Port Vale: Pope double fires club to victory at Exeter
ON A day when Exeter were celebrating their somewhat bizarre connection with Brazil, it was a man from altogether more humble origins who stole the show.
Striker Tom Pope continued his incredible run of form with a two-goal blast which ensured the only carnival atmosphere at the end of the game was among joyous visiting supporters celebrating their team's fifth away win in a row.
The front man, from Sneyd Green, overtook his best-ever season's tally by making it 11 for the season – from just 13 games – with a goal in each half as the pre-match party atmosphere at St James Park fell flat.
Exeter, apparently, were the first ever opponents of the Brazil national side. The club was touring South America in 1914 and just happened to be in the right place at the right time when the country was forming a team for the first time.
The Grecians are now hoping to feature in a return match to mark the centenary of that occasion ahead of the 2014 World Cup in Rio.
But the club's tribute to their historic role in the emergence of a whole country as a footballing power became very much lost as the visitors produced some sexy football of their own.
The fact that victory was accomplished with such a minimum of fuss, against a City side just two points behind their high-flying visitors at the start of play, simply highlighted the dominant nature of another memorable away day.
Not quite 'like watching Brazil', but enjoyable nonetheless.
Boss Micky Adams's prediction that his wing-men, subdued in the last three games, would flourish once more proved spot on and Pope was the lucky beneficiary yet again to maintain his quirky record of finding the net in every odd-numbered game so far.
Jet-heeled Jennison Myrie-Williams made the first following a breath-taking run from the halfway line five minutes before half-time.
He raced down the right flank to float over a delicate chip towards the far post, where Pope rose above his marker to thump a header into the top corner.
Ashley Vincent then followed suit with a dazzling run of his own just after the hour mark. A pinpoint cross gave Pope the chance to climb above left-back Craig Woodman at the far post and direct another header across keeper Rhys Evans into the corner of the net.
While there had been little to get excited about before the opening goal, the Valiants took the game by the scruff of the neck after the break.
Exeter enjoyed plenty of possession around the middle third, but failed to truly penetrate a well-organised rearguard and it was the visitors who posed much the stronger threat with attacking thrusts full of pace and power.
And even when the home side did finally force a way through to goal, late in the second half, keeper Chris Neal – sporting a protective face mask, pictured left, as a result of a bruised cheekbone sustained in midweek – was on hand to keep his clean sheet in tact.
Vale had set the tone pretty much from the start with Myrie-Williams and Louis Dodds firing sighters to provide a warning of things to come.
With danger man Jamie Cureton kept firmly under wraps, Exeter offered little going forward and the visitors were growing into the game, prompted by the influential hard work of Sam Morsy.
His deep cross on 27 minutes found Pope lurking in the area and a strong header across goal was almost bundled in by Dodds, who was just squeezed out of it by strong defending from Danny Coles.
The game remained largely devoid of major incident until everything changed after 40 minutes. Myrie-Williams produced a trick to beat Woodman on halfway to set off on that scorching run which was finished off by a striker enjoying the form of his life.
The second half followed a similar pattern, as Exeter enjoyed the lion's share of possession without causing any great alarm, though there was bad news for Vale when skipper Doug Loft, having been moved into midfield at the expense of Ryan Burge, was forced to hobble off after 51 minutes.
The home crowd finally had something to get excited about when Coles's cross from the left was headed against the crossbar and over by Steve Tully. But if Grecians fans thought that would spark their team into life at last, they had another think coming.
For they were two down, with a mountain to climb, on 62 minutes with Vincent's piece of magic putting the ball on a plate for that man Pope once more.
Morsy could have wrapped it up soon after but, having been put through by a combination of impressive substitute Burge and Pope, the midfielder rammed his shot against the goalkeeper's legs and the danger was cleared.
Exeter threw on three substitutes of their own to mount a late rally which culminated in their best chance of the match with eight minutes to go.
A cross from the right was met by Guillem Bauza, but his flick header was brilliantly turned away by Neal, diving to his right. The keeper, guilty of a bad mistake which gave Dagenham and Redbridge a goal in midweek, had made amends and Adams felt that was the turning point.
"Chris made a fantastic stop," he said.
"We're seeing the game out, but if that goes in it's 2-1 and maybe the game will change.
"I said to him afterwards 'that's the life of a goalkeeper… one minute you let a soft one in which probably cost us a couple of points, but today you probably rescued a couple of points with that save'."
So that was that – the first time the Valiants have won five away games in a row since John Rudge's team which clinched the Autoglass Trophy and went on to lose the play-off final against West Bromwich Albion in 1993/94.
No Vale team has ever won six in a row on the road. But who would bet against Adams's own samba stars doing just that in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy at Walsall tomorrow?