Port Vale: Match report v Fleetwood Town
FIVE-STAR Port Vale produced a magnificent away-day performance to pass a stern test of their promotion credentials with flying colours.
The Valiants stunned high-flying promotion favourites Fleetwood with a stunning display of pace and power and thoroughly deserved a win which will send shock-waves through the division.
Tom Pope bagged a double to make it eight goals for the season and strike partner Louis Dodds also grabbed two.
Ashley Vincent was on target too to make it an unbelievable 21 goals so far for Micky Adams's great entertainers.
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Vale, unchanged for the eighth time in a row, made a solid enough start, though it was immediately obvious a stiff breeze blowing in off the Irish Sea would make life difficult for both sides.
Louis Dodds prompted an early attack with a hook forward which was held up by that swirling wind. Ashley Vincent raced onto the loose ball, but was eventually forced inside and his shot under pressure fizzed wide.
Fleetwood looked good in the build-up though, and Lee Fowler, finding space in the middle early on, fired in a shot from just outside the area after 11 minutes which keeper Chris Neal stretched to push away.
The subsequent corner was met by a strong header from Jamie McGuire, but blocked at close range before being eventually cleared.
There was a breathless early tempo to the game, which swung from end to end early on.
Dodds found space in the home defence and lobbed keeper Scott Davies only to be ruled offside, but Vale should have grabbed the lead after quarter of an hour.
Vincent cut in to slide a cute ball through to Jennison Myrie-Williams in space. The winger looked odds-on to open the scoring, but his left-foot shot hit the keeper's legs and the chance was gone.
Fleetwood striker Andy Mangan was booked after leaving his foot in on John McCombe, but play was soon back down at the other end.
Loft's jinking run ended with a cross that was just too high for those waiting in the middle, then Sam Morsy did well to turn into the area and set up Vincent, who could only fire straight at Davies.
The resulting corner was headed not far wide by Clayton McDonald.
The Valiants were living up to their nickname with some great sliding blocks on the edge of their own area, but it was at the other end of the pitch where the match was about to take a dramatic turn.
Vincent sent over a 29th-minute cross from the left which was too deep for everyone. But Myrie-Williams chased down defender Dean Howell and pinched possession towards the byline.
He cut inside and fed the ball into the penalty area where Pope was on hand to slide a right-foot shot into the opposite corner of the net from 12 yards.
Fleetwood posted a reminder of their potency in attack when Mangan's header thumped against Neal's crossbar following a cross from the right.
But Vale's noisy fans were raising the decibel level even further after 34 minutes and with good reason.
There seemed little danger when Vincent picked up a loose ball on the left. But the livewire winger ran into the space which appeared in front of him before cutting inside and unleashing a fantastic low shot which fizzed past Davies on its way into the far corner of the net.
If Vale were in dreamland at that moment, they were soon brought back down to earth. The visitors were forced to concede a corner and Mangan swung in a cross which was somehow met in the heart of the visitors' area by a header from the diminutive Junior Brown. The ball arced beyond Neal's dive and into the far corner to put Fleetwood back into the game with six minutes to go before the break.
Brown went close again soon after, dragging a left-foot shot just wide from the edge of the box, but you were left fearing the home side's goal not long before half-time might change the course of the game.
Vale were pushing and probing again at the start of the second half, but couldn't take advantage of two corners in quick succession and Fleetwood fans were berating referee Nigel Miller soon after when he refused appeals for a penalty. Mangan had gone down inside the box following a challenge from McDonald, but there was nothing much in it and the official was spot on.
Dodds threatened for the visitors with a left-foot shot on the run that was well saved by Davies before Brown, whose aerial prowess still hadn't been picked up by the Vale defence, rose well once more, but headed just over this time.
The game was still very much end to end, but it was the Valiants who struck next to re-establish their two-goal cushion on the hour mark. Chris Shuker's free-kick delivery from the left seemed to evade everyone and keeper Davies, perhaps unsighted, could only palm the ball away, giving Pope the chance to ram home from six yards.
Proud visiting supporters reckoned it was 'Just Like Watching Brazil' and perhaps couldn't believe their eyes when Vale surged even further ahead after 67 minutes. Fleetwood's defenders were involved in something of a mix-up and Dodds was quick to seize the loose ball before running in on goal to find the net.
Things were turning a bit surreal at this stage and, almost unbelievably, the best was yet to come.
Dodds wriggled free of his marker on 78, but there was still plenty to do. Yet the striker burst forward to the edge of the box and found the top corner of Davies's net with the outside of his boot.
We want six, demanded those in the Percy Ronson Stand. They would hardly have believed they would be singing that before the game.
Instead, it was Fleetwood who had the final word with seven minutes to go. McDonald had time to get his head to a high ball into the box, but instead tried to control it on his thigh and it ran loose to substitute Steven Gillespie.
The defender tried to rescue the situation, but instead sent the striker tumbling and Gillespie picked himself up to ram home his first goal for the club from the spot.
It's leaders Gillingham at home on Saturday. Bring it on.