PORT VALE 0-5 WALSALLFive-star Walsall were forced to settle for a place in the League One play-offs despite a resounding final-day victory at Port Vale.
Headed goals from Paul Downing and Tom Bradshaw put the Saddlers in control before Anthony Forde's screamer made it 3-0 at half-time.
Forde added a fourth after the break and substitute Sam Mantom netted another long-range blockbuster to cap a stunning win.
The result, though, wasn’t enough to secure automatic promotion after Burton earned the point they needed at Doncaster.
Walsall will now play Barnsley in the play-offs, with the first leg next Saturday at Oakwell.
Unsurprisingly, head Coach John Whitney named an unchanged starting XI for the third successive match.
Knowing nothing less than a win would suffice, Walsall immediately went on the offensive and created a glorious chance inside 40 seconds.
Bradshaw beat the offside trap to latch onto Adam Chambers’ long ball but, with the angle narrowing, he fired wastefully over the bar.
The promoting-chasing Saddlers had made a purposeful start and went close again on 11 minutes.
Kieron Morris cut in from the right and unleashed a fierce 25-yard drive which forced Vale keeper Jak Alnwick into a fine flying save.
Mid-table Port Vale, who were assured of a top-half finish and playing solely for pride, came within inches of taking the lead on 13 minutes.
Sam Foley played in Ajay Leitch-Smith, whose fierce strike from a narrow angle was tipped onto the post by visiting keeper Neil Etheridge.
The Valiants were looking dangerous and Etheridge was called upon again soon after as he tipped over Foley’s well-struck 25-yarder.
But the Saddlers scored the goal they so desperately needed midway through the first-half.
Morris’ corner was only half cleared as far as Jason Demetriou who slammed a scorching 35-yard effort against the bar.
Walsall kept the pressure on, and after Alnwick could only parry James O’Connor’s low drive, Downing nodded into an empty net.
The goal sparked jubilant scenes on the pitch and also in the away end, where over 3,300 Saddlers fans were housed.
Vale almost dew level immediately, though, when Michael O’Connor’s curling free-kick flew through a crowded area and was pushed wide by Etheridge.
But from the resulting corner, Walsall broke at pace to score their second goal and take a real stranglehold on the contest.
Forde led the charge, storming forward from deep and squaring for Milan Lalkovic, whose fierce strike was parried by Alnwick.
As the ball spun up into the air, Bradshaw rose above a defender to head home his 20th goal of another prolific season.
Confidence was now coursing through Walsall’s veins and the buoyant visitors continued to attack with menace.
Bradshaw whipped a right-footed shot wide of the far upright, while Lalkovic saw penalty appeals waved away despite appearing to be bundled over.
Whitney’s men were in dreamland on 38 minutes, as Forde unleashed a spectacular, right-footed strike into the top corner from fully 30 yards.
The relentless Saddlers were at their ruthless best and could have increased their lead further before half-time.
Lalkovic’s goalbound effort was cleared from virtually on the line by Ryan McGivern before a Demetriou thunderbolt was smartly tipped over.
HALF-TIME: PORT VALE 0-3 WALSALL
The second period started quietly, with neither team really threatening.
Vale’s first attempt of the second half came on 65 minutes, when JJ Hooper’s close-range header from Foley’s far-post cross was touched over by Etheridge.
Walsall, though, were in total control and they rubber-stamped their supremacy with a fourth goal two minutes later.
Forde pounced on a loose pass, burst into box and coolly finished right-footed past Alnwick for his second goal of the afternoon.
Rampant Walsall then made it 5-0 four minutes later, substitute Mantom with a rasping 30-yard rocket which arrowed into the far top corner.
The goal-hungry visitors continued to press, with Forde delivering a wonderful right-wing cross which Bradshaw volleyed over.
The impressive Forde, on a hat-trick, went close to making it 6-0 with a stoppage-time curler which Alnwick palmed away.
It was a magnificent performance from Whitney’s men and their biggest victory of the campaign.
But, unfortunately, Doncaster were unable to do them a favour as Burton earned the draw they required to leave Walsall in the play-offs.
FULL-TIME: PORT VALE 0-5 WALSALL
Team: Etheridge, Demetriou, O’Connor, Downing, Henry, Chambers, Morris (Mantom 64’), Lalkovic (Cook 84’), Forde, Sawyers, Bradshaw (Hiwula 76’).
Subs not used: MacGillivray, Taylor, Preston, Osbourne.
Attendance: 8,595 (3,359 Walsall supporters).