The Vale maintained their unbeaten run in the Papa John’s Trophy and secured a top of the group finish, earning a home fixture for the next round, after an impressive victory over the Liverpool under-21’s at Vale Park.
Vale started the game brightly, pressing high and fast against the young Liverpool backline, who held firm during the primary attacks.
The first major chance of the game went Vale’s way, as Harry McKirdy burst down the right wing in skilful style, beating multiple men with pace before crossing the ball towards the back stick where Mark Cullen knocked it down for Theo Robinson who fired over the bar.
With 10 minutes on the clock, the visitors broke the deadlock, Cristian Montano gave the ball away in a dangerous area before it was pulled back to Liam Millar who rocketed the ball home from the centre of the box with velocity.
The lead didn’t last long though as Vale responded in quick fashion, drawing level just two minutes later, McKirdy again at the heart of the attack, using some fantastic footwork to find space and flash the ball across the box where Cullen found the back of the net with a diving header.
Two minutes later the Valiants nearly took the lead, breaking from a corner McKirdy pulled away with pace, beating the last man before forcing a strong save from Vitezslav Jaros from a difficult angle.
Waiting to take the lead wouldn’t take much longer however as with 18 minutes played, Cullen broke away down the inside right and dinked the ball towards the edge of the 18-yard box where Alex Hurst controlled it before lashing a half-volley into the roof of the net, giving Vale a deserved lead.
Cullen came close to doubling the lead five minutes later, Manny Oyeleke played Cullen through one-on-one but his delicate dink was magnificently tipped wide by the Liverpool stopper.
The pair linked up again moments later, with Oyeleke again playing in Cullen who found himself at a tighter angle this time, but thundered a strike at goal that beat the keeper but was denied by the crossbar.
Liverpool looked to pull level with 15 minutes left of the half, with the scorer, Millar, driving into the area and winning a corner after a brilliantly timed challenge from Adam Crookes, with the subsequent corner being headed over by Sepp Van Den Berg.
Vale regained control straight after, Oyeleke stealing the ball in midfield, playing it to Robinson who sent through Cullen but he was again denied by a good save.
The young Reds did fire back onto level terms seconds later though, Millar letting fly from 15-yards out with his effort deflecting into the Vale net.
Vale looked to respond instantly yet again when Cullen had a close range effort blocked before Hurst sent in a lofted cross that went agonisingly close to the far corner, with Cullen again forcing an impressive from Jaros in the Liverpool net soon after.
In the last minute of the half, Hurst pounced on a loose Liverpool pass and ran half the length of the pitch where he decided to go it alone and fired above the near top corner from a difficult angle.
McKirdy started the second-half just how he had played the first, in impressive fashion, curling a stunning pass over to Montano whose low shot was blocked out for a corner, of which the delivery nearly crept over the line but was punched away.
Montano was able to get in behind again soon after, as a ball over the top was chested down by the left-back but he couldn’t keep his volley down, hitting it high over the bar.
As the game hit the hour mark, Vale hit the back of the net, Luke Joyce lofted a sensual ball over the top for McKirdy to run onto where he drove forward, cut inside and poked the ball into the roof of the net in style with the outside of his boot.
Devante Rodney replaced Robinson just after the goal and made an instant impact, extending the Vale lead three minutes later, picking up the ball on the edge of the box before drilling a low shot into the bottom right corner of the net.
As the game approached the final 10 minutes, a Vale corner caused problems in the box before Cullen got his leg up to divert the ball towards goal and force yet another good stop from Jaros.
Port Vale: Visser, Smith, Crookes, Brisley, Montano, Burgess (45’ Conlon), Oyeleke (45’ Joyce), McKirdy, Hurst, Cullen, Robinson (60’ Rodney)
Unused Subs: Brown, Legge, Worrall, Bailey
Harrogate: Jaros, Glatzel (60’ Hardy), Millar, Longstaff, Savage (69’ Beck), Cain, Clarkson, O’Rourke, Van Den Berg, Bradley, Koumetio (69’ Ritaccio)
Unused Subs: Winterbottom, Sharif, Bearne