Port Vale 1-3 Swindon Town: Harry McKirdy stars on Vale return as Valiants slip out of play-offs
BURSLEM, ENGLAND - JANUARY 15: Jonathan Williams of Swindon Town celebrates after scoring first goal for their side during the Sky Bet League Two match between Port Vale and Swindon Town at Vale Park on January 15, 2022 in Burslem, England. (Photo by Cameron Smith/Getty Images)

Harry McKirdy put in a standout performance in his first return to Vale Park since his departure in the summer as Swindon Town ran out 3-1 winners against ten-man Port Vale.

Wales international Jonny Williams broke the deadlock when he converted home after being found by McKirdy, but the lead didn't last long thanks to a stunning strike by young loanee Kian Harratt in his first start for the club.

On the stroke of half time, the Robins went back in front after goalkeeper Lucas Covolan was sent off following a collision with McKirdy, with the resulting penalty kick being fired home by Ben Gladwin.

This sending off seemed to knock the stuffing out of Vale and the icing was put on the cake inside 69 minutes when McKirdy's cross took a nick off Nathan Smith and found its way past Aidan Stone, with it being put down as an own goal, while still capping off a memorable day for the forward who featured 14 times for the Valiants last season.

This result sees Darrell Clarke's side fall out of the play-offs and drop down to ninth, while Swindon makes the jump to fourth, only a point adrift of the automatic promotion spots.

Story of the game

In what was a lively start to the affair with both teams having come out strong, it was the Robins who had the first opportunity as McKirdy was close to making it a dream start to his return to Vale Park.

A flick-on by Tyreece Simpson found the forward in space inside the area, but despite having the time he could only poke his tame effort into the arms of Covolan.
This seemed to spur confidence onto Ben Garner's outfit though as only three minutes later Gladwin saw his drive from range tipped over by Covolan and from the resulting corner the returning Vale goalkeeper was forced into action again as he parried Gladwin's glancing header away to safety.
However, with 20 minutes on the clock Swindon's telling early pressure paid off and former Valiant McKirdy was heavily involved.
The 24-year-old received the ball in space outside the area and slid the ball through to Williams, who managed to get in behind Vale's back three and had no problem in smashing the ball past Covolan and into the left-hand corner for his fourth goal of the season.
Despite being second best, it only took the hosts six minutes to peg the game back level and it came via a wonderful strike by 19-year-old Huddersfield Town loanee Harratt.
He carried the ball from deep and under no pressure, the youngster fired a sweet drive from distance into the right-hand corner to secure his second goal in as many games, sending the Vale fans into raptures.
Despite the leveller, the Robins did continue to be the stronger outfit as  Colovan had to pull off a super stop to deny them regaining the lead nine minutes before the interval.
The ball came out to captain Dion Conroy from range, who saw it as an opportunity to smash the ball goalwards, but his powerful hit was well tipped wide by the Brazilian.
Although deep into stoppage time of the first half, Swindon did find a deserved second, but it didn't half come via controversy. 
An aerial collision in the penalty area involving Colovan and McKirdy saw both players go over, and after consulting with his linesman, the referee adjudged the Vale number one to have penalized the forward, leading to a penalty and a straight red card for Colovan being awarded.

Embed from Getty Images

Stone came on as his replacement but failed to do quite enough to keep out Gladwin's resulting spot-kick as he fired it into the left-hand side of the net, giving Swindon the advantage going into half-time.
In the second period, with Vale down a man, they struggled to cause too many problems defensively for Swindon and found themselves pretty much out of the game with 21 minutes to go and McKirdy was at the forefront again.
A long ball was latched on to by the former Vale man and his cross from the left took a wicked deflection off Smith, leading the ball to loop over the helpless Stone and into the right hand corner resulting in McKirdy to lead the celebrations in front of the visiting supporters.
Things nearly got worse for Vale four minutes later when Simpson was found in space and with Stone off his line, he attempted to lob the substitute goalkeeper, but fortunately for the hosts the ball landed just the wrong side of the far post. 
However this missed opportunity didn't prove to make a difference as the Robins maintained control for the remainder of the game, with them going on to see out a comfortable victory on the road - one that could end up being vital considering that it came against a promotion rival.

Covolan red card ultimate killer for Vale

Despite being second best in the first period, a great strike by Harratt had got Vale back in the game and there is no doubt that the three points would have still been well on the cards.

This is especially considering that Clarke would have had the option to make some adjustments at the break with him having the likes of Bolton Wanderers loan winger Dennis Politic and Leeds United loanee Ryan Edmondson at his disposal.

However, the possibility of this was taken out of the window when Covolan received his marching orders following an off the ball incident with McKirdy- a moment which really made it an uphill battle for the Valiants.

Embed from Getty Images

To make matters worse, even though Stone got close to keeping it out, Gladwin managed to convert the penalty leaving Vale a man and goal down with 45 minutes on the pitch.

In the second period with James Wilson being forced to come off due to the dismissal, leaving the Valiants a forward short, they really struggled to get effective service into Harratt and the Robins with the man advantage were able to dominate the midfield battle.

The third goal really ensured that maximum points would be going to Garner's side and towards the end of the game the hosts just seemed content with making sure that the score didn't end up becoming embarrassing as with a man less, even if they pushed men forward, a route back into the game was always going to be unlikely.

Star Man- Harry McKirdy

During his time at Vale Park, McKirdy was out of favour with him only making two starts in the league before leaving the club to join Swindon ahead of the season.

With his performance today, he certainly showed the ability that he does possess though as the 24-year old looked a threat every time he got on the ball and wasn't afraid to drive at the hosts back three.

Embed from Getty Images

The forward also had a play in his side's all three goals and was instrumental to everything they did in the attacking phase of play-a big part tio why they came away with all three points.

Despite not quite being able to hit it off during his spell at the Valiants, this season it is clear that at his new club Garner is getting the best out of him with him having netted 12 goals and accumulating six assists in all competitions.