The U's were beaten 3-0 at Vale Park tonight as Port Vale emphasised their promotion aspirations in front of the SKY cameras. Goals from Tom Pope, Ashley Vincent and Sam Morsy gave the Valiants victory as United's recent revival was ended abruptly.
United actually started the game very well, Sean Rigg testing home keeper Chris Neal with a 25 yard drive in the second minute which Neal did well to tip over the bar. Rigg, recalled to the starting line-up along with Johnny Mullins and Jake Wright to the side that beat Cheltenham last time out, was looking sharp on the left of a 4-4-2 shape, although the danger man in the opening exchanges was Vale’s top scorer Pope who tested Ryan Clarke for the first time with a 9th minute drive that needed to be tipped over the top by the keeper.
Skipper Wright made a goal-saving challenge to stop Vincent after 18 minutes, but having looked relatively comfortable in the first half hour, on 30 minutes United fell behind as Pope scored his 13th of the season. As with so many of the home side’s attacks it began with a long pass from giant centre-half Clayton McDonald, this time down the left towards Vincent. His ball inside found Louis Dodds who shot low and hard. Clarke saved, but when you are on a hot streak like Pope the ball seems to run to you after every parry, and the striker had a simple task to put the ball in and make it 1-0.
Vincent lashed another chance over the top on 35 minutes, Mullins flicked a header against his own left hand post from another Vincent cross two minutes later and for a while United found it hard to stem the flow of dangerous balls into the box from both flanks.
However they might easily have been level before half time as Tom Craddock laid the ball in to strike partner James Constable, whose return gave Craddock the chance to shoot from 12 yards, with the ball flying to safety off of the body of John McCombe. There were strong penalty claims as Constable was sent crashing inside the box, but equally Clarke had to make a save down low to his left from a Pope header to ensure that it was still 1-0 at the break.
The U’s were still in the game but had been under pressure and six minutes into the second half they had their work cut out as Vale doubled their advantage. Vincent, whose pace and power troubled United all night, looked second best as he chased the ball, but raced past Harry Worley, then somehow fashioned a shot around Clarke from the tightest of angles as the keeper tried to usher the ball out from a goal-kick. It was a clever finish, but was a very preventable goal from United’s point of view.
Much of the danger was coming from Jennison Myrie-Williams on the right wing, once so nearly a United player, and on 62 it was his skills that set up the third goal that just about killed the game off. Myrie-Williams cut in, rolled the ball back to just outside the area and Morsy was on hand to pick his spot and curl his shot in to the right corner of the net to make it 3-0.
With half an hour still to go United were having to dig deep. Craddock might have pulled a goal back with a 64th minutes effort which Neal saved, and then had a header knocked away from close to the line, while Rigg blasted a 72nd minute shot wide of the mark as United desperately fought for a handhold to try and claw their way back into the game. In doing so they left themselves vulnerable at the back and Vincent forced Clarke into another good save then planted a 75th minute shot wide of the far post. Myrie-Williams crashed an 82nd minute shot against the bar but by then the outcome was a formality. A last minute booking for captain Wright, his fifth of the season, will mean a suspension just to rub salt into the wounds.
Just as happened on their last visit, United can have no real complaints about the result. Their hosts look a strong well organised outfit, well equipped to do well this season. The U's will get the chance to bounce back as they welcome Accrington Stanley to the Kassam Stadium on Saturday.
Report by Chris Williams. Pictures by Darrell Fisher. Stats by PA Sports
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