A number of first team squad members, as well as a blend of first and second year Academy players gained important match-minutes in a behind-closed-doors 4-3 friendly win over Hereford earlier this afternoon.
David Amoo opened the scoring on 14 minutes with a well-struck half volley going in off the inside of the woodwork, after latching onto Cullen’s flicked header from a long Tom Scott goal kick.
Alex Hurst displayed some smart footwork in the 26th minute, with two stepovers succeeded by a successful take on into the penalty area, before standing a ball up to the back post. Popey was there to meet it with his head but the defender did well to block what looked destined for a second Vale goal.
The Valiants doubled their lead on 32 minutes, when loanee Mustapha Olagunju regained possession in the centre circle before embarking on a marauding run, playing a one-two with Tom Pope before rifling the ball into the roof of the net.
Ryan Campbell Gordon displayed some excellent composure minutes later in the 35th, receiving the ball from Popey before sending a perfectly weighted ball to Alex Hurst. Hursty charged down the line and towards the six-yard box, before cutting back a simple tap in for Mark Cullen to go 3-0 up.
Mikey Lennon was the sole Academy player granted a starting role and put in a solid first half display, competing well physically and in his aerial duels with the opposition frontline, as well as displaying an assured presence in possession as the Valiants entered the dressing room three goals in front.
McKirdy was provided with an opportunity to impress, replacing David Amoo at the beginning of the second half.
Tom Scott answered the second question asked of him five minutes into the second period, positioning himself well for a long-range effort on target.
Hereford pulled one back in the 54th minute, prodding home from close range after a wide delivery into a dangerous area.
Jake Taylor then received the ball in space before sending a ball over the top towards Mark Cullen whose fine first touch took him past the defender, before releasing McKirdy on the overlap for a well-placed finish to restore Vale’s three-goal lead in the 58th minute.
Dan Trickett-Smith was introduced alongside Academy players Kamani McFarlane and Ammar Dyer in the 62nd minute, replacing Hurst, Taylor and Pope.
It was a solid outing for Popey in his return from the shoulder injury which has kept him out of action since the Papa John's Trophy exit at Sunderland.
Abdi Osman, Will Tams and Henry Okenla were brought on in the 71st, replacing Cullen, Whitehead and Olagunju.
Two quickfire chances fell for McKirdy as Vale entered the final quarter of an hour, however he was unable to adjust his feet for the first and the second, an attempted lob after a perfectly weighted ball over the top from Burgess, was palmed away by the opposition keeper.
The visitors reduced the deficit around 10 minutes from time, finishing a first-time strike from the edge of the box which Tom Scott was unable to keep out to make it 4-2 in the 81st minute.
Just moments later, another long-range strike was well struck by the visitors and found it’s way into the right-hand corner to cut the advantage to a solitary goal in the 82nd minute.
Vale saw out the final minutes for a 4-3 victory, in a match which provided Manager Darrell Clarke a look at his first team players returning from injury or on the fringes, as well as a chance to showcase a number of Academy prospects.