Port Vale were looking forward to a first-ever appearance at Wembley – after a memorable night at Exeter on this day in 1993.
John Rudge’s side had battled through to the Autoglass Trophy Southern Area final, and just about had the upper hand after beating the Grecians 2-1 in the first leg in Burslem on March 16.
Mind you, the tie was still in the balance and Exeter fancied their chances after coming away with just a narrow defeat.
Speaking after that first match, their manager Alan Ball said Vale should have put the tie beyond his side: “Port Vale will never have a better chance to have the tie all over and done with, so I have to be happy that we are still in with a very good chance.
“We can’t be that bad again for a while.
“I expect us to battle but I also expect us to be better than we were. Port Vale played all the football so I am absolutely delighted that we go into the next game only one down.”
Paul Kerr’s 15th-minute penalty had put the Vale in front but the visitors hit a stunning equaliser on 37 minutes when Danny Bailey smashed a long-range strike in off the post.
Experienced striker Steve Moran missed the chance to put the visitors in front before Vale claimed their precious advantage 16 minutes from time when Ray Walker played the ball wide to Kevin Kent whose cross was headed home by Ian Taylor.
Over to John Rudge, who concluded: “There is still a lot of football to be played in this match. We are a goal in front but we are not as comfortable as we would have liked, so there is all to play for.”
Rudgie strengthened his squad by bringing in Bernie Slaven from Middlesbrough – but then saw the experienced striker sent off on his debut in Vale’s 1-0 win at Leyton Orient, after kicking out at home captain Adrian Whitbread.
Happily, Slaven was to make amends at St James Park in the Autoglass second leg on April 21.
He had to because Exeter took the lead on the night after 60 minutes, to level on aggregate. Crikey.
However, Slaven pounced on 73 minutes, steering the ball past the keeper to give the advantage back to his side. That was to prove enough – eventually – after referee Roger Gifford played almost five agonising minutes of injury time.
The Vale were through and could begin the party with their 1,300 travelling supporters.
Chris Harper’s report in the following day’s Sentinel began: “Whatever it cost Vale to lure Bernie Slaven from Middlesbrough a month ago was probably repaid in full last night.
“The master poacher scored the golden goal that takes the club on their first lucrative trip to Wembley in their 117 year history.”
Rudgie was delighted – and relieved.
He said: “If you wanted anyone to be in that situation, it would be Bernie Slaven.
“It was a struggle, I had the feeling the lads were anxious. When we went a goal behind on the hour we had to respond quickly and, in the end we got the result – and that’s all that mattered.
“On a night like this, all you are looking for is the result and the lads have managed to do that – and I am proud of them.”
The Vale would go on to beat Stockport in the final the following month. They would lose out in the League One play-off final to West Brom at Wembley eight days later but would bounce back to win automatic promotion the following season.
PORT VALE 1
Autoglass Trophy Southern Area final second leg (Vale won 3-2 on aggregate)
Exeter: Miller, Harris, McIntyre, Bailey, Daniels, Brown, Bond, Leonard, Moran (Phillips, 57), Dolan, Hodge.
Not used: Tonge.
Port Vale: Musselwhite, Aspin, Porter, Kent, Swan, Glover, Slaven, Van der Laan, Cross (Foyle, 67) Kerr, Taylor.
Not used: Mathie.