Pope Provides Vale With Easter Blessing
Tom Pope returned to scoring ways, and in some style as the Valiants secured a thrilling win over promotion rivals Cheltenham Town at Vale Park.
With Doug Loft missing for personal reasons and Chris Birchall, Sam Morsy and Ryan Burge also unavailable, Micky Adams had little to choose from in midfield. Louis Dodds occupied the central role alongside Anthony Griffith with Rob Taylor selected on the left wing.
Vale started brightly, and for much of the first half produced some of the high tempo pressing football that was so evident during the early months of the season. Lee Hughes thought he had given the home side an early lead when heading in from close range, but from an offside position. The former Notts County striker injured his hamstring in the process and was replaced by Ben Williamson. Whether that was the catalyst for Pope to resume his fabulous scoring season, who knows. However, he didn`t have to wait long to give Vale a deserved lead, heading home unchallenged from Daniel Jones` cross. The game could have been over by the interval had Vale taken any of their presentable opportunities to go further ahead. Not for the first time this season, Jennison Myrie-Williams 'saw off` an opposing full back. This time the unfortunate victim was Billy Jones, who was given the run around in the first 45 minutes. If Myrie-Williams` final product was as good as much of his approach play, he would be a frightening prospect. As it was, several over hit crosses and some fine work by Brown in the Cheltenham goal kept the visitors in the game.
Indeed, the Robins came into the game as the half wore on. First, Kaid Mohamed shot straight At Neal from six yards out, then Paul Benson came even closer when hitting the cross bar with a header.
Credit must go to Mark Yates who made a double change at half time. Replacing the tormented Jones and moving the impressive Jombati to left back to deal with Myrie-Williams and changing his system to 4-4-2 and bringing on Byron Harrison who proved to be a real handful. It was the former AFC Wimbledon striker who created the equaliser immediately, capitalising on an error by John McCombe. Despite a smart save by Neal, Mohamed was on hand to tap home. Despite a lot of criticism surrounding Vale`s lack of pace at centre half, the simple fact is that whoever plays simply doesn`t attack the ball well enough. Harrison won everything in the air in the second half and frequently proved too physical for either Chilvers or McCombe to cope with.
Disaster followed when Benson poked home after Neal had saved well. The ensuing altercation between the Vale keeper and Pope showed the increasing tension. Importantly, Vale replied almost instantly. Poor marking and some clever movement from Pope saw him side foot home from Myrie-Williams` corner. The game was becoming increasingly stretched. Harrison should have restored the lead. Latching on to Marlon Pack`s through ball, he calmly rounded Neal, only to see his shot cleared off the line by McCombe.
The final word had to go to Pope. Named as the League Two player of the season last week, he showed exactly why with a clinical winner. A fantastic pass by Louis Dodds set Pope free and he made no mistake with an expert finish, lifting the ball over the advancing Brown to give the Valiants a huge three points.