LOMAS ON STAGS: Agony now, but Stags fans will eventually look back on a fantastic season​​​​​​​

Once the tears and agony of Saturday’s play-off final defeat at Wembley start to ease, Mansfield Town supporters will look back on a fantastic season.

Monday, 30th May 2022, 5:56 pm

It still hurts now as Stags failed to play anywhere the standards they have set themselves on the biggest stage of all in front of a huge TV audience.

Port Vale rattled Stags’ nerves by hitting a post on a day when nerves would already be jangling. And Vale then quickly took control with two quickfire goals as Stags wobbled alarmingly before Oli Hawkins put another nail in the coffin by stupidly getting himself sent off with two yellow cards in five minutes.

Mal Benning’s late third was another moment of agony as the ex-Stags man crowned an excellent afternoon’s work.

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Agony for the Stags as Port Vale fans celebrate Mal Benning's late goal in the 3-0 defeat at Wembley. Picture by Richard Parkes.

It could all have been so different had Jamie Murphy put away a great headed chance early on at 0-0, but it took him by surprise that the defender next to him had allowed the ball to reach him and his header went straight at the keeper.

It is hard to blame the younger members of the side on their first Wembley outing, but too many of Stags’ more experienced players simply had an ill-timed off day.

The result aside, it was still magnificent to go to Wembley and show how far this side has come under Nigel Clough.

Despite all those early season setbacks in the 14 game run without a win, he galvanised them to two club records and so close to automatic promotion.

The football was bright and energetic and brought in thousands of new supporters.

Now begins the hard work in building on this near miss and turning it into glory next season. The retained list is imminent and Clough will be speaking to clubs on his loan players’ futures.

The only bright note of Saturday was that the winning manager was Darrell Clarke who, as a Mansfield lad, still loves the Stags and desperately wants them to go up next season.

The tragic recent loss of his daughter saw him understandably highly emotional at Wembley and the pain he has suffered makes the pain of losing a play-off match almost insignificant. Good luck to him and Vale and let’s hope next season sees Stags able to get up without the nerves of another Wembley decider.