Tom Pope came off the bench to score the winner for the second game in succession on Saturday afternoon, and it ensured that Port Vale came out on top at home to rivals Crewe Alexandra in Sky Bet League Two as they pulled themselves closer to safety.
Things got off to a tentative start as both teams looked to figure each other out during the opening exchanges, and it took 13 minutes for the first chance of the game to come about. Jordan Bowery did well to skip down the right and his cross was inadvertently headed towards his own goal by Adam Crookes, but Scott Brown was able to make the save.
Vale did begin to have more of the ball midway through the first half and they went close on 22 minutes following some great work from Tom Conlon, but Cristian Montano’s low cross was diverted behind for a corner. Antony Kay got on the end of the resulting delivery, but Ben Garratt got across to tip it away from the far corner of the net.
Just two minutes later, Conlon had a brilliant chance of his own after he profited on a loose pass in the Crewe area to get a shot away, but the ‘keeper was out quickly to thwart him. Manny Oyeleke then reacted first to send the rebound towards goal, but it dropped just the wrong side of the post.
With half an hour played, the Valiants went inches away from taking the lead as Nathan Smith rose the highest to direct a header on target, but Paul Green got his body in the way to clear off the line. Oyeleke poked the follow-up back into a dangerous area, only to be denied by Chris Porter who hooked it clear from a yard out.
Up the other end with just three minutes to play until half-time, Crewe had an opportunity of their own blocked on the line. Bowery was the man who powered a strike on target after a moment of uncertainty in the box, but Smith was reacted quickly to shift his body across and get in the way to preserve his side’s clean sheet.
Following the restart, it was the visitors who came quickest out of the blocks and it looked as if Bowery was going to have a free header six yards out on 48 minutes, but Mitch Clark did brilliantly to get to the ball first and put it behind for a corner which then came to nothing.
Crewe had Garratt to thank once again after 54 minutes, however, as Montano shimmied his way beyond three defenders before shaping an effort towards the top corner from 20 yards. The goalkeeper pulled off another fine save to deny him, tipping the ball around the far post at full stretch. Antony Kay also went close on 60 minutes as he flashed one just wide from range.
As things started to heat up and a few full-blooded challenges went in, both sets of supporters were backing their respective teams to find a winner, and Kay almost found it on 72 minutes as his deflected effort rippled the side-netting with Garratt transfixed. The Valiants continued to commit men forward, but Crewe’s defence stood firm.
That was until the 78thminute when substitute Pope stepped up to send the home fans into raptures. Montano was the man who crafted the goal with a low cross into the area, and the striker finished off the move with a sublime curling effort that found its way into the far corner.
It could’ve been 2-0 just three minutes later as David Worrall raced through on goal, but the goalkeeper came out on top to deny him in a one-on-one situation. The winger did recycle possession though, and his pass to Pope set up another opportunity, but Nicky Hunt scrambled it off the line with an outstretched leg.
Port Vale: Scott Brown, Adam Crookes, Nathan Smith, Kyle Howkins, Mitch Clark, Antony Kay ©, Tom Conlon, Manny Oyeleke (Luke Hannant 36’), Cristian Montano, David Worrall (Ben Whitfield 90'), Ricky Miller (Tom Pope 68’).
Unused Substitutes: Sam Hornby, Connell Rawlinson, Theo Vassell, Mark Harris.
Crewe Alexandra: Ben Garratt, Perry Ng ©, Chris Porter, James Jones (Tom Lowery 60’), Jordan Bowery, Ryan Wintle, Paul Green (Shaun Miller 83’), Oliver Finney (Callum Ainley 70’), Nicky Hunt, Aaron Taylor-Sinclair.
Unused Substitutes: Will Jaaskelainen, Alex Nicholls, Owen Dale, Charlie Kirk.
Attendance: 6,823 (1,216 away).