Tom Pope admits that whilst the poor opening half an hour or so against Sunderland cost Vale, he was encouraged by the response from his teammates after they went two goals down inside 20 minutes.
Neil Aspin altered the shape of the team shortly after Lynden Gooch had doubled the Black Cats' lead, and the Valiants found a route back into the game on 35 minutes as Pope fired home his eighth goal of the season.
Despite creating several chances and being denied a penalty during what was a spirited second-half performance, it just wasn't to be for Vale as they exited the Emirates FA Cup. Pope was disappointed to be out of the competition, but he insists he is 'proud' of the team.
He said: "Yes I am proud. It was an awful start for us for 25 or 30 minutes and we never got going, but then the gaffer was brave to bring Manny (Oyeleke) on and change the shape. For the last hour we were excellent and we certainly deserved more than what we got.
"Their full-backs had all day early on and we couldn't really press them with wing-backs, certainly down our left-hand side. Theo (Vassell) was stuck between the two because he had two men out wide, so if he got out to the full-back, they would just switch the play out to the other one.
"We never really got a foothold on the game, but then we went into a four, and that stopped their full-backs getting out to allow us to play to our strengths more. From that point, we were the better team for the last hour."
Despite the result, the Valiants were handed the boost of Oyeleke's return from injury, along with Cristian Montano who also made a substitute appearance after a spell on the sidelines. Both impressed once they were introduced, and Oyeleke also provided the assist for Pope's goal.
The former Aldershot Town man has been a revelation in the Vale midfield so far this season, and Pope was delighted to see him back out on the pitch at Vale Park. Just five minutes after being thrown into the game, he conjured up a pinpoint pass to feed Pope.
On the impact of Oyeleke, Pope said: "It's always tough for a player of his quality, and the lads know what he can bring to the table, so to have three or four injuries including pre-season means he hasn't really been able to get going.
"We're desperate for him to play because he's a tank. He gets around, he's good on the ball, he can spot a pass and he's so strong - he's massive for us. If we can get him fit and playing injury free, it's only going to benefit the team."
On the goal, he added: "I just remember Manny firing it in, I then had a good touch before bending it around the defender to find the bottom corner. It wasn't bad from me to be honest."