Port Vale v Southend United
Friday 26th February 2016
At Vale Park
Attendance: 3,957 including 286 visiting supporters
Vale didn’t allow Southend’s victory over leader Burton Albion to bother them too much as they turned on the style in the opening forty-five minutes to more or less put the game to bed by half time.
Man of the Match Michael O’Connor was instrumental in all three of Vale’s goals crossing for the opener from Ajay Leitch-Smith in the 18th minute before getting in on the act himself with Vale’s second in the 36th minute.
Then in the 40th minute it was his free-kick which was floated into the visitors’ box only for Southend defender Ben Coker to deflect the ball past his own goalkeeper for Vale’s third.
Southend hit a consolation goal in the 94th minute through substitute Sam McQueen and then David Mooney, aanother second half substitute smashed a spot kick against Chris Neal's crossbar a minute later.
Rob Page made two changes for the visit of play-off hopefuls Southend United, with Theo Robinson dropping to the bench to make way for Louis Dodds and Michael O’Connor coming in for Byron Moore.
Any plans Vale may have had to start the game pressing high up the pitch were nullified somewhat by a determined Southend side who looked to have a similar game plan.
Vale’s first attack of any substance came in the 9th minute when skipper Carl Dickinson surged up the left flank and threaded the ball through to Louis Dodds, who elected to shoot early, but Dan Bentley in the visitors goal made a fairly routine save.
Good work from Dodds on the right saw him release Kennedy down the line and his cross towards the far post was met by the head of Michael O’Connor, but again it posed no real threat to Bentley.
Tyron Barnett issued a warning to the Vale with a 25 yard shot which dipped slightly and only just cleared the Vale crossbar, showing what a threat he could pose to the home side.
GOAL:Vale got their noses in front in the 18th minute when the ball driven in low from the left from O’Connor’s flag kick and when the ball fell to AJAY LEITCH-SMITH he forced the ball over the line from close range.
It was no more than Vale deserved as, whilst they were hardly ripping up tress, they had been having slightly the better of things up to that point.
GOAL:Vale continued to boss things and they were rewarded with a second goal in the 36th minute when MICHAEL O’CONNOR took full advantage of a moment of hesitancy in the Southend defence to smash the ball home from the edge of the box.
They always say you are most vulnerable when you have just scored and that was almost proved moments later when the visitors went close, the ball coming back off Chris Neal’ left upright.
GOAL: But it was Vale who were celebrating again on the 40th minute when Michael O’Connor curled a free kick into the visitors penalty area and the ball was deflected past his own ‘keeper by Ben Coker.
Vale may have started the game just a little stutter, but by half time they were good value for their three-goal lead and the fans showed their appreciation after the Vale display in the opening forty five minutes had helped them warm up somewhat.
Vale knew the visitors were going to have to throw caution to the wind if they were to get back into the game in the second period and they adjusted accordingly.
The home side could afford to be patient, soak things up and hit Phil Brown’s men whenever the spaces opened up for them to do so.
That doesn’t mean the Vale sat back and invited the visitors to attack them – far from it, but there was obviously less urgency with a three-goal cushion.
Vale made their first change midway through the second half, Ajay Leitch-Smith making way for JJ Hooper, allowing the top scorer a bit of a rest in preparation for the midweek trip to Oldham Athletic.
Sam Foley and Hooper both went close to adding a fourth, and a spectacular effort from outside the box from Dodds had the fans on their feet in anticipation of the net bulging, but it flew just wide of the target.
Valee made a further substitution in the 86th minute when Sam Kelly left the bench to replace Matty Kennedy.
Substitute Sam McQueen pulled a goal back for the visitors in the fourth minute of stoppage time but it was nothing more than a consolation goal. A minute later the visitors had a golden opportunity to grab another goal, but Mooney's spot kick crashed against the crossbar.
PORT VALE:Chris Neal, Ben Marshall, Richard Duffy, Ryan McGivern, Carl Dickinson, Matty Kennedy, Michael O’Connor, Anthont Grant, Sam Foley, Louis Dodds, Ajay Leitch-Smith. SUBS: Remie Streete, JJ Hooper, Adam Yates, Michael Brown, Sam Kelly, Ryan Boot, Theo Robinson
SOUTHEND UNITED: Dan Bentley, Ben Coker, Anthony Wordsworth, Michael Timlin, Jack Payne, Will Atkinson, Cian Bolger, Noel Hunt, Tyron Barnett, Luke O’Niell, Adam Barrett. SUBS: Adam Thompson, Dave Worrall, David Mooney, Ted Smith, Stephen McLaughlin, Sam McQueen, Gary Deegan