PLAY-OFF FINAL: Mal Benning and Port Vale's other ex-Stags looking to down Mansfield Town at Wembley

There will be a few familiar faces within the Port Vale ranks when they come up against Mansfield Town at Wembley on Saturday.
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Vale won their place in the final by beating Swindon Town on penalties after drawing 2-2 on aggregate with the Wiltshire side, that after they, like all three of the other the play-off contenders, came very close to securing automatic promotion in the closing week of the season.

Only a 2-1 defeat at home to Newport County denied them the chance to have an automatic place in their own hands going into the final day of fixtures, when ultimately it was Bristol Rovers who finished third on goals scored ahead of Northampton, with Vale finishing in fifth place and just a point ahead of Mansfield in seventh.

All that was achieved with the help of some former Stags along the way.

Darrell Clarke is Mansfield through and through.Darrell Clarke is Mansfield through and through.
Darrell Clarke is Mansfield through and through.

On the playing side, defender Mal Benning spent six years at Mansfield after signing in 2015, going on to make 251 appearances in all competitions and scoring ten goals.

He went on to have a good first season with Vale, so far making 26 appearances and scoring once and also netting in the penalty shoot-out against Swindon.

Also in the Valiants’ line-up is likely to be goalkeeper Aidan Stone, who made 28 appearances for Stags in a two-year spell after signing from Burnley and played under three managers in John Dempsey, Graham Coughlan and Nigel Clough before, somewhat surprisingly to some, being released at the end of the 2020/21 season.

He’s featured 18 times for Port Vale this season.

Mal Benning spent six years with Mansfield before leaving for Port Vale last year.Mal Benning spent six years with Mansfield before leaving for Port Vale last year.
Mal Benning spent six years with Mansfield before leaving for Port Vale last year.

Harry Charsley is another who moved from Mansfield to Port Vale, signing for them in the January transfer window having played 68 times for Stags in a two-year spell and playing regularly ever since, scoring once in 20 games so far.

Off the field, 44-year-old Vale manager Darrell Clarke could be described as Mansfield through and through, having been born and bred in the town, come through the Stags’ youth ranks and then turned out for them over 150 times during his playing career before a 14-year association ended with a move to Hartlepool United in 2001.

When his playing career ended whilst at Salisbury City, he managed that club for three years before moving on to Bristol Rovers, Walsall and then Port Vale. He’s able to boast four promotions on his CV already, three of those via play-offs.

A former Mansfield manager is another who now works at Vale Park, with David Flitcroft being director of football.

Flitcroft lost his job at One Call Stadium after the last play-off campaign Mansfield were involved in that ended in a semi-final defeat to Newport County on penalties in 2019, having guided them to fourth spot in his only full season in charge.

He moved to Bolton as assistant manager to Keith Hill before taking on his current role at Port Vale in February 2021.