Mansfield Town manager Nigel Clough says his side ‘didn’t do themselves justice’ in today’s 3-0 loss to Port Vale in the Sky Bet League Two Play-Off Final, but has taken heart from a season of progress for the club.
The Stags were 2-0 down before Oli Hawkins was shown a second yellow card on 35 minutes.
Former Mansfield man Mal Benning provided a third for the Valiants with five minutes left to cap off a difficult afternoon in the Capital.
Reflecting on the afternoon and an extraordinary season – which has seen the Stags rise from 23rd in the league to a match away from promotion – the boss said: “They [the squa] have put an incredible amount of effort in over [the last] 11 months.
“We have just fallen short at the final hurdle, but we will go again next season.”
Mansfield had chances before falling behind. Jamie Murphy could, and possibly should, have headed past Aidan Stone from six yards with the score still at 0-0.
“It was fine margins,” said the boss.
“We missed a good chance early on to go 1-0 up [through Murphy]. He should score there.
“Rhys Oates also had one [opportunity] that was kicked off the line. I think at least one of those is entitled to go in.
“[At the other end] A deflected cross went straight to their lad and the second one [Port Vale goal] came off the bar.
“It could have been different, but they [Vale] punished us and going down to 10 men was the icing on the cake for the first half.”
Oli Hawkins’ second first-half booking reduced Mansfield to ten men.
“I only saw the second one [yellow card].
“People tell me the first was soft. I think the fourth official said [that] the assistant had given it from 40 yards away. It will be interesting to see if it was a yellow.
“He [Hawkins] shouldn't have then committed the second foul. He's done it one or two times this season and it's probably symptomatic of one or two of the things we did today in the firs- half.
“There may have been some nerves.
“I am not sure if we were ready for it from where we have come from. We were joint bottom of the league seven months ago so it's a big step to come to Wembley.
“We were hoping the experience we have in the side would have been able to cope with it [the occasion] but I don't think we did ourselves justice today.
“With 10 men at Wembley after half-an-hour, it's almost impossible.”
Former Stags’ midfielder and Port Vale manager Darrell Clarke was given an applause after the eighth minute from both sets of supporters. The Valiants’ boss experienced a family bereavement earlier this season.
“I class Darrell as a friend and that is the only decent thing to come out of the day for us,” Nigel said.
“I am delighted for him and many congratulations to him and Port Vale.”
The gaffer reflected on what has been a roller coaster campaign for the amber and blue.
“It has still been a successful season, even though it wasn't the ultimate success we wanted.
“To get to this stage has to be classed as successful to a certain degree and we will try to build on that for next season.
“We start again nine weeks today, so we have got to get some rest and holidays in.
The only thing you can do is put it [the game] behind you and get ready for next season.”
Nigel outlined the Stags’ plans for pre-season.
“We don't have too many players out of contract. It's hard to recruit when you don't know what league you're going to be in,” he said.
“Hopefully a few will be staying [next season] and we will try to get five or six new players in.
“When you have only lost six league games since October, I think it's fair to say we have a good group of players, and they are as low and disappointed as anything that they didn't perform as they would have liked today.
“We will delay our pre-season return date after today. It will be a shortened pre-season as we try to give the players the maximum amount of time we can.”