Port Vale sink Swindon in shootout to reach playoff final amid ugly scenes

Port Vale won a nerve-jangling penalty shootout 6-5 to beat Swindon and secure their place in the League Two playoff final, where they will play Mansfield.

After the tie finished 2-2 on aggregate, Aidan Stone was the home side’s hero in the shootout in front of a bumper crowd of 11,669 at Vale Park. Vale’s victory was marred by some unseemly scenes amid a post-game pitch invasion, as the visiting players appeared to be confronted by a group of fans in the centre circle.

“What they [the Swindon players] have had to put up with coming off that pitch… players have been physically and verbally abused,” said the Swindon manager, Ben Garner. “I know I’ve seen it in some of the other play-off games. I don’t know where we’re going as a country – it’s absolutely disgusting.”

Swindon had won the first leg 2-1 but Port Vale’s James Wilson scored in the eighth minute to make the tie level on aggregate, before their manager Darrell Clarke was sent off in the third minute of extra time after an altercation with Swindon player Dion Conroy.

Clarke decided to make three changes to his starting side after their 2-1 defeat at the County Ground four days ago. Kian Harratt, Mal Benning and Jake Taylor were handed the chance to shine, while Aaron Martin, Harry Charsley and Ryan Edmondson dropped to the bench. Swindon remained unchanged as Garner kept faith in the side who impressed in the first leg.

Swindon players try to get off the field at Vale Park. Their manager claimed home fans had ‘physically and verbally abused’ his players
Swindon players try to get off the field at Vale Park. Their manager claimed home fans had ‘physically and verbally abused’ his players Photograph: Robbie Stephenson/JMP/Shutterstock

Wilson should have scored after just four minutes, but he wasted a glorious chance at the back post. David Worrall whipped in a lovely cross but the usually reliable Wilson somehow missed the ball with the goal at his mercy.

Swindon were adamant they should have had a penalty moments later when Mandela Egbo’s cross looked to have struck the hand of Vale defender Benning, but referee Seb Stockbridge waved away the visitors’ protests.

Wilson then made sure he scored with a second bite of the cherry. Harratt crossed low from the left and Wilson made no mistake, unmarked at the back post. The Valiants’ captain Nathan Smith came within a whisker of doubling their lead, but his sweet right-footed curler rattled the right-hand post.

French defender Mathieu Baudry rifled agonisingly over just after the hour mark, while Jonny Williams dragged a shot wide from the edge of the box. Wilson then had a powerful shot blocked inside the box and then blasted over the bar as he spurned another fine opportunity.

Smith headed wide with five minutes remaining and Wilson had a chance to win it in stoppage time, but his low left-footed free-kick was well saved by the Robins’ goalkeeper, Lewis Ward.

But then the home side lost their manager after he was dismissed for a needless altercation with Conroy by the dugouts. Clarke tried to wrestle the ball off the defender to get play going after it had gone out for a throw-in.

Stockbridge had no hesitation in sending him to the stands and Conroy was booked for his part in the altercation, which resulted in a full-on scuffle between players from both sides.

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Wilson then fired a left-footed shot over in the second period of extra time but with no more goals it was Vale who prevailed on spot-kicks in a dramatic finish.

Stone saved from Josh Davison to take the shootout to sudden death after Swindon’s Harry McKirdy had missed against his former club. Ellis Iandolo then blazed over with the visitors’ eighth penalty to send Vale to the new Wembley for the first time.