Port Vale 3-4 Tranmere Rovers: Ten men Valiants suffer late heartbreak against managerless Rovers
Above: Tom Conlon disposed of the penalty to give Port Vale an early lead (Source: Stoke On Trent Live)

Prior to the game, Port Vale manager John Askey said that his side was "starting to get a winning mentality" ahead of the visit from Tranmere Rovers, but his statement proved a curse following his side's late defeat at Vale Park

Askey was alluding to his sides impressive league form, having won four of their last five games and proving difficult to break down. Meanwhile, managerless Tranmere, who were being lead by caretaker Ian Dawes once again, were also in promising form, having won every game since Mike Jackson departed on Halloween.

  • Teams

Port Vale: Brown, Crookes, Smith, Legge, Clark, Burgess, Joyce, Conlon, Worrall, Pope, Amoo

Substitutions: Brisley, Cullen, McKirdy, Montano, Oyeleke, Rodney, Visser

Tranmere Rovers: Davies, MacDonald, Monthe, Clarke, Nelson, Spearing, Morris, Khan, Lloyd, Blackett-Taylor, Vaughan

Substitutions: Banks, Ferrier, Jones, Ray, Smith, Woolery, Young

  • Story of the match

It was Port Vale who looked to test the defence first, looking sharp going forward and being first to every second ball. It was clear they were trying to force the ball out to David Worrall, but Sid Nelson kept his man quiet.

Some nice football from Rovers as Jay Spearing, who had been controlling the midfield, cut the ball out to Otis Khan who had way too much time and his floating effort struck the bar to a helpless Scott Brown, but James Vaughan scuffed his rebound and it trickled wide. A let off for Vale, who needed to force pressure onto the Tranmere midfield. 

However Vale did apply the pressure, as a brilliant volley forward from Scott Burgess found Worrall in acres of space, who played it back into Tom Conlon and shaped up a shot but as he poked it past Spearing the midfielder collided with the former Stevenage man and the referee called for a penalty kick to the home side.

The fouled Conlon, after discussion with Tom Pope, shaped up confidently in front of the goal and netted his second of the season, sending Brown the wrong way and giving his team an early lead.

Vale nearly had the chance to double their lead, as some battling between Pope and Peter Clarke had the ball fall back to Luke Joyce, but his pass was lacking the venom to send Worrall through on goal. 

Danger continued as Tranmere really were rolling the dice, a long ball over the top on the right wing fell to Mitch Clark and his looping cross was expertly chested down by Pope but his volley was blocked bravely by Kieron Morris.

Calum MacDonald tried his luck too, as once again Port Vale gave the away side too much time in the midfield, as the left-back calmly surged past Burgess and his effort from 25 yards was narrowly wide of the post.

However, as Port Vale withstood the pressure of Tranmere, they doubled their lead as a short corner from Worrall found Conlon at the front post, and the man who was already on the score sheet played the ball back to David Amoo on the penalty spot and he produced a powerful effort into the roof of the net- one certainly rehearsed from the training ground.

And from the next set piece, the Valiants had their third- but disallowed. As a free-kick from Worrall was prodded in by the outstretched leg of Leon Legge, the referee deemed a foul elsewhere.

As the game approached the end of its opening half, a ball down the line to Corey Blackett-Taylor was crossed by the former Aston Villa winger, but it was a weak effort and Vaughan did well to meet the ball, but his effort was wayward.

Heading into the break, Tranmere goalkeeper Scott Davies was booked in the tunnel due to complaints with regards to the penalty.

With a mountain to climb and a difficult task at hand, referee Carl Brook signalled for Tranmere to get the second half underway.

A charging run forward by Khan, as he carried the ball out of the Tranmere half and deep into the Vale area, was played forward and through to Blackett-Taylor, but his thundering strike was parried by Brown.

51 minutes in and Brook had a huge decision to make, as a brutally rash Joyce challenge in the middle of the park on Morris was a straight red card. There were no complaints from Joyce, who hung his head in shame as he trudged off of the pitch knowing he'd let his side down- little did he know how much. Brown in the Valiants goal was also booked for his arguments.

The ten men effect came in play almost immediately, as Blackett-Taylor pushed his way past Pope, who yelled for a foul, and the lively attacker powered his way down the wing and produced a low cross into the stretching leg of Vaughan in the six yards box, who forced the ball over the line and past a helpless Brown- a lifeline for Tranmere Rovers.

61 minutes in and Pope was replaced by Devante Rodney, with the hopes of getting the Valiants that attacking spark back which had been absent since the beginning of the second half. 

Referee Brook, who was in his first season as an EFL ref, was once again the centre of attention as a fantastic flick through by Vaughan was met by Lloyd, but the debutant supposedly handballed as it flicked up and onto his hand and Vaughan comfortably disposed the ball, yet the score remained 2-1. 

Tranmere weren't done though, as Vaughan was brought down in the box and Brook called for the second penalty of the game. Vaughan was brave enough to step up and take the responsibility, eager to grasp his third of the game, even if only one had been allowed. As composed as Conlon had been earlier in the game, he comfortably smashed the ball into the roof of the net to bring the game back to 2-2. 

Dawes responded to his side's return into the game by replacing Danny Lloyd with Morgan Ferrier, who was returning from injury.

Port Vale had been poor this second half, but looked to create their first chance as Amoo on the wing was dragged back by MacDonald and the ref grudgingly gave the home side a free-kick on the wing. Up stepped Worrall, who delivered a whipped cross to match the head of substitute Rodney and the attacker nodded past the stranded Davies to give the Valiants their lead back.

The Rovers made the next substitute of the game, bringing on Kaiyne Woolery for Blackett-Taylor with the hopes of a Rodney-like impact.

Heading into the final ten minutes, Tranmere had successive corners following some Ferrier pressure, the first swept in by Khan but Manny Monthe's header was pushed wide with a deflection, and the follow up corner easily cleared by Clark. 

Askey's side looked to weather the final storm, knowing Tranmere would come to get a point out of the carnage game, as Amoo was replaced by Manny Oyeleke.

A final throw of the dice from Rovers, as defender Nelson was swapped for striker Sam Smith.

However, it was Port Vale who had the next chance, as some fantastic work by Oyeleke down the left wing,  as he powered past Clarke and laid the ball back to Conlon on the edge of the box, who forced the ball onto his left foot and, in search of his second goal, struck the side netting.

Six minutes added on and into the closing stags, Port Vale were defending for their lives as Tranmere continue to plummet forward in search of an equaliser, and a deep cross from Monthe was flicked on by Smith to an unmarked substitute Woolery at the back post, and the winger calmly side-footed his shot past Brown and into the bottom corner- 3-3 at Vale Park with three minutes remaining.

95 minutes played of the 96, and the ten men of Port Vale suffered heartbreak as their valiant efforts were for nothing.  Some excellent footwork from Woolery on the right wing, as he played the ball back to Morris on the edge, who was on the receiving end of the foul from Joyce, and he unleashed an incredible whipped strike to the far post, and despite Brown's best efforts, Tranmere stole the three points in a devastating end to the game.

  • Takeaways from the match

Potentially one of the games of the season, this was one that needed its electrifying fan base. Tranmere with some of the best away fans in the league could've contained some incredible limbs at the close of the match.

This game showed how crucial a red card can be and how it can impact a game, with Port Vale crumbling following Joyce's dismissal early into the second half. Askey's side lacked fluidity and structure when they lost their midfielder, and seemed to just lose concentration at the end of the game. Some incredible work from Tranmere who showed a never-die attitude and made the game turbulent and demonstrated how important belief is, as Kieron Morris scored a stunning strike from 25 yards to give his side the three points.

Whilst Tranmere are managerless, Ian Dawes surely has to be high in contention for the role, to be 2-0 down at half time and to orchestrate a memorable comeback, he clearly has what it takes to continue in this role, having snatched four wins from the four games he's been in charge.

It's important that Valiant's heads don't drop after this game, they were impressive and in the first half controlled the match completely. Individual errors, such as Joyce's red card and Smith's poor header that lead to Woolery's goal, were the downfall for Askey's side who must bounce back next weekend, after all without the victory in the Papa John's trophy on Tuesday, that's two defeats on the bounce. 

  • Stand-out players

This game was so even that a Man of the Match is hard to decide, as Vaughan is the obvious contender for his double, but other than that he was quiet and just seemed to be in the right areas. For me, midfielder and match winner Kieron Morris had an outstanding game, taking the responsibility to strike in the dying minutes and net the winner, whilst also taking the foul from Joyce on the chin and helping his side get back into the game. 

He spread the ball about, played as a box-to-box role to get forward and support the attack whilst also being part of the defensive structure, and looked very impressive today.

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