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.
Up next – the second half