Match report: Port Vale 0, Bradford City 2
IT'S fair to say the Football League Trophy, despite all of its incarnations down the years, has never really captured the imagination of fans.
Various sponsors including Freight Rover, Leyland DAF and Autoglass have tried, and largely failed, to raise the profile of a much-maligned competition.
But the truth is that for the teams, and the fans of those teams, who make it all the way to Wembley, it means the world.
Such a pity then, that Port Vale missed out on what was becoming a good chance to grace the hallowed turf when they were edged out by Bradford City in last night's Johnstone's Paint northern area quarter-final.
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Second-half goals from midfielders Ritchie Jones and Craig Forsyth did the trick for the visitors on what was a rare off-night for Micky Adams's side.
But while it does go down as an opportunity missed, the defeat must also be kept in perspective.
The priority, as Adams insisted after the FA Cup defeat at Sheffield United on Saturday, is promotion.
Adams, forced to swap his team around with three players – including 21-goal striker Tom Pope – serving a one-match suspension, made five changes in all.
Calvin Andrew, the frontman signed on a two-month deal only last week, was handed his first start, while Sean McAllister won his full debut alongside the returning Sam Morsy in central midfield.
Skipper Doug Loft was back after an injury lay-off and central defender Liam Chilvers made his first start since signing on loan from Telford.
Bradford also made five changes to their team which drew 1-1 at home to Brentford in the FA Cup on Friday, with star strikers James Hanson and Nahki Wells on the substitutes' bench.
And it was the visitors who threatened first when John McCombe conceded a free-kick 25 yards from goal.
Forsyth bent an effort around the Vale wall, but keeper Chris Neal gathered on the stretch.
The Valiants' reply was immediate, with McCombe forcing John McLaughlin into a fine save with a thumping header from a fourth-minute corner.
Forsyth went close again for City when he drilled not far wide from 20 yards after a flowing move from right to left, then winger Blair Turgott, on loan from West Ham, burst past Loft to deliver a low cross that was fired over by Forsyth.
But it was far from one-way traffic and, with Andrew showing some neat touches up front, the home side were looking to cause problems of their own.
Ashley Vincent raced down the left after 21 minutes to deliver a dangerous cross that the City defence was happy to shovel to safety.
The match became bogged down in midfield as both sides struggled to create meaningful chances, though visiting striker Garry Thompson should have done better than drill a shot straight at Neal, having got the better of McCombe 10 minutes before the break.
Jennison Myrie-Williams did his best to get the Valiants going when he let fly from fully 30 yards, forcing McLaughlin into a flying save, and City showed their frustration before half-time when Alan Connell and Carl McHugh were both shown yellow cards.
Louis Dodds replaced Ben Williamson at half-time as Adams looked to beef up his attack, but it was Bradford who claimed the initiative a minute after the break.
Thompson raced down the left and squared to Jones, whose first-time shot from 18 yards found the bottom corner.
Myrie-Williams should perhaps have put his side on level terms after 50 minutes, but having broken clear down the right, he cut inside to fire almost straight at McLaughlin.
A Chilvers header from the resulting corner was well saved by the impressive keeper, diving to his right.
Myrie-Williams was in the action again soon after. He scorched down the touchline once more and looked to have been clipped as he tumbled inside the area.
But referee Darren Drysdale waved away claims for a penalty and instead booked the winger for diving.
Things were going from bad to worse when Bradford made it 2-0 after 55 minutes.
Thompson escaped down the right and his square pass found Forsyth in acres of space. The midfielder steadied himself before driving his shot beyond Neal's dive.
Loft, having switched to the right following the introduction of substitutes Chris Shuker and Rob Taylor, burst forward to unleash a shot which was deflected just wide as Vale tried to rally.
Another Myrie-Williams cross was deflected just over his own crossbar by a Bradford defender, but the home side were struggling to build any kind of momentum.
Myrie-Williams, ever the trier, rattled in a shot from an angle after 81 minutes that was well dealt by McLaughlin, but there was little hint of a comeback even at that stage.
And even the addition of three minutes of injury-time failed to provide any hope that out-of-sorts Vale could mount any kind of rousing finale, with Taylor's left-foot shot from outside the area, which failed to truly trouble McLaughlin, summing up an instantly forgettable night all round.
VALE'S game at AFC Wimbledon in January has been brought forward two days for live coverage by Sky television.
It will now be played on Thursday, January 24 (7.45pm).