Vital Reader Burslem Boy takes a look back at Vale’s win over Cheltenham Town…
A terrific game and a terrific win, though one that produced as many questions as answers. With fifteen minutes on the clock, it looked as though it was not going to be Vale`s day. Hughes, who had been threatening, limped off. With Birchall and Loft also surprisingly absent and Morsy still suspended, Vale had the air of a scratch team, with little on the bench capable of changing things. But with twenty-five minutes gone the game should have been done and dusted. On eighteen minutes Pope was left free at the far post, a rare success from a short corner, and duly buried his header.
The effect on Pope was immediate. He looked a different player. Myrie-Williams was finding acres of space down the Cheltenham left, where Mohamed clearly thought it was beneath his dignity to track back. This left Billy Jones hopelessly exposed and it was no surprise when he was taken off at half-time, not the first time this has happened to an opposition left back at Vale Park this season. As ever, though, Myrie-Williams`s final ball was disappointing. Field-Marshal Montgomery used to say ‘every man in my army makes mistakes; no man makes the same mistake twice`. Myrie-Williams would not have gone down well with the Field-Marshal. Even so, he set up two chances that ought to have been taken. Hughes`s replacement, Williamson, missed an absolute sitter in the middle of the six-yard box. He just does not have a striker`s instinct. He`s always on his heels or, as on this occasion, leaning backwards. Brown made a good save from another chance and Vale failed to put away the rebound. Although Cheltenham, with their extra man in midfield, came more into the game in the last fifteen minutes, Vale shaded the first half and it was a concern that they had only scored one goal during their period of dominance.
That the second half was so compelling and, from a Vale perspective, so nerve wracking was entirely down to Cheltenham`s manager, Mark Yates. He moved the excellent Jombati to left back and brought on our old friend Keith (S)Lowe at right back. Lowe did not exactly distinguish himself in a Vale shirt, but every time I have seen him play for Cheltenham he has done well. He did well yesterday, starting most of Cheltenham`s waves of attacks, largely unhampered by any challenge from Rob Taylor, who ought to have been replaced long before he was. More surprisingly, Mr Yates also took off one of his midfielders and matched up Vale`s 4-4-2, with Byron Harrison going up front with the pedestrian Benson. Harrison tormented the Vale`s central defenders for the rest of the game. For the second home match running it was chastening to see our central defenders so badly bullied. Both Cheltenham`s goals were down to very poor defending and our defence of the zillions of second half corners that Cheltenham had was very harum scarum. For me, the key moment was Vale`s equaliser only four minutes after Cheltenham took the lead. Miraculously, this was from another corner. When was the last time we scored two goals from corners in the same game? Probably, not since the halcyon days of ‘corner-Mills-Beckford-Earle-goal`. Although Cheltenham kept pressing I always felt we had enough pace to cause them problems, especially with them playing such a high line.
It needed a good pass to unlock the door. Louis Dodds found it. I doubt if Pope would even have made the run in the past few weeks, but you could see how his confidence level had risen with each goal. When he did latch on to the pass you never felt he would miss.
Although this was a close run thing, it was Vale`s best performance for some time. Griffith, Pope and Yates were outstanding. I am a Griffith fan. I understand the criticisms that he sometimes slows the game down by winning the ball, running round in a circle and them passing it sideways, but yesterday we saw some surging runs through the midfield, making space for Myrie-Williams, Williamson and Pope. Louis Dodds had a bit of a curate`s egg performance. His ambitious passes too often went astray, but he gives us a creative dimension that has also been lacking in recent weeks. Myrie-Williams and Williamson, for all their limitations, sow doubt in League 2 defenders` minds. But we have suddenly developed a soft centre. This needs to be addressed if we are to prevail in the next six games.