Martin Wild reports from Greenhous Meadow
Shrewsbury Town and Port Vale shared the spoils in a feisty affair this afternoon. Vale led through a Louis Dodds header on the hour, but top scorer Sullay Kaikai levelled for the hosts thirteen minutes later. Nat Knight-Percival picked up a straight red card in stoppage time which could well keep the influential skipper out for three games.
Dom Smith sat this Bank Holiday game out as he was away on International duty with Wales. Jermaine Grandison earned a first start since the Manchester United FA Cup defeat last month – coincidentally, Town’s last reverse and the only one in the last nine matches ahead of this match.
It was a beautiful sunny day and once an impeccable minutes silence was observed as a mark of respect to the victims of the terror attacks in Brussels on Tuesday, Vale got us underway.
The away side began well too, showing no signs of having been affected by last week’s 4-0 drubbing at home to Burton.
They forced three corners in as many minutes and from the last of them, Ryan Inniss saw his goalbound header superbly beaten away by Mark Halstead. The save was right out of the top drawer and Inniss could scarcely believe that he hadn’t given Vale an early lead.
There was a crackling atmosphere inside the stadium with a packed out away end adding to the occasion and helping to set a quick tempo to the game. Richie Wellens went close for Town with a beautifully weighted chip over Jack Alnwick but the midfielder’s improvisation was about a metre too high. Both sides had declared their intent in what was a really good opening 10 minutes.
Jack Grimmer picked up a fifteenth minute yellow after a bone crunching 50/50 challenge with Vale’s skipper Carl Dickinson. Both players went in fully committed and got up to shake hands with each other but the man in the middle bizarrely awarded a free kick to the Burslem side. Dafter still, he pulled a card out to the bewilderment of every single person in here.
Junior Brown, Andy Mangan and Shaun Whalley all had pot shots for Shrews, but each of them were a distance away from their intended targets. The intensity of the game had died down somewhat after the frenetic opening but it was still a very well contested affair between two evenly matched sides.
Just past the half hour Vale wasted a really good chance. A lofted ball down the left channel caught out Grandison and left JJ Hooper with some space to run into. He carried the ball forward before laying off an inviting pass into the path of Michael O’Connor coming in to meet it on the 18 yard line. But his connection was way too heavy and it sailed comfortably over. Dickinson went much closer a minute later with a daisy cutter that had Halstead scurrying across goal but the shot was just wide.
Brown became the second Town player booked when he halted the gallop of Sam Kelly after the visitors sprung a lightning counter instigated by a quick throw out from Alnwick. But the resultant free-kick was hopeless so the booking was a worthwhile one in the grand scheme of things.
Halstead turned O’Connor’s smart half volley over the top with the half time whistle not that far away, and as the half came to a close it was the home goalkeeper who had been the busier of the two stoppers.
Half Time: Town 0 Port Vale 0
Both sides emerged from the dressing rooms showing no changes with Town kicking towards the Salop Leisure Stand for the second half.
Shrewsbury got lucky when a misplaced header by NKP kept Vale in possession just to the right of the penalty area, but the ball in was overhit and the danger passed.
Vale remained on the front foot and O’Connor shot tamely when another very presentable opening arrived five minutes into the second 45.
The crowd was announced at a shade over 7,000 – the highest league gate at the Meadow this season. And most of them were disappointed when Mangan lashed at a shot from outside the box only to blaze wildly over. Micky Mellon made his first change on 57 minutes with JLAA introduced for Kyle Vassell who still waits for his first goal in blue and amber.
The change had the opposite effect to what everyone hoped for because two minutes later Vale struck. Dickinson’s cross was headed back across goal by Hooper and Dodds powered in a header. The ball struck the crossbar and upright but the linesman appeared perfectly placed to signal enough of the ball had gone over the line. It sparked joyous scenes behind that goal and in truth, the visitors deserved their lead with Town struggling to make any kind of mark on the game.
But when they failed to level on 63 minutes, it was the Ghengis Khan of let offs for Port Vale. Akpa Akpro’s tenacity kept the ball in play on the dead-ball line and he found Kaikai who shot for goal but saw the effort cleared off the line. The ball ran to Whalley but instead of stabbing the loose ball home, he opted to try and make the chance an even better one by beating a man. But he ended up being met by another defender and they squeezed him out until there were simply too many bodies in the way. The crowd couldn’t believe it and it was so uncharacteristic of a player bang in form.
Whalley was soon hooked for Ian Black and Mangan’s afternoon was also over with 20 minutes of play remaining, with Larnell Cole going over to the right and Kaikai moving up front.
This time, the change paid an almost instant dividend for Mellon. Kaikai added to his ever growing catalogue of picture goals with a stunning drive beyond Alnwick and into the corner of the net from outside the box. It took Kaikai into double figures – quite an achievement for one so young, especially as part of his campaign has been hampered by injury.
It was anyone’s game now and Vale made a double substitution, with two wingers deployed stating their intent to go on and press for a winner.
Town had a chance to get ahead with just three minutes left when Kaikai found the perfectly timed run of JLAA. But in a hurried attempt to lift the ball over the exposed Alnwick, there was no height on the effort and the save was an easy one.
There was a dramatic end to the game in added on time. Dodds seemed to stumble over Halstead and fell into the goal after the keeper collected a hanging cross. But when he got to his feet it looked like Knight Percival put him straight back to where he’d just come from. The referee sent the skipper off although there was some confusion afterwards forcing the official to consult his assistant. There wasn’t enough time for Vale to make their extra man count, however, and the whistle was blown soon after as it ended one apiece.
Full Time: Town 1 Port Vale 1
Shrewsbury Town: Mark Halstead, Jermaine Grandison, Nat Knight-Percival (c), Junior Brown, Richie Wellens, Abu Ogogo, Jack Grimmer, Kyle Vassell (Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro, 57), Andy Mangan (Larnell Cole, 69), Sullay Kaikai, Shaun Whalley (Ian Black, 69)
Subs: Jayson Leutwiler (GK), Jordan Clark, Jack Hendry, Scott Vernon
Port Vale: Jack Alnwick, Ben Purkiss, Carl Dickinson, Richard Duffy, Michael O’Connor, Louis Dodds, Sam Foley (Byron Moore, 78), JJ Hooper (Theo Robinson, 90), Michael Brown, Sam Kelly (Matty Kennedy, 77), Ryan Inniss
Subs: Ryan McGivern, Chris Birchall, Adam Yates, Ryan Boot
Referee: Mark Heywood
Assistants: Anthony Tankard & Nigel Smith
Fourth Official: Matthew Jones
Attendance: 7,019 (1,300 from Burslem)