won League 2 by an impressive 7 points. The home form of Mansfield in this run underpins their eventual seventh-place finish, dropping just five points from their 15 home games.
Rhys Oates has been a very influential player for Mansfield Town this season, with his nine goals in the league making him the top scorer at the One Call Stadium. Many of these have come in tight victories, including home games against Salford City and Colchester United.
In the second half of the season, Matty Longstaff has had a substantial effect on Mansfield’s fine form. On loan from Newcastle United, goals against the likes of title-chasing Exeter City and eventual champions Forest Green produced vital points.
This momentum continued into the play-offs, where Town defeated Northampton 3-1 over two legs. With Northampton still devastated after Bristol Rovers' miraculous 7-0 win on the final day, the Stags took full advantage to defeat the Cobblers 3-1 over two legs. Another goal by Oates showed his star quality.
League Two Play-off Final Tips
BEN GARRITY TO SCORE FIRST AND EITHER PORT VALE TO WIN 1-0 OR PORT VALE TO WIN 2-1 @ 28/1
Port Vale have been in League 2 for the last five seasons. This time around, the side from Stoke were looking to finally make a return to League One.
Just like their opponents on Saturday, Port Vale had a very slow start to the season. One win in their opening seven left Darrell Clarke’s side languishing in the bottom half.
For Clarke, it could be one of the best seasons of his managerial career. However, following a close family bereavement in February, it’s been one of the hardest personally for the man who took Bristol Rovers from the National League to League 1.
Whilst he was on compassionate leave, the side from Staffordshire did their manager proud. In a five-week period between the 12th March and the 15th April, Vale acquired 25 points out of a possible 27 to give them not just a chance of reaching the play-offs, but of achieving automatic promotion.
The pressure however got to Vale, and with Clarke back in the dugout, the team needed a win on the final day to secure a play-off spot. James Wilson, the former Manchester United player, got the only goal at St James Park to stop Exeter City from winning the league and secure fifth place for Port Vale.
Wilson has been Port Vale’s third top goal scorer in League this season, with his nine goals only being beaten by Jamie Proctor’s and Ben Garrity’s tally of 12 goals apiece.
It was James Wilson however who took centre stage in the play-offs, with his two goals meaning that after two gruelling games of football, the game against Swindon Town went to penalties. Iandolo missed the decisive penalty for the Robins to send Vale to Wembley.
Clarke knows more than anyone that football is just a game when it comes to the most important matters in life. A win at Wembley would be a glorious end to a great season for Port Vale.
Come 16:00 PM on Saturday, the whistle will go and both teams, who can’t be separated in the betting odds, will go to battle. Whichever team has the most nerve will seal a return to League One.