Walsall v Port Vale
The Banks's Stadium
Saturday 14th February 2015
Attendance: 4,503 including 723 visiting supporters
A great afternoon’s work saw Vale not only record a rare away win at Walsall, but that much coveted clean sheet, their first since the blank against Rochdale back in November.
It wasn’t exactly a Valentines Day massacre, but there was much love being shown amongst the Vale supporters behind the goal when Tom Pope powered a header into the net in the 28th minute.
When the final whistle was blown after a full five minutes of stoppage time, there were no red roses, but plenty of huge grins, with a sprinkling of relief as Vale took the prize.
Vale made three changes to the starting eleven as Rob Page went in search of a first clean sheet since November, which meant new loan signing Ryan Inniss was thrown straight in at the heart of the defence.
He was joined in the starting eleven by Byron Moore, who impressed at Ashton Gate in midweek, and Ben Williamson, who returned from injury.
There was no place on the Vale bench for two of the players who started the game against league leaders Bristol City – neither Achille Campion nor Richard Duffy made the squad to play Walsall.
It was a decent enough start for the Vale, with Rob Page’s side having plenty of the ball in the opening exchanges and much of their possession was inside their opponents half.
There was very little created by either side in terms of goal scoring opportunities, but that didn’t keep the Vale fans behind the goal from making plenty of noise
But it was the home supporters who were on their feet on 16 minutes when former Vale loanee Romaine Sawyers made room for the shot on the edge of the box, but thankfully he shot straight at Chris Neal.
The home supporters were calling for a penalty a few moments later when Sawyers went down inside the Vale box, but the referee was well positioned and he immediately waved play on.
The home side again had shouts for a spot kick waved aside when Jordy Hiwula went down in the 18 yard box when challenged by new boy Ryan Inniss.
Vale went close in the 28th minute when a long ball from Inniss was knocked into Williamson’s cross by Pope, but although the Vale striker got inside the box he was prevented from getting in a shot by former Vale loanee James O’Connor.
GOAL: Less than thirty seconds later the visitors were in front when a left wing cross from skipper Carl Dickinson was met by the head of TOM POPE, and there was much too much power on it for Richard O’Donnell in the Saddlers’ goal to do anything about it.
Vale’s clean sheet was in jeopardy in the 36th minute when Sawyers again found room for a shot, beating Chris Neal from the edge of the box, but to the Vale ‘keeper’s relief, the ball struck the base of his right hand upright before being cleared.
There was a scare for the Vale in the 41st minute when the home side were awarded a free kick right on the edge of the Vale box when Jordan Cook went down, but the Vale wall did its job, blocking Cook’s attempt at goal.
Vale made a substitution at the start of the second half with Chris Lines coming off the bench to replace Michael Brown as Vale looked to out-pass the home side in the middle of the park.
Walsall had a great opportunity to level the scores when Hiwula got in behind the Vale defence in the 52nd minute, but, slightly off balance, he could only prod the ball wide of the target.
Then at the other end Vale were awarded a free kick on the edge of the box when Moore was brought down. Michael O’Connor saw it as a chance to shoot and O’Donnell had to be at his best to make the save.
Byron Moore had a shot saved at the foot of the post and Vale had to make do with a corner as Vale increased the pressure on the home side.
Ryan Inniss went close to a debut goal with a towering header which wasn’t too far off the mark, before the home side began to apply a spell of pressure themselves.
One move began by Chris Lines, who chased a return pass from team mate Tom Pope saw the Vale midfielder clear the advertising hoardings behind the goal and he landed in a heap in the second row.
Thankfully neither he nor the nearby Walsall supporters were hurt by the incident and Lines was soon back in action where it mattered.
A shot from Saddlers’ skipper Adam Chambers looked to have been handled on the edge of the box by Lines just minutes later, but again the referee ruled in favour of the Valiants.
A 25 yard free kick taken by Andy Taylor was well held by Chris Neal with the home side now desperately looked to get something from the game.
A minute later Vale made a second change with 6 minutes of the game plus stoppage time remaining when Tommy O’Sullivan came off the bench for his Vale debut, replacing Ben Williamson.
With ninety minutes of the game played it was indicated there would be five minutes of stoppage time to be played – it was somewhat of a mystery how that decision could be justified, but Vale just had to get on with it.
During stoppage time Vale made a third substitution when Chris Birchall was sent into the fray, with Mark Marshall getting a well-earned rest.
WALSALL: Richard O’Donnell, Ben Purkiss, Andy Taylor, James O’Connor, Paul Downing, Adam Chambers, Romaine Sawyers, James Baxendale, Michael Cain, Jordan Cook, Jordy Hiwula. SUBS: Matt Preston, Reece Flanagan, Liam Kinsella, Ashley Grimes, Rico Henry, Jordan Murphy, Craig MacGillivray
PORT VALE: Chris Neal, Fredi Veseli, Chris Robertson, Ryan Inniss, Carl Dickinson, Byron Moore, Michael Brown, Michael O’Connor, Mark Marshall, Ben Williamson, Tom Pope. SUBS: Adam Yates, Ryan McGivern, Chris Birchall, Chris Lines, Greg Luer, Tommy O’Sullivan, Sam Johnson