Port Vale bowed out off The Emirates FA Cup on Sunday afternoon as Sunderland ran out 2-1 winners at Vale Park, however Neil Aspin was delighted with his side's performance.
The First Round FA Cup tie was the first televised fixture to be played at Vale Park for just over six years as Sunderland visited Burslem in a rich vein of form.
The Valiants got off to the worst possible start in front of the BT cameras, conceding within 40 seconds of kick-off, as George Honeyman slotted home from the edge of the box to give The Black Cats an early lead. Things got that much more difficult with 19 minutes played as Lynden Gooch doubled Sunderland's lead, swivelling on the edge of the box before finishing into the bottom corner.
However, weathering a lot of Sunderland pressure in the opening stages, Vale fought back in dramatic style as Tom Pope scored his eighth goal of the season to bring Aspin's side right back into the side. The home side threw everything at Jack Ross' Sunderland in the second-half, though just couldn't find that crucial goal to send the tie to a playoff, as The Black Cats progressed to the second round of the competition.
Despite the loss, the gaffer was 'proud' of his Port Vale side, having given everything they could have to get the result on the day.
He said: "I've got mixed emotions because you don't want to be going out of the cup, but I'm pleased with the efforts of the players.
"We had a disastrous start, and when you go 2-0 down you're then looking to see what the players have got - are they going to roll up their sleeves or are they just going to buckle under?
"I'm really pleased with the way they responded after that and once we got the goal, we really pushed them hard."
"I'm proud because at 2-0 they have to show character and they've got to show determination and spirit and they did that and if they continue to do that in every game this season, then I'll be happy."
Having gone 2-0 down in the opening 20 minutes of the game, the Vale boss decided to show his hand first by completely changing his system, replacing Theo Vassell with Manny Oyeleke to adapt his formation.
The change in system turned the game on it's head as Vale looked the more likely once the change had been made, and it proved effective when substitute Oyeleke threaded a perfect through ball for Pope to finish, providing Vale with their only goal of the game.
Aspin has praised Manny after his performance and claimed he 'made the difference'.
He said: "We've had five games where we've played three at the back and it's worked quite well, so it would've been silly not to start like that.
"It was quite obvious it wasn't working today so we've had to switch to a back four. I can then bring Manny on and put him into central midfield and he did make the difference.
"He makes the difference because he's a good player - he's strong, he can drive forward and we need to try and keep him fit and if we do that then he'll be a really good player for us."