West Bromwich Albion. . . . . . . . .3
OSSIE ARDILES' love affair with Wembley continued yesterday when West Bromwich Albion, scoring three times in the last 23 minutes, sealed promotion to the First Division at the expense of a Port Vale side who disintegrated after the sending- off of Peter Swan for a professional foul.
The turning point in a tense play-off final came on the hour. Albion were beginning to hit their flowing stride when Ian Hamilton, their outstanding midfielder, sent Bob Taylor clear with a pass from his own half. Swan, a hulking central defender, pulled down his former Leeds colleague from behind, leaving Roger Milford no option but to reach for the red card.
Swan thus became the first player to be dismissed this season by Milford, a referee who likes to cultivate an image as the players' friend, and only the second Englishman ever to receive his marching orders in a major match at Wembley. That he now forms an exclusive club with Kevin Keegan will be of little consolation.
Within seven minutes Albion were in front, Andy Hunt scoring the 11th goal of a 13-game loan spell which will end with his pounds 100,000 transfer from Newcastle this week. Nicky Reid, with his first goal for Albion, put the issue beyond doubt seven minutes from time, and Kevin Donovan gave a somewhat flattering sheen to the scoreline in injury time.
While the victors deserved their first promotion in 17 years, it was hard not to feel some sympathy for Vale. Having finished the regular season four points clear of Albion - and beaten them twice - they shaded the first half with a passing game out of the Ardiles text book.
However, for all their patience and possession, Vale mustered little penetration and survived a scare seconds from the interval when Donovan's scissors kick flew narrowly wide. The closest the Potteries came until the final stages was a 53rd-minute cross- cum-shot by Ian Taylor, which Tony Lange tipped over. Meanwhile, Albion's momentum was building ominously.
Paul Musselwhite had already saved athletically from Donovan and Paul Raven when Swan's lack of pace was exposed by Bob Taylor. In the 67th minute, the Vale keeper was happy to punch clear from a kneeling position after Gary Strodder's header had come out off the woodwork. The ball fell straight to Taylor, who in turn found Reid, and Hunt rose unchallenged to head in the ensuing centre.
The 10 men were pressing valiantly for an equaliser when Donovan, breaking from the halfway line, set up the second for Reid. The right-back, an FA Cup final loser with Manchester City against Ardiles and Spurs 12 years ago, took one touch to control his crossfield pass before lashing the ball high into the net from 18 yards.
Vale's solidity had disappeared down the tunnel with Swan, and their cup of woe overflowed when another surge by the now-rampant Reid enabled Donovan to complete the scoring from six yards.
For Ardiles, a fourth Wembley success as player and manager secured promotion at the first attempt. It could also mean a substantial sum to lavish on players, with club officials predicting a pounds 2m bonanza from season-ticket sales and TV rights. 'This is the best place in the world to win, but when you lose it looks empty and dirty,' the Albion manager said. 'Here, the winner takes all.'
Unless, of course, you are manager of Swindon, whom the Argentinian led to play-off victory over Sunderland in 1990, also in his first season, only for the losers to take their place among the elite because of financial irregularities before Ardiles time.
Now it was the turn of John Rudge, Vale's manager, to reflect on the unfairness of the play- offs, life and everything. 'You can't ask much more of a team than to get 89 points, which would have won us the Championship last year,' he said. 'It's a cruel game.'
Port Vale: Musselwhite; Aspin, Kent (Billing, 63), Porter, Swan, Glover, Slaven, Van der Laan (Cross, 82), Foyle, Kerr, I Taylor.
West Bromwich Albion: Lange; Reid, Lilwall, Bradley, Raven, Strodder, Hunt (Garner, 89), Hamilton, R Taylor, McNally, Donovan. Sub not used: Robson.
Referee: R Milford (Bristol).
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