I said in my preview I fancied us to break a streak yesterday. I thought it might be Vale scoring first and us to win. Instead, rather than break a streak that’s lasted a few months, we broke one than has lasted 88 years.
Scoring six away from home is no mean feat and yesterday our club once again surprised us by turning in a comprehensive display that matches the margin of our biggest ever win at Vale Park, a record we set in August. It’s our biggest ever league win there, the first time we bagged six away since we won 6-0 at Darlington on January 2nd 1932. Anyone who still harbours a grudge at Vale’s failure to beat Barnet on that awful day in May 2011 can probably call it evens now.
I’m going to be doing two articles today, this is the match one, analysis and opinion, but there will be another charting the away day from start to finish later. After all, a 6-2 win away from home dictates a fan experience too I feel. It wasn’t just a good day on the field, but a great one away from it.
The early team news startled some people. John Akinde missed out through injury, there was no Michael O’Connor and before the game kicked off we lost Jason Shackell too. That’s a pretty big group of players to lose and last season that leaves us looking threadbare, losing players of that calibre. This season it just means able-bodied replacements come in and fill the gaps.
Whilst no footballer would ever wish harm on another, I can’t help but feel devout Stoke City fan Matt Rhead would have relished the opportunity to start against the other half of the Potteries derby. Likewise, Scott Wharton has been knocking hard on the door recently and he will have relished a shot at the first team in the absence of Shackell.
I thought the first goal was always going to be important in this game, and whilst the other five added the gloss and shine the game was essentially wrapped up inside three minutes. Had they scored first we would have faced a tense affair, them trying to keep it tight but us looking to pick them apart. I wouldn’t be confident they could ‘keep it tight’ though because their defending was the worst I’ve seen in a League Two match for an awfully long time.
As it was we got the first goal and as soon as they needed to chase the game it was basically over. That isn’t arrogance, it is merely an observation. If they needed to get players forward and come at us then there would be gaps and on a big pitch like Vale Park, with players like Harry Anderson and Bruno Andrade, we had goals in us. I didn’t think it would be six of them though.
The warning signs were there with that early corner. Harry was unmarked from Toffolo’s delivery and he swept the ball into the area the keeper shouldn’t be exposed; the front post. The man on the post, there to defend that exact type of shot, was ineffective. I could use the term woeful time and again to describe the Vale defending but I’ll try to find different terms meaning the same thing.
The odd thing is for the next 35 minutes we got a pretty standard League Two game. The officiating was patchy at times, Vale offered a little, not much and we got forward when we could. It was clear they missed Tom Pope, he’s the focal point of their attack and without him it looked blunt. Ben Whitfield, the player we have been linked with who joined them from Bournemouth, looked a possible threat but delivery from the back wasn’t good enough to pick him out. If they did, our full backs dealt with it easily.
The big talking point of the first half hour came when Lee Frecklington was, in my opinion, assaulted on his way through on goal. He broke through as he likes to, flicked the ball passed the keeper and was unceremoniously taken out. Brett Huxtable, a referee I’ve been highly critical of in the past, gave nothing. The more I watch the tackle, the worse it looks. However, with perspective, many people felt the same about Matt Rhead’s collision with Dean Henderson in the cup final. The difference is that was given as a free kick and Rhead was booked. Scott Brown got away lightly.
It wasn’t a red card, the ball had gone and Frecklington wouldn’t have caught it, but anywhere else on the field that is a foul. He’s made contact late, sent our player flying and it is a 100% stonewall penalty. The fact Freck went off injured highlights the severity of the challenge.
Four minutes later Bruno was felled in the area and again, Huxtable gave nothing. Being at the far end of the pitch my view wasn’t great (best get an email off, eh Crewe fans?) but it looked a penalty. However, if it isn’t, surely Bruno should be booked for diving? I won’t say we were hard done by as they’re sometimes given, sometimes not and I don’t want to make outlandish comments without seeing it properly.
That led us to the 38th minute and the moment everyone around me said we needed to see; the second goal. When it came, Shay McCartan was the scorer, a wonderful footballer whom I sincerely hope doesn’t fancy going back to Bradford in January. His run and finish provided us with the only goal of the eight to come direct from open play, not a set-piece, throw-in or dead ball. Of course it ended the game as a contest but I felt that was the case from minute three.
It looked like being three in the minutes afterwards as we laid siege to their goal, Harry Toffolo looking particularly impressive during that phase of play. McCartan was then pulled down by Legge who was rightly booked as we entered four minutes of injury time. Legge was a player I’d identified as one with experience but he was utterly appalling.
Those frantic few minutes were end to end. Scott Brown saved Bruno’s free kick but Vale broke and Josh Vickers saved Luke Hannant’s header. If they’d scored that and gone in 2-1 at the break it might have swung the game their way. As it was, the hapless Legge nodded Rhead’s flick on into his own net before Huxtable could get the whistle blown to give us an unassailable 3-0 lead at half time.
Watching the third goal back it really is a terrible goal to concede on their part. Legge, a seasoned professional, should have done much better but his supposed clearing headed appeared to be a great back post finish, if only it was at the right end.
They trudged off in their quite fetching ‘Escape to Victory’ style kits looking like beaten men, perhaps hoping the dressing room floor would open them up and provide a route out of Vale Park. As for City, it seemed job done.
The game was over at 3-0, very rarely is a side going to surrender a 3-0 lead and if they do, it isn’t going to be one managed by Danny Cowley. In terms of game management we took a rather different approach in the second half, we passed, probed and look very impressive indeed.
All through the game there was little triangles emerging which had us drooling in the stands. The full backs and wingers swapped the ball with ease, occasionally joined by McCartan or one of the midfielders who would make up the three. Vale were chasing shadows for much of the game and although everyone in the away end would have settled for 3-0, this was going to be much more than just an impressive victory. It was going to be another Rochdale moment, another day that in ten or twenty years you’ll be telling your kids ‘I was there’. Or ‘I watched it at home on iFollow’. Whatever.
If 3-0 was comfortable, 4-0 was a rout, plain and simple. It came from a corner yet again and again it was deplorable defending which allowed Michael Bostwick to stab the ball home from close range. For the 1165 behind the goal it was a dream start, wonderland as someone close to me said. It just seemed that everything we touched was turning into goals.
Vale’s back four were bad, but they had decent players elsewhere on the pitch. Ricky Miller came on having endured a torrent of abuse from the Imps’ fans as he warmed up and he did very little. Ben Whitfield and Luke Hannant looked decent but there was a lack of solidity to everything they did. 4-0 maybe painted the game as more one-sided than it was, but if you can’t get the basics right then sadly it’s going to happen against the likes of us.
Besides, they had Huxtable to thank for an inconsistent and one-sided display in the middle of the park. He was quick to give free kicks their way and one of those led to a truly tremendous goal from Tom Conlon. It was the pick of the strikes from the afternoon, evading Vickers in the top left-hand corner of his goal. 4-1, game on?
Not really. We’d already lost Freck for James Wilson, but the centre back who hasn’t had the opportunities his ability deserve was playing comfortably in the middle of the park. He looked a natural and despite being patched up our side was coherent and controlled. Mind you, it is easy to be when you’re 4-1 up.
Ricky Miller got himself a booking too, he cuts a frustrated and petulant figure at times and that was evident throughout his cameo.
On the hour Wilson eclipsed the former Dover man and got a yellow for a foul on the edge of the area. Similar distance to their first goal, similar position and full marks to the taker, similar quality. This time our pair of safe hands clawed the ball away and with that went any lingering hopes of a Vale comeback.
We closed the game down nicely, began taking a little more time over dead balls, not so it could be construed as negative but just disrupting the flow of the game. We forced corner after corner, every one of them causing complete panic against the lamentable white-shirted defenders. On 64 minutes Scott Wharton made a nice near post run after three deliveries from Bruno and couldn’t quite get his effort on target. he wasn’t tracked and perhaps one of those centre backs could have heeded the warning.
They didn’t and shortly after the live wire Matt Green came on, it was 5-1. Scott Wharton with a near post run and a thumping header. Don’t say you weren’t warned Vale.
Matt Rhead came off for Ellis Chapman and gave the captain’s arm band to Neal Eardley. I wonder when the last time was that we had three different captains on any given match day? That demonstrates the leaders we have in our side. It doesn’t matter who has the band around their arm, they’re all leading in their own way. Bruno and Harry leading the attacks down the lines, even Vickers watching and bawling from the back. Ellis came on and looked just as competent and comfortable as anyone on the pitch. Why wouldn’t he though? He’s 17 going on 27 in terms of maturity and he set up Matt Green for a shot at the sixth, only for Scott Brown to make a decent save.
That led to a corner and somewhat predictably by now, the sixth goal. Same as before, whipped corner from Bruno headed in, this time by James Wilson. Mad isn’t it? Wilson and Wharton don’t get a look in for weeks and both come into the side and score. Selection headache Danny? Lovely.
There was still time for Huxtable to get himself off with a penalty for the home side and the more I watch it the more I have to laugh. If we hadn’t been 6-1 up I’d be fuming, not because it was or wasn’t a spot kick, but because it looked identical to Bruno’s. Not only that, Huxtable didn’t hesitate, he puffed himself up even bigger than he is anyway and was beaming as he pointed to the spot. Look Mum, look at me….
Ben Whitfield scored to add no respectability at all to the score line. What I would say is credit to them for continuing to attack and look for something when the game had been long over. If their back four hadn’t been so feeble, they might have bagged a point. Maybe.
After the game Danny pointed out that there was lots of excuses his side could have made but ‘excuses don’t win you points’. No, six goals do. It was a resounding win, one that will have had all the other teams sighing and muttering ‘Lincoln won again’ as they got back into their dressing rooms. In real terms the win gave us little more than everyone else got, Newport, Exeter and Colchester all bagging three points. What it does give us in a much better goal difference than everyone else, it gives us more goals against Port Vale in two matches than most of the division have managed in all of their away games and it gives us a memory to take away.
Remember though, never too high when we win. It is a step forward, a great result hat sends a message to everyone and gives us confidence, not only in our own ability but in the depth of the squad too. Of the scorers, Harry Anderson wasn’t meant to start, James Wilson didn’t start and Scott Wharton has struggled for starts.
This was the game where we truly accentuated what is great about this squad, the depth and control we have from those waiting for a chance as well as those doing it every week. It was the game when we finally made the corners pay, one after the other. How many times have we come away from games this season lamenting that delivery? Yesterday was the game we all talk about when leaving a 1-0 win saying ‘one day we’ll batter a team’. Today we did and I’ve no doubt that we’ll bag five or four against this season.
As for getting six, maybe. Who knows? This side has such professionalism and organisation about it that much depends on the opposition as it does us. We turn up most weeks (Crawley aside), do relatively well, put balls into the box and do our thing. How the opposition handle that dictates whether we win 1-0, 6-2 or draw, or even (on rare occasions) lose. Port Vale didn’t handle it at all and yet on the balance of play, I can’t see them being in the bottom six come may.
Frightening. Are you watching League One? We’re coming for you.
Next Page – Away Day Tales