Oxford United went out of the Emirates FA Cup in the first round as they were beaten 2-0 at Port Vale this evening. Goals from Gavin Gunning and Tom Pope earned the League 2 side a place in the hat for the next round as United, uncharacteristically in rece made an early exit.
The first chance fell to James Henry in the sixth minute when he ran clear from a superb clipped pass from Ryan Ledson but just failed to nick the ball round the advancing Ryan Boot in the Vale goal. Little did we know thenb that it would be the Yellows best chance of the night.The home side had already started as they meant to go on and forced early corners without really testing Simon Eastwood too much. Mike Williamson, back in the side in place of the rested Curtis Nelson, needed to deal with the aerial threat from Pope as Vale got the ball forward quickly, but those around that duo also needed to be alert to try and snap up the pieces when the ball dropped.
Vale were quick to challenge and fired up for the Cup under new boss Neil Aspin. Danny Pugh had a drive blocked and Pope nodded a chance wide before they took the lead thanks, at source, to a rare mistake from Eastwood. Trying to get his side on the move quickly, Eastwood bowled the ball out to the left but straight to James Gibbons who surged forward and clipped a ball into the box that Gunning flashed past the keeper with a downwards header from the middle of the goal.
United, living and learning, were grateful to Eastwood for a good piece of keeping on 20 minutes when Marcus Harness got in behind a static back line but as so often this season kept passing the ball, sticking to the gameplan and trying to play their way back into the game. James Henry started to get some joy on the right flank, Williamson almost had a tap in when Boot spilled a corner, but try as they might they were finding the Valiants back line hard to break through and then being put under pressure by a Vale side quick to break forward.
Their task was to become twice as hard early in the second half. David Worrall found space on the left, crossed and Pope did what Pope does best, powering a header, unmarked, past the helpless Eastwood from six yards out.
Tempers flared - Thomas having a running battle with the entire Vale team plus most of the fanbase- and it wasn't lack of effort that was hurting the U's. On this occasion they just couldn't get their usual slick passing style going against a fiercely determined home side who kept their shape and fought for every single ball in true FA Cup fashion. They should really have made it 3-0, first on 69 minutes when Tiendalli sliced a pass horribly across goal only for Tyler Denton to slice the chance just as horribly past the far post then after 73 when Pope planted another free header the wrong side of the post.
Such Papal falibility encouraged the U's to have one last throw of the dice and gamble on throwing men forward for the closing stages but Vale redoubled their defensive efforts, threw themselves into blocks and challenges and when Jack Payne offered at least a little hope with a great dummy in the 83rd minute there was a Vale man hurling himself in the way of the shot to leave Boot largely untroubled all night.
Port Vale will be ball number 3 in Monday night's draw. Good luck to United will lick their wounds and go again in the Checkatrade Trophy against MK Dons on Tuesday night.
Report by Chris Williams, pics by Darrell Fisher, stats by OPTA