United completed a remarkable double as they beat Port Vale 2-1 at the Kassam Stadium this afternoon. Goals from Alfie Potter and Deane Smalley earned United all three points as they beat the team in second place just four days after beating leaders Gillingham at Priestfield
It took ten minutes for United to make the breakthrough. Former U’s defender Darren Purse made a hash of things 30 yards from his own goal and almost presented the ball to Potter. Just as he did at Gillingham in midweek Potter streaked clear and isolated the keeper with defenders trailing in his wake. Keeper Chris Neal came out but Potter was too cute with his finish across the keeper and into the far corner of the net to make it 1-0 with his eighth goal of an ever more profitable season.
However, games between these two sides tend to be entertaining affairs and within six minutes the Valiants were level with a stunning goal. Daniel Jones crossed from the left for top scorer Tom Pope to nod back. It was a neat enough set up but it was still a long way out as Loft swivelled and struck an absolute thunderbolt shot which flew past the startled Luke McCormick to level the scores. Perhaps United might have closed the ball down quicker, but sometimes you just have to hold your hands up and say it was a very good goal.
There were appeals for a penalty on 25 minutes when Ryan Burge bundled Potter over inside the area, Sean Rigg had a decent effort blocked by Purse on 32 and it was a very even first half as both sides played some eye-catching football.
Josh Parker, the one change to the side that won at Gillingham in midweek, looked lively throughout that first half as he, Potter and Rigg all joined the tireless Deane Smalley when the opportunity arose with Adam Chapman and Tony Capaldi giving them a solid base to launch attacks from. Vale had beaten United comfortably at Vale Park earlier in the season thanks in no small measure to some dazzling wing-play. This time they were finding it harder to beat full backs Damian Batt and Liam Davis while any crosses that did come in were mopped up by the excellent Raynes and Wright.
Raynes flicked a 45th minute corner just wide, Davis volleyed an injury time chance over the top and at the break United had created the clearer openings. They had also made one change as Andy Whing made his return for Chapman in midfield just before the interval.
The second half saw an excellent chipped effort from Ryan Burge tipped away from danger by McCormick who was once again a calming influence in a disciplined defensive display, and then a 62nd minute drive from Burge go wide of the mark as Vale threatened to take the lead.
There was a bold substitution on 66 minutes as James Constable replaced the energetic Parker to partner Smalley up front, the pair combining immediately for Constable to blast a presentable chance wide. That bravery paid off though as United took the lead on 76 minutes. They earned a corner in the first place as Tom Pope sliced a cross over his own bar from five yards out, but having survived that let off Vale were punished from the set piece. Capaldi swung the corner in from the left and as it flicked off people at the near post Whing showed remarkable presence of mind to sidefoot the ball to his right where the waiting Smalley gleefully smashed the ball under Neal to make it 2-1.
Vale's last away defeat was against Northampton in October, only their second loss on the road all season, but the Yellows were full value for their lead and continued to push them back towards their own goal. They should have sealed the game on 84 minutes as they were awarded a penalty. Burge and Davis arrived at the ball at the same time but Davis had the momentum and was tripped just inside the area by the former United man. Rigg took responsibility against his former club but his penalty to the keeper's right was a good height for Neal who pushed it away.
Inevitably that set up a tense finale as Vale tried to claw it back but that left bags of room for United who used it intelligently and ran the clock down to see the game out in the most professional of manners.
A great result and another excellent performance. The U's keep ticking along under the radar. Do you dare to dream?
Fifty/50 number 277390 wins £1,075
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Steve Daniels, stats by PA Sports