Match report: Port Vale 3, Oxford United 0
AS AN exercise in public relations, Port Vale's comfortable home win couldn't have been timed any better.
With the man ready to buy the club in attendance, Micky Adams's quality cast produced the equivalent of a BAFTA-winning performance in a Sky TV treat.
• GALLERY: Match Action: Port Vale 3 Oxford United 0
Paul Wildes must have been impressed as he looked on from his seat in the stand.
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The millionaire businessman, who'll be announced as the preferred bidder later today, will know one result makes little difference to the future of the club.
But an eye-catching home win doesn't half maintain the feel-good factor and it was goals from Tom Pope – his 13th in just 15 starts – Ashley Vincent and Sam Morsy which did the trick in the end to leave Vale three points behind leaders Gillingham.
With skipper Doug Loft still sidelined by a calf injury, Adams paired Sam Morsy and Ryan Burge in midfield.
Richard Duffy, used in the centre of defence for the Johnstone's Paint Trophy win at Walsall, reverted to right-back and Sam Johnson – the hero of that shoot-out success – made way for returning keeper Chris Neal, with Louis Dodds restored up front.
Parading the new home kit for the first time in front of the Sky cameras, Vale were indebted to Neal for keeping the scores level after only two minutes.
Former Valiant Sean Rigg found space 25 yards from goal and launched a stinging effort which the keeper did well to palm over the top.
Oxford's Johnny Mullins connected with the corner, but could only head wide.
Hot-shot Pope escaped his marker on the edge of the box in the ninth minute, but his left-foot shot was tipped over by Ryan Clarke.
And Jennison Myrie-Williams then rattled an effort just off target as the home side turned up the heat.
Oxford often looked tidy in the build-up and were keeping possession with accurate passing in midfield, but the Valiants posed the greater threat and Vincent was unlucky to be denied when Rob Taylor's dink into the area was nodded down neatly by Pope.
Vincent's first touch to take him past his marker was sublime, but the wing man was quickly closed down.
The game was up for grabs and it was Vale who seized the initiative after half-an-hour.
Vincent's low cross from the left was fired against the keeper's legs by Dodds and that man Pope was on hand to slot home the loose ball.
The goal lifted the home side, who streamed forward in search of more.
And they almost doubled the lead after 37 minutes when Vincent's cross was headed against his own post by Mullins with Clarke beaten.
John McCombe produced a timely block to deny Tom Craddock as Oxford posted a reminder of their attacking potency four minutes before half-time, but Myrie-Williams then turned on the gas to race down the right and crack an effort across goal.
Pope went close again with a glancing header which was collected by Clarke, although the visitors were feeling aggrieved at the break, having had claims for a penalty – following Clayton McDonald's challenge on James Constable – waved away by referee Keith Stroud.
Vale needed to keep the tempo high at the start of the second half and couldn't have got off to a much better start when they doubled their lead six minutes in.
Morsy's gorgeous chip gave Vincent the chance to chase towards the byline and, as the Oxford defence seemed to stop, the winger clipped the ball into the net from the tightest of angles.
Two-up and cruising, the home side's celebrations were crudely interrupted when Burge was forced off with a knee injury following a challenge by Simon Heslop.
Dodds' effort was blocked at close range following a wayward back pass, but it was 3-0 – and game over – not long after the hour mark.
Myrie-Williams drifted inside on one of his trademark runs, giving Morsy the chance to bury a stunning right-foot curler from 20 yards.
Oxford boss Chris Wilder threw on hot prospect Alfie Potter, but if that was a desperate bid to salvage something from the game, it didn't work.
Indeed, Vale could have been further ahead with 20 minutes to go after a break which ended with Myrie-Williams having a shot well saved.
Vincent then slid another shot across the face of goal as the Valiants pressed once more and unlucky Myrie-Williams was left shaking his head in disbelief after 82 minutes.
The winger went on a mazy run across the face of the penalty area and launched a tremendous shot which cannoned off the top of the crossbar.
There was still time for Myrie-Williams to be crudely brought down on the edge of the area by a challenge which saw Oxford skipper Jake Wright yellow carded.
He skied the free-kick high and wide, but, by that stage, no-one seemed to care.
Long-suffering Vale fans have had their patience severely tested in recent months.
But with another victory in the bag, their team second in the table and a new owner on the horizon, the outlook is a lot brighter these days.
Glad all over? Too right.