Vale 4 Bristol Rovers 0
This was a difficult game to analyse. Mark Grew stressed in his pre-match comments the importance of beginning at a high tempo. The message may have been sent but it did not appear to have been understood. Vale started almost as ploddingly as they did on Saturday, managing very little but hopeful long punts in the first twenty minutes. The towering Eaves posed a goal threat for Bristol Rovers and Vale looked worryingly open at the back and in the centre of midfield. The first goal was going to be important. Tom Pope duly provided it, chesting down a nothing pass before turning and hitting the ball in at the far post. Two minutes later he hung in mid-air, while leaning backwards, to head in a deep cross from Ashley Vincent. This ought to have been game over, but somehow Vale contrived to look uncomfortable even when they went 3-0 up after Williamson bundled the ball into the net following another excellent header from Pope, which came back off the post.
The game ought to have been completely dead and buried in the five minutes after half time, when first Williamson missed an absolute sitter and then Pope might have done better with another good deep cross. Pope, who terrorised the Rovers` defence throughout the game, deservedly got his hat-trick after a reckless piece of goalkeeping by Etheridge. Despite the score I am not sure that this represents a return to the dominant form of a few weeks ago. I have a soft spot for the Gasheads, but this was by some distance the worst Bristol Rovers team I have ever seen. They occasionally looked good going forward, but defensively they were brittle in the extreme and they looked thoroughly bedraggled by the end.
Apart from Pope, there were good performances from Burge and (encouragingly) from Kingsley James. Neal was calm and authoritative. Yates, apart from one rick, looked rather better at left back than he does at right. Myrie-Williams proved adept at beating his (many) markers, but continually chose the wrong option when he got into the box or to the by-line. Williamson too often failed to control the ball and allowed defenders to dispossess him. He really needs the ball in front of him, not to his feet. Vincent had a generally ineffective game against Smith, who was Rovers` best player. Ryan Lloyd showed in another cameo appearance that he can pick a pass and does not give the ball away. The clean sheet was especially welcome, but this owed more to the incompetence of the Rovers` attackers than to sterling defending by the Vale. It was difficult to believe Rovers missed two free headers in the second half. Perhaps the force emanating from the Sproson Statue was the explanation. I can think of no rational one. Still, it was a good night off the field and the other results went for us. Onward and upward!
Report by Burslem Boy