Tom Pope netted four of Vale's five goals as Vale turned the screw in the second half after a first half in which neither side particularly impressed.
Vale made nine changes for the second half and the home side made several substitutions of their own, but it was the visitors who began to do the business.
Tom Pope put Micky Adams's side in front five minutes after the interval when he nodded home after good work from Adam Yates and Chris Shuker.
Two minutes later Vale doubled their advantage when a shot from Ben Williamson came back out to Loius Dodds and he hit Vale's second.
Pope grabbed his second goal of the game when he beat two Athlone defenders before beating the home 'keeper and a minute later he completed his hat-trick when he met a low cross from Yates.
In the 81st minute it was Pope again, heading home a cross from Williamson to claim his third goal in four minutes, his fourth and Vale's fifth of the game to wrap up a comfortable Vale win.