Port Vale’s five-game unbeaten run in Sky Bet League Two came to an end on New Year’s Day as they battled bravely away to Notts County, only for Jon Stead to fire in a decisive penalty in the latter stages of the game at Meadow Lane.
The game started at a high tempo as the opening exchanges saw both teams battle for possession, but it was the home side who created the first chance of the afternoon, Lewis Alessandra seeing a powerful strike blocked well by the returning Tom Anderson on five minutes.
Up the other end five minutes later, it was Anderson who got on the end of a flick from Ben Whitfield to volley just over the bar from inside the area. Whitfield was involved again on 13 minutes as his cross looked to be heading towards a Vale shirt at the far post, but Ross Fitzsimons did well to claw it away from danger.
Vale almost found themselves in front after 19 minutes as a Danny Pugh corner caused havoc in the Notts County area. Following a few ricochets, the ball found its way to Whitfield, but his low effort was blocked by the leg of Richard Duffy. The hosts then applied some pressure themselves just a minute later as Jonathan Forte and Jorge Grant both went close.
As the Magpies began to dictate proceedings, some neat build-up saw them fashion an opportunity on 29 minutes as Matt Tootle burst down the right following a tidy touch that took him beyond Pugh. He then squared the ball to Jonathan Stead who could only send a strike over the bar from 18 yards.
Three minutes later, County came forward once more as Dan Jones drilled a low cross towards Forte, but his touch towards goal was thwarted by Ryan Boot who reacted well to scramble across his line and tip the ball wide. The goalkeeper was on hand again on 36 minutes to pull off another fine save, this time denying Ryan Yates’ header from point-blank range.
With the first half entering its final moments, Whitfield arrowed a volley over from the edge of the box on 41 minutes after the ball sat up kindly for the midfielder. One minute into stoppage time, Vale had another opportunity to open the scoring, but Antony Kay directed a header off target after latching onto a free-kick from Michael Tonge.
Following the restart, Vale came out strongly and Marcus Harness won his team a corner on 51 minutes as his cross was deflected behind. Pugh’s delivery then found Anderson at the back post, but his drive towards goal was blocked.
Two minutes later, Harness had a chance of his own after he weaved his way into the area, but it was the same outcome as the home defence threw bodies on the line to get in front of the shot. Notts County then appealed optimistically for a penalty on the hour mark as Forte fell to ground after skipping past Harness, but the referee was unmoved.
Vale almost fell behind after 68 minutes, but they were let off after the home side wasted an opportunity from inside the six-yard area. Just seconds after coming on a substitute, Callum Saunders beat the offside trap to present himself with a free header, but he nodded it way off target with only Boot to beat.
Up the other end with 77 minutes played, Tyrone Barnett sent an acrobatic volley just wide of the far post from 20 yards. Two minutes later, the striker was at the centre of another attack as he hung up a cross that was aimed towards David Worrall, but the midfielder’s header was comfortable for Fitzsimons to gather.
Despite their valiant effort, Vale fell behind with just four minutes to play after Notts County were awarded a penalty. Harness was penalised for bringing down Stead inside the area, and after getting up to take the spot-kick himself, the experienced striker sealed a win for Kevin Nolan’s men. Barnett went close in the dying embers, but it wasn’t to be.
Notts County: Fitzsimons, Tootle, Hewitt, Duffy ©, Alessandra, Grant, Forte (Saunders 67), Brisley, Yates, Jones, Stead (Smith 90).
Unused Substitutes: Pindroch, Dickinson, Hawkridge, Hunt, Walker.
Port Vale: Boot, Davis, Anderson (Gibbons 60), Smith, Pugh, Kay, Tonge, Harness, Whitfield (Worrall 70), Montano (Barnett 45), Pope ©
Unused Substitutes: Lainton, Denton, Forrester, Turner.
Attendance: 7,214 (1,104 Vale).