Port Vale: Valiants shrug off troubles to beat Northampton
PORT Vale once again made light of their perilous financial plight to extend their unbeaten run to five games with a 2-1 success at struggling Northampton Town.
The script was written for former Vale midfielder Chris Birchall to make his second debut for the club.
But in the build-up to kick off it emerged that the deal had been blocked by a Football League transfer embargo imposed over the club's failure to pay a tax bill.
Any anticipation felt by Vale's 456 travelling fans quickly turned to despair and concern about the club's future.
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But Micky Adams's men soon lifted their mood by storming out of the traps to take an early lead through John McCombe's headed goal.
The Valiants threatened to brush aside Aidy Boothroyd's outfit by delivering an excellent first-half attacking display packed with dynamism and a sprinkling of panache.
But they had to wait until just before the hour mark to double their lead with Sean Rigg's ninth goal of the campaign.
The visitors weren't as dominant in the second half and endured a nervy closing period after Adebayo Akinfenwa netted for Northampton with nine minutes remaining.
But overall Vale were good value for their fourth win in five games, which saw them close the gap to the League Two play-off spots to three points.
"We were terrific in the first half," said Vale boss Adams.
"We started on the front foot and their keeper made two great saves to stop them from going in at half time two or three goals down.
"We deserved the goal we did get in the first half and played some good football as well.
"I thought our team shape was good and caused them problems.
"It wasn't until the latter stages of the second half, when we went a bit deeper and they played more direct, that they troubled us."
Vale were boosted when makeshift left-back Rob Taylor and centre-back Clayton McDonald declared themselves fit after struggling with Achilles tendon and hamstring injuries respectively.
Keeper Matt Duke played a huge role in denying Vale a bigger first-half lead by producing two outstanding saves to deny Louis Dodds.
Dodds met Rigg's cross on four minutes, but his first-time drive was beaten away by Duke before full-back Blair Adams cleared the danger.
Vale took the lead moments later. A Paul Marshall corner was cleared to Doug Loft on the right-hand corner of the Northampton penalty box.
The right-back clipped the ball to the far left-hand post where McCombe steered his header into the net.
It was the 26-year-old's second goal of the campaign – the other coming in Vale's 3-0 home win over the Cobblers last October.
It took Northampton until the 10th minute to register their first shot when a Ben Harding drive cleared the bar.
Duke came to the fore again on 16 minutes when Dodds met another Marshall corner, but his glancing close-range header was palmed to safety.
Vale lost some of their cutting edge as the half wore on as Northampton offered a little more resistance.
Brett Williams wasted a good opportunity by smashing an angled drive wide of the near left-hand Vale post on 25 minutes before Loft blazed over at the other end.
Chris Shuker was left bewildered at the end of the half when referee Gavin Ward waved away his penalty appeal after going down under Guttridge's challenge in the box.
Williams went close again five minutes after the break when the otherwise redundant Stuart Tomlinson produced a superb tip-over save to block his powerful header.
Tomlinson was busy again soon after when claimed a Guttridge shot which had been flicked on by Cobblers centre-back Kelvin Langmead.
But Rigg made it 2-0 on 58 minutes, racing on to Loft's ball over-the-top before rounding Duke and guiding the ball into the empty net.
Akinfenwa had scored in each of his last three outings against the Vale, but he was enduring a quiet and frustrating afternoon.
However, he came to life on 66 minutes when he aimed a weak over-head kick straight at Tomlinson before the Londoner's rasping 16-yard strike was deflected wide.
Langmead met the corner, but his header from an acute angle was kept out by Tomlinson.
Vale appeared largely comfortable as the club ticked down, but their resilience was tested when Akinfenwa netted on 81 minutes.
He met Jake Robinson's low centre to crash the ball into the net from the edge of the six-yard box, sparking a jittery final few minutes for Vale.
Guttridge, Akinfenwa and centre-back Clark Carlisle all missed the target during a hectic finale, but Vale held on.
Adams was full of praise for his team, particularly the contributions of winger Chris Shuker and Marshall.
"Competition for places is of paramount importance at any club," added Adams.
"Once again we saw that Marshall and Shuker have got a bit of quality about them, but I can't take anything away from any of the boys.
"We've got a make-shift defence, so it's a tremendous effort to keep grinding out results.
"It's not just about the new lads, it's about the rest of the group buying into what we're trying to do and the way they keep going."