Port Vale: Match report v Wimbledon
THE history of football is littered with tales of the unexpected.
And the competitive nature of League Two meant last night's clash between teams at the opposite ends of the table was never a foregone conclusion.
But the way Vale dismissed AFC Wimbledon to move four points clear at the summit showed a truly impressive clinical edge.
The Valiants wore the look of potential champions as they brushed aside Neal Ardley's strugglers with room to spare on a filthy night at Vale Park.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Friday, May 31 2013
Lee Hughes scored his fourth goal in as many games to put Micky Adams's men on their way and Ashley Vincent grabbed his first since November to double the lead before half-time.
Winger Vincent was on target again after the break, netting his eighth goal of the campaign with a thumping finish which wrapped up what was another comfortable win in the end.
The scoreline also maintained Vale's remarkable run of having completed every home win this season by a margin of at least three goals.
Boss Adams resisted the temptation to make changes by naming the same starting line-up for the third game in a row.
It came as little surprise after Saturday's 3-0 win against Accrington Stanley.
There was a shock in the Dons side though, and perhaps some relief among home fans, as Jack Midson, the striker who scored both goals in that 2-2 draw 12 days ago and someone who has scored five goals in five games against Vale, was left on the bench.
The heavy rain which swept in on strong winds before kick-off made life difficult for both sets of players and it was not a night for pretty football.
So the Valiants were looking for a quick start and Vincent's early sighter from 20 yards, which failed to trouble experienced keeper Neil Sullivan, was perhaps a signal of intent.
Jennison Myrie-Williams blasted a 30-yard free-kick into the wall after 12 minutes before the home side made the break through a minute later.
Ryan Burge swung over a fine free-kick from the left, and Hughes was given acres of space to glance home a header from close range.
Perhaps the Wimbledon defence had been attracted like flies to 27-goal striker Tom Pope. But it was really bad defending and there was no excuse.
Vale weren't complaining though, and the early goal they'd been looking for had duly arrived.
While Wimbledon were feeling hard done by when referee Mark Brown waived away claims for a penalty after Gary Alexander had been brought down, Dan Jones ventured forward after 18 minutes to send a hard and low effort skimming past the far post as the home side maintained their early momentum.
Hughes saw a shot from 20 yards fielded by Sullivan after 26 minutes, though keeper Chris Neal had to be alert to hold an angled effort from Alexander soon after and Toby Ajala wasn't far wide with a speculative shot from a similar position. But Vale deservedly doubled their lead after 36 minutes. Myrie-Williams danced into the box from out wide and, though he was dispossessed, the ball bounced around on the edge of the box before landing at the feet of Vincent.
The winger pulled the trigger from 20 yards and a big deflection wrong-footed Sullivan and took the ball into the opposite corner of the net.
Vale continued to hold the upper hand in the boggy conditions after half-time and were pressing hard when first Vincent and then Jones put in decent crosses that only just failed to find a recipient.
Wimbledon made a double substitution on 58 minutes with that man Midson and Paul McCallum replacing Alexander and Peter Sweeney.
And Midson almost made an immediate impact, racing clear after a long punt forward had been headed beyond the Vale defence only to see his shot from an angle well kept out by Neal.
Ben Williamson replaced Hughes not long after the hour mark and Richard Duffy very nearly scored his first goal for the Valiants soon after. Set up by good work from Vincent, the right-back drilled a shot from an angle only inches wide of the far post.
They were even closer after 67 minutes when Williamson's cross from a tight angle was met by a typical thumping header from Pope, but the ball cannoned off the crossbar and went over.
Myrie-Williams set up Pope, whose shot from 16 yards was deflected over before Vincent made it 3-0 with a cracking finish on 75 minutes.
Myrie-Williams, having switched wings, sent over another inviting cross from the left and Vincent took one touch before hammering a fine shot from eight yards into the net. Game over. Sammy Moore tried to reply for the down-and-out Dons, only to have his shot from 18 yards kept out by the ever-alert Neal.
Wide boys Myrie-Williams and Vincent were replaced by Calvin Andrew and Chris Birchall with little more than 10 minutes to go, but there was little change in the course of the match.
Duffy's cross was headed high and wide as Pope looked to get in on the goalscoring act with five minutes left, though the battling visitors did their best to find a consolation and substitute Stacy Long wriggled clear only to fire off target from the edge of the area.
Another Long effort was deflected just over by Darren Purse and Rashid Yussuff fired in an effort from the resulting corner which Neal did well to push to safety.
The Dons' late flurry will have done little, however, to warm the hearts of the hardy 147 fans who had bothered to make the long trip north.
They deserved a medal for effort, but went home empty-handed in the end.