Darrell Clarke made a welcome return to join up with his Port Vale promotion-chasers and was able to celebrate a 1-0 win at Hartlepool.
The Valiants’ boss has been on extended compassionate leave of late, and is making a phased return to the club. But he made a surprise trip to the north-east, where he spent six years as a player with Pools.
He joined in the celebrations on the pitch at the end as third-placed Vale made it five wins from six and gave themselves a five-point cushion over the play-off zone.
Next up is a big home game with Bristol Rovers on Easter Monday.
Assistant boss Andy Crosby, who has steered Vale in Clarke’s absence, hugged his boss on the pitch at the end in emotional scenes in front of the 671 delighted travelling fans.
Crosby said: “Darrell being here was a great thing. It’s massive to have him here today.
“He’s had a terrible, terrible time and it’s great to see him back. He’s a long journey to go through still but for the lads to see him again was great.
“There’s a real motivation amongst the lads to try and do this for him. It’s great to see him back at his first game. He was in and around the place a couple of days during the week, planning and preparing for next season, but to see him on the pitch was great.
“I messaged him this morning asking him to enjoy it, but I’m not sure if he could actually enjoy it!
“We enjoyed having him around and now the noise surrounding promotion will increase as the season goes on. It’s about staying in the present and it’s not easy. We have two days to recover for Monday and Bristol Rovers.”
Vale won it on on 67 minutes when Jake Taylor’s cross from the left, the ball returned to him after a corner was cleared, was headed in from an angle by centre-half Connor Hall.
It was an uncomfortable first half as Pools shaded it but the Valiants were on top in the second period and showed their promotion credentials to see it out.
Crosby added: “It was a competitive game, we were far from our best first half but second half, as they have done many times before, stepped up and we got the goal.”
Pools have now lost back-to-back home games and are winless at home since mid-February.
They are comfortable in mid-table in their first season back in the EFL and boss Graeme Lee said: “First half was very pleasing, we matched them and created opportunities. Second half we sat back, almost gave them a goal seconds in. The top teams go forward quick and we have to do it more ourselves.
“We competed first half, won balls and played some good football in their half, but then we lacked that intent and they started to turn us.
“They didn’t dominate us but we allowed them into the game.”
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