Martin Wild reports from Vale Park
Two second half goals condemned Shrewsbury to a fifth consecutive away defeat at Vale Park this afternoon. Louis Dodds prodded Port Vale into a 52nd minute lead and Michael O’Connor’s penalty – an eighth conceded already by the Town this season – put paid to any slight hopes of a fightback, in what was a subdued performance throughout from the men in blue and amber. But for Jayson Leutwiler, the defeat might have been by a larger margin with Vale the more dominant side for large parts of the match.
Micky Mellon was forced into a change for the game with Sullay Kaikai sidelined for a week or two with injury, and that led to a start for Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro.
The teams changed around after the coin-toss with Salop kicking towards their own fans, and although the lights were on at kick-off, it was a pleasant and sunny afternoon in Burslem.
There was an early appeal for a penalty when Zak Whitbread took a tumble from a Town corner, but the sound of the referee’s whistle was for an infringement he’d seen and the award went the other way.
Leutwiler had to make a good stop to prevent former Crewe striker AJ Leitch Smith from putting Vale in front after 10 minutes. Leitch Smith had ghosted in behind the last man and central to goal, he fired in a firm shot from just inside the box. But the ball was at a good height for Leutwiler and he was able to push the ball away to his left hand side.
There didn’t seem to be the same levels of passion and fervour from the stands as seen in recent visits, with Vale Park usually an intimidating arena.
Most of Shrewsbury’s best stuff was down the left hand side where Junior Brown was taking up some good positions and causing one or two problems for the Vale rearguard. The decibel levels were soon rising around the Stadium with the locals somewhat aggrieved that NKP had escaped without punishment for a foul by the dugouts. But from this vantage point it looked like the left-back (Town were 4-3-2-1 here) had won the aerial ball fairly and squarely. And when Colin Daniel did see yellow for a poor tackle on JLAA inside the centre circle, it was so obvious that it barely raised a murmur from the home fans.
Brown scythed down Byron Moore about a yard outside the area just past the half hour, and this time there were no complaints from anyone with a Salopian attachment. Within two minutes, Whitbread had halted Smith in almost the same blade of grass on the pitch but this time the foul went unpunished - save for the award of the free-kick. It was charged down and JLAA had a brilliant opportunity to set Larnell Cole free with half the pitch ahead of him. But the ball played up to the youngster needed to be played on the deck and it wasn’t, so the chance was lost.
It was Vale though who were having the majority of the play and in Moore they certainly carried a threat. The hosts might well have been in the ascendancy but for all their possession and probing, they hadn’t really fashioned too many clear-cut openings. And whenever Town pressed the ball to win it back, all too often their final pass was sloppy and the initiative quickly went back to Vale.
There was a bout of pinball in the Town box in added on time which ended with Dodds smashing the ball just wide of the far post.
Half-Time: Port Vale 0 Town 0
As the teams came back from their half-time cuppas, James Collins had replaced Cole in what looked like a tactical change by Micky with two recognised strikers up top.
Daniel almost headed Vale into a 47th minute lead from O’Connor’s corner but Leutwiler acrobatically turned the ball over the top. “Great Save” proclaimed the electronic board at that end of the ground, and it was.
NKP became the second Town man carded for a foul on the far side and your mind flashed back to the first half incident where the ref had given the defender the benefit of the doubt - with some Vale fans wanting a red card at the time and furious that one wasn’t shown.
Vale went in front on 52 minutes when Dodds was able to poke the ball beyond Leutwiler after Daniel had waltzed into the danger zone. The number ten looked up, saw where the keeper was, and gently stroked it past him into the net for a deserved lead.
Knight-Percival was withdrawn with just under half an hour to play with Jordan Clark thrown into the mix. You hoped that Clark’s introduction might inject some life into a Town side that had struggled to make any kind of impact on this game. Jak Alnwick in the Vale goal had been little more than a by-stander with nothing at all to do in over an hour of football.
In stark contrast, Leutwiler made a third really good save with 18 minutes left – this time pirouetting to divert Carl Dickinson’s header over from another O’Connor flag kick.
Ten minutes from time Matt Tootle inexplicably handled in the box for a simple penalty award and after the defender’s name had gone into the book, O’Connor did the rest with a mighty swing of his right boot blasting the ball past Leutwiler from 12 yards.
Abu Ogogo had Town’s first shot on target with four minutes remaining and the away fans cheered – albeit sarcastically – with Alnwick worked for the first time in the game. Tyrone Barnett’s late booking simply went to increasing the misery with Rob Page’s side having an extremely comfortable afternoon to enjoy a 2-0 victory.
Full-Time: Port Vale 2 Town 0
Town: Jayson Leutwiler, Matt Tootle, Nat Knight-Percival (Jordan Clark, 63), Zak Whitbread, Liam Lawrence (c) (Ian Black, 81), Junior Brown, Dom Smith, Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro, Larnell Cole (James Collins, 46), Tyrone Barnett, Abu Ogogo
Subs not used: Shaun Rowley (GK), Liam McAlinden, Mat Sadler, Anthony Gerrard
Port Vale: Jak Alnwick, Ben Purkiss, Carl Dickinson (c), Ryan McGivern, Richard Duffy, Michael O’Connor, Loius Dodds, Colin Daniel, Byron Moore, Ajay Leitch Smith, Anthony Grant
Subs: Chris Neal, Remi Streete, Chris Birchall, Sam Foley, JJ Hooper, Adam Yates, Ryan Lloyd
Referee: Mr. D. Handley
Assistants: Mr. R. Wigglesworth & Mr. M. Griffiths
Fourth Official: Mr. A. Howson
Attendance: 4,880 (528 from Shrewsbury)