Vale kicked off the 2018/19 campaign in style on Saturday as they extended their opening day unbeaten run which stretches back to 2004. Ricky Miller’s first half free-kick sent the Valiants on their way before Tom Pope bagged a brace to secure all three points against Cambridge United.
With Scott Brown, Connell Rawlinson, Luke Joyce, Manny Oyeleke and Miller all making their first starts for the club, Vale were hoping for a positive start. However, it was Cambridge who had the first opportunity of the afternoon on eight minutes as Ade Azeez headed wide from close range.
The Valiants soon began to threaten up the other end though, with Miller almost beating David Forde to a David Worrall cross two minutes later, only for the goalkeeper to claim and relieve the danger. Azeez then turned a George Maris free-kick towards goal via an outstretched leg up the other end on 18 minutes, but his effort was comfortable for Brown.
Following what was a nervy opening from both sides, it was Vale who almost pulled themselves ahead with 27 minutes played. James Gibbons’ cross created the chance as it was met by a Tom Pope flick-on, but Rawlinson failed to make clean contact with his half-volley and it skewed wide of the target from 12 yards.
Pope was the next to go close for the hosts after 34 minutes as he attacked a floated free-kick from Luke Hannant at the far post. Forde managed to get a fingertip to the delivery, but it still found its way to the striker who was unable to direct his header from six yards as he attempted to keep his balance.
Vale’s positive end to the first half was rewarded with the breakthrough goal as Miller was fouled just on the edge of the area. The debutant then stepped up to take the free-kick, and he curled it into the far corner to send Vale Park into raptures and ensure the hosts went in with a lead.
It didn’t take long for Aspin’s men to further their advantage following the restart as Miller was at the centre of the action once more. He was fouled inside the area after some tidy build-up play with Pope, and the latter rifled the spot kick into the back of the net with real velocity.
With the home supporters revelling in the excitement, the players continued to push forward down on the pitch and Pope almost doubled his own tally after 58 minutes, but he could only head Hannant’s pinpoint cross wide. Cambridge then thought they had pulled a goal back just a minute later, only for Brown to deny Azeez from point blank range.
As the half wore on, Vale gained more control and they went inches away from stretching their lead to three in the 67thminute. Pope and Hannant combined to pick out Luke Joyce who forced Forde into a smart save, but the rebound fell to Hannant and his powerful drive dropped narrowly wide of the post from 25 yards.
Just two minutes later, the home supporters were off of their seats again as Vale did find the net for a third time. Cristian Montano did well to skip down the byline before lofting a cross towards the back post, and Pope was on hand to meet it with a downwards header that nestled into the corner to make it 3-0.
With Pope hungry for a hat-trick, Worrall threaded him through on goal again on 73 minutes and he was denied by a low save from Forde. The loose ball dropped to Miller, however, but he could only smash his effort over the bar from close range before leaving the field to a standing ovation.
Port Vale: Brown, Gibbons, Smith, Rawlinson, Montano, Worrall, Oyeleke (Tonge 73), Joyce, Hannant, Pope ©, Miller (Dodds 74).
Unused Substitutes: Hornby, Legge, Vassell, Quigley, Kanu.
Cambridge United: Forde, Carroll, Taft, Taylor, Deegan ©, Amoo (Osadebe 73), Azeez, Dunk (Corr 65), DaviesMaris, Lambe (O’Neil 83).
Unused Substitutes: Mitov, Darling, Knowles, John.
Attendance: 5,559 (421 away).