I’ve never been to Vale Park but I’ll be making my debut there this afternoon. Six wins in a row has put me in a great mood to enjoy the pleasant distraction that the Cup can bring. Port Vale are on a decent run, unbeaten in four games with no goals conceded, and I’m sure they’d be very happy to take the scalp of a bigger club. There’ll no doubt be some changes in our starting line-up with Ruiter likely to get a start and possibly even Watmore coming on for a short stint near the end. We’ll probably have a large turnout again and there should be a great atmosphere. Even with a revamped squad I think we’ll be too much for Vale today and my prediction is a 3-1 win to us.
I was directed by a policeman at Stoke Station to the Terraces pub, where I quaffed a quick Guinness and then caught the special £4 return bus to Vale Park, which is a very long way indeed from the station. The bus wasn’t even full and all those present seemed to be very mild-mannered individuals but we got the full police-escort number all the way to the ground, passing through every red light and with each roundabout closed down. I felt like royalty so I gave a few regal waves to those held back by our passing. I don’t know why the local constabulary bother with all that but it was a great source of mirth to everyone onboard. I was at the ground and slurping a bottle of Kingstone Press cider by 2.00. I was just enjoying reading a list of fascinating facts about Vale Park on a door next to me e.g. ‘the last time we were in the third tier we clinched promotion there’ when I realized I was blocking the entrance to the Ladies. Anyway, that clinching win was a good omen. I discovered we were starting with a very strong side and with Maja, Oviedo and Power on the bench we did seem formidable. After the singers in the bar area had been quietened down there was an immaculately-observed playing of the Last Post followed by a minute’s silence during which all I could hear was a distant bird-cry. The roar of “CAAAMAAAN!” at the end was truly joyous. Vale’s song was Elvis’s ‘The Wonder of You’ and a number of our fans joined in with it.
We took the lead almost at once when Honeyman received a low pass from the right and coolly slot the ball to the right of goalie Brown. An immediate chant of, “We are Sundland. We score when we want” erupted from our end. We dominated the first quarter out-pacing, out-thinking and usually outmuscling the home side and it was no surprise when we went further ahead around the twentieth minute with a low shot from Gooch from inside the box when it looked like the chance had gone. Against a higher level team we wouldn’t have had the time. It felt like a matter of how many we were going to score but we sat back for a while and allowed Vale to press us much more. Pope pulled one back for them with a well-taken shot from inside the box in the thirty-fifth minute, giving McLaughlin no chance. So we had a game on our hands but then thankfully we started to press forward a lot more again. It remained 2-1 at the break and the second-half was clearly going to be interesting.
Port Vale took the game to us from the restart and we had to scramble an attack away in the opening minute. Legge had shown in the first-half that he could put in a very long dangerous throw and he started to do this too often for my liking. What is it about the Potteries and long throws? McGuigan was soon yellow-carded for a high boot and I was feeling a bit nervous but we soon regained the initiative and looked much the more likely side to score. Sinclair went off not long after the hour and Maja came on, which pleased me a lot as Sinclair strikes me as a nearly-man, running around impressively but often just failing to reach a cross or hitting the deck at the crucial moment and appealing for a free-kick. Speaking of hitting the deck, Maja fell over the ball a yard from their line when it looked like number three was coming up. Power replaced Maguire and it was good to see him back after what seemed like an age. He proceeded to impress with his strong runs and we were knocking it about nicely again culminating in a great move in the eightieth minute when McGuigan powered right down the left flank and put in a fine cross which Honeyman smashed on target only for it to be cleared off the line. We still had to survive a horrible scramble just after that but we got it away and that was Vale’s last real threat. O’Nien replaced Gooch and his fresh legs helped to confirm our superiority. I was still casting anxious glances at the clock on the stand to my right, which seemed to be moving extremely slowly, and I could definitely have done without the five minutes of stoppage-time. The whistle finally went to much applause and we’d won our seventh game in a row.
This looked as if it was going to be a stroll after the first twenty minutes, but Vale fought back and really made a game of it. I’m looking forward to the next round already.