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Tom Pope on securing Vale's League Two status at Mansfield

22 April 2018

Tom Pope headed home his 19th goal of the season in the 89th minute as Vale earned a point away to promotion-chasing Mansfield Town, but the strike had added significance as it ensured that the Valiants will be playing in Sky Bet League Two again next season.

Despite defending courageously to keep Mansfield at bay, an unfortunate Kyle Howkins own goal handed the home side a 72nd-minute lead and it looked as if Neil Aspin's men would have to settle for defeat at Field Mill.

However, Pope was relieved to add to his goal scoring tally late on and although he admits that he and his teammates were not at their best, he was delighted to secure mathematical safety and alleviate the pressure going into the final two games of the season.

"It was a relief. We were confident that we would be safe anyway, but you still have to go out there and perform. To be fair we didn't, we were poor and lucky to get a point," the striker said.

"Over a season they even themselves out. There has been many times this year where we have dominated games and lost, so to come away with a point is something we will take.

"There wasn't really much time for Mansfield to create anything after we had scored, and I thought we could have nicked it at the end when Ben (Whitfield) got down the byline, but it was pretty safe after that."

On the character of the squad, he added: "We have a lot of experience in the team, certainly in the middle today and that means we are constantly talking. 

"I know the back four are young and they probably don't speak as much as we'd like, but that will come as they become more familiar with each other.

"In games like today where you are getting dominated and you are struggling, your experienced players are the ones who try and get you out.

"If you start running around like headless chickens the opposition will pick you off, but we kept our shape and it was important to keep ourselves in the game to try and nick something at the end - fortunately we did that."

After being introduced as a second-half substitute, it was Dan Turner who claimed the assist for the dramatic equaliser and Pope was impressed with the youngster's impact.

The 19-year-old flicked the ball into Pope's path and he duly obliged with the finish before wheeling away towards the away supporters who were celebrating wildly. Almost 600 Valiants made the trip to Nottinghamshire, and Pope reserved special praise for them too.

Reflecting on the goal, he said: "Luke (Hannant) has played a great ball in behind and Dan was alert to it. I was as well, but Dan is a lot quicker than I am so he managed to lift it over the 'keeper and I got a flick on it to send it into the net.

"I didn't have many touches in the game and it was the first chance I had, but I will take it. The fans stuck with us and they never really got on our backs, even when Mansfield were on top and boxing us in a little bit - we were struggling to get out and we couldn't keep hold of the ball.

"But to keep the score at 1-0 was massive. Earlier on in the season we would go a goal down and crumble, but we have kept ourselves in it and it was brilliant to find an equaliser like we did."

With just two games now remaining of the 2017/18 campaign, Pope is looking forward to being able to play without too much pressure, particularly in front of a home crowd next weekend as Carlisle United travel to Burslem.

Despite it not being a necessity to pick up points now, the 32-year-old forward is determined to finish the season strongly with some good performances. He also has the opportunity to reach 20 goals for the season and potentially become the record goal scorer at Vale Park, but he is focused on helping the team first and foremost.

"We have played under a lot of pressure this year after the start we had and it becomes difficult as supporters are on your back because they expect more, but we expected better of ourselves as well," he said.

"The fans have gradually got behind us and we have put in some decent performances without getting much to show for them, but they have stuck with us and it has made a massive difference.

"Your last home game of the season is always great, people will take their kids and hopefully it will be a nice day for it. With today's result, we can now go out there to enjoy it and express ourselves now the pressure is off.

"Now I have got to the 19-goal mark, with two games left, I will try my best to make it 20. I think any striker would see that as a decent season, certainly after not scoring in the opening 11 or 12 games.

"It has been my second highest scoring season of my career, so hopefully I can get a few more between now and the end of it."


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