Port Vale sealed their progression into the knockout stages of the Checkatrade Trophy with a game to spare on Tuesday evening, with Ricky Miller and Connell Rawlinson firing Neil Aspin’s men to a comfortable victory over Middlesbrough U21s at Vale Park.
It was the Valiants who dominated possession during the early stages and they were rewarded with the opening goal of the evening on six minutes. Tom Conlon worked some space to thread a perfectly weighted through ball into the path of Miller who finished with aplomb, firing into the bottom corner.
Conlon and Miller combined once again five minutes later as Vale looked to double their advantage, but Lewis Hardcastle couldn’t profit from the tidy build-up and his eventual strike flew just over the bar from 25 yards.
With 16 minutes played, the hosts were at it again and they were only denied by Zach Hemming in the Middlesbrough goal. Conlon’s driven free-kick skidded off the surface and it looked to be heading for the corner of the net, but the ‘keeper reacted smartly to make the save.
Connell Rawlinson was the next to set his sights on goal after 28 minutes, but his volley was comfortable for Hemming. Five minutes later and it was almost 2-0 to Vale, but Theo Vassell could only head Conlon’s corner inches wide of the far post.
The away goalkeeper was called into action on 37 minutes following a mistake in the Boro back line that allowed Conlon to get a shot away, but his powerful low effort was parried away from danger. The midfielder then let fly from distance just before half-time, but Hemming got across to tip it over.
Following the restart, it was Vale who looked the livelier of the two teams and a well-worked set piece routine almost lead to a goal on 49 minutes. Conlon rolled the ball into Luke Joyce and he delivered a cross towards Vassell at the far post, but he could only volley over from a tight angle.
Vale had to wait until the 66thminute for their next real opportunity, but it was one that was dispatched beyond the reaches of the away ‘keeper. Conlon whipped a tempting free-kick into the six-yard area and Rawlinson met it with a towering header before wheeling away in celebration.
As the half wore on, the Valiants kept the ball well and made it difficult for their opponents to find a route back into the game. Dan Ward did take aim from distance in the final minute, but Sam Hornby was right behind it to make his only save of the evening.
Port Vale: Sam Hornby, James Gibbons (Danny Pugh 45), Luke Joyce, Ricky Miller, Connell Rawlinson (Antony Kay 81), Nathan Smith, Louis Dodds, Theo Vassell, Tom Conlon, Mitchell Clark, Lewis Hardcastle (David Worrall 64).
Unused Substitutes: Scott Brown, Idris Kanu, Brendon Daniels, Ben Whitfield.
Middlesbrough U21s: Zach Hemming, Dan Ward, Ben Liddle (Layton Watts 90), Sam Stubbs, Djed Spence, Connor Malley (Terry Stephenson 77), Tyrone O’Neill, Nathan Guru, Kian Spence, Daniel Dodds, Jack Robinson.
Unused Substitutes: Bradley James, Gabriel McGill, Nick Hood, Andrew Wilson.
Attendance: 554 (18 away).