SWINDON Town beat Port Vale 2-1 in the first leg of their League Two play-off semi-final on Sunday.

A goal either side of half-time from former Vale striker Harry McKirdy put Town in control before ex-Manchester United forward James Wilson gave the Staffordshire club increased hope late on ahead of the return leg on Thursday.

On an afternoon where Town had far less control over proceedings than they usually would, the Robins will gladly take any sort of advantage into the second fixture in a few days’ time.

Over 14,000 watched on at the County Ground as the Sky Sports cameras were treated to a nail-biting affair in Wiltshire.

Ben Garner named an unchanged squad from the last weekend of the League Two season - a thumping 3-0 victory away at Walsall.

Mathieu Baudry partnered Dion Conroy in defence in what was likely to have been the Frenchman’s farewell appearance at the County Ground.

One of the goal-scorers from Town’s 2015 epic, Ben Gladwin, had to make do with a spot on the bench.

A scrappy start to the game saw Vale give away a couple of fouls – Darrell Clarke’s men had set their stall out early to be as physical as possible in order to disrupt Town’s rhythm.

In the fifth minute, the visitors’ plan almost worked as Town gave it away in midfield and Ben Garrity – who scored two stunners in the home game back at the start of the season – volleyed a yard over the bar from well over 30 yards out.

Vale continued to look the stronger in the early stages, and only key blocks from Baudry and Conroy prevented a gold-shirted man from opening the scoring.

Jack Payne produced Swindon’s first shot of the game, but Vale carried on dominating the territory statistics. While they did enjoy more of the ball, Vale were mostly coming up empty in terms of creating chances, and that allowed Town to gain a foothold midway through the half.

After Payne had thumped an effort straight at Aidan Stone from just inside the box, Jonny Williams provided an inch-perfect corner for McKirdy to open the scoring.

The corner was given away following a mistake from a Vale defender, and 30 seconds later the visitors were considering what might have been. The Welshman picked out ex-Valiant McKirdy at the near post, and he flicked into an unguarded far post area of the net.

Once again Town’s chief attacking force, Payne drew a save from Stone before Ryan Edmondson skipped around a cluster of tentative Swindon tackles and tested Lewis Ward with a low drive from the edge of the box.

Williams drilled a first-time effort at goal from range just before half-time, but Stone tipped over. From the ensuing set-pieces, McKirdy volleyed narrowly off target as Town finished the half on top.

It was Port Vale who created the first chances of the second half, however. Nathan Smith headed over while Wilson struck wide with his left from outside the box.

The magnitude of what was at stake then seemed to take hold as neither team showed much ability or desire to keep hold of the ball for more than a few seconds.

As the hour mark came and went, Louie Barry ran at his man down the left before slipping Ellis Iandolo in down the left edge of the box. His cross was inches away from McKirdy, who dived but still failed to tap into the net.

The club’s top scorer would not have to wait too much longer for his second, however. McKirdy slipped in Payne down the right, and after Stone had beaten the ball out into the middle following the shot, McKirdy emphatically volleyed into the corner to give Swindon a cushion.

It was almost three, seconds later, after a slip from a Vale defender presented Josh Davison with a tough one-on-one chance. Under pressure from his marker and with Stone closing in on the striker, Davison shifted the ball to his left but could only chip over the bar with a cluster of bodies scampering back to cover.

A hectic 15 minutes without too many opportunities flew by, and Vale were handed a lifeline inside the final 10 minutes.

After Conroy had only just come back on from a head injury, Town were at sixes and sevens, defensively. The initial shot from inside the box took a heavy deflection, and Wilson ghosted in at the back post to squeeze the ball home.

Inside five minutes of added time, substitute Malvind Benning whipped a free-kick into the near post, and Wilson flicked a header at goal that Ward had to turn wide.

But Town survived the final few minutes and take a slender advantage into the return leg at Vale Park on Thursday night.

STFC starting XI: Ward, Iandolo, Conroy, Baudry, Davison, Payne, McKirdy, Egbo, Barry, Williams, Reed.

SUBS: Wollacott, Odimayo, Gladwin, O'Brien, Mitchell-Lawson, Aguiar, Parsons.

PV starting XI: Stone, Gibbons, Hall, Smith, Worrall, Garrity, Wilson, Martin, Charsley, Pett, Edmondson.

SUBS: Covolan, Benning, Proctor, Taylor, Amoo, Robinson, Harratt.

ATTENDANCE: 14,086 (1,659)

REFEREE: Ross Joyce