For whatever reason, it’s been a few years since many Vale fans had gone into a new season on a ‘high’. The problems of the past have been well documented, but Vale go into the new season under new leadership and, seemingly, with a strength of purpose little seen in the last three seasons. Today’s game at the Autonet Stadium, home of Northern Premier League Division One South East Kidsgrove Athletic, provided an ample test of the new look Valiants.
By bringing the whole first team squad to Kidsgrove, Vale showed a high level of respect to Kidsgrove and by the time Anthony Malbon, a former Valiant himself, kicked us off, the scene was set for a well contested ‘friendly’
Indeed, it was Kidsgrove that took the early initiative, winning a corner as early as the 4th minute, but the short corner was over elaborate and Vale were quick to stifle the Grove’s advances. This good defensive work seemed to spark Vale into life and good work down the right by trialist Cummings, was only undone with a heavy pass with Cullen free on goal. Vale continued to stride forward and in the 9th minute Crookes was able to break forward from his defensive roll and cross to the back post but Kidsgrove defence cleared for a corner which they defended well.
Shaun Cummings, playing at right-back, continued to have a great half finding himself on goal on 10 minutes, forcing a good save from Harrison and creating a chance for fellow trialist Kwame Thomas, whose header went over the bar.
But on 19 minutes the Valiants finally made the breakthrough that their dominance had deserved, Cummings again making good ground down the right, crossing to the back post where Conner cleverly headed back across goal leaving CULLEN the simplest of side foot finishes into the gaping goal.
The goal seemed to take a little pace out of the game, and it meandered until Kidsgrove forced only their second corner on the 31st minute, but again the Vale defence held, this time Cummings with a commanding clearing header.
Vale really should have doubled their lead on 33 minutes: good work through the middle by Oyleke, released Brown who drew a fine save from Harrison, Thomas followed up but could only place his looping header wide left when he really should have done better. Minutes later Cullen was unlucky when released into the attacking third, his shot being deflected for a corner which Kidsgrove dealt with comfortably.
By now Vale were firmly on top but despite efforts from Legge on 40 minutes and Cullen on the cusp of half time, Vale only went into the break one-up.
The second half brought a complete refresh for the Visitors, Vale lining up a completely changed team including trialist goalkeeper Jonny Maddison and Club Captain Tom Pope.
Vale picked up from where they left off in the second half and as early as the 47th minute Burgess having a shot charged down, Whitfield ‘skying’ an effort from a corner and Joyce having a neat effort saved on 53 minutes. The only real bad news of the day for the Valiants came on the hour as Montano was forced to withdraw after an innocuous challenge left him with a suspected thigh strain, but this gave youth team prospect Campbell-Gorden a perfect chance to stake a claim.
Vale’s reaction to the loss of Montano was immediate though and the Valiants extended their lead through new boy BENNETT. Having won the free kick down the right-hand channel, Worrall floated a lovely cross to the back post, which was firmly headed back across goal by skipper Pope, leaving Bennett a perfect opportunity to score on his debut, firmly planting his header in the roof of the net, giving Harrison no chance.
It was Kidsgrove that had the last say in the game though as they pulled back a consolation goal through Lee Williamson, cutting in from his wing and firing into the bottom corner past the despairing dive of Keeper Maddison.
All in all, this was a perfect start to the season for the Valiants, forty-five competitive minutes into the legs of the majority of the Squad and only one injury reported from the afternoon. Vale’s attention will now switch to Harrison Park next Saturday, and hopefully another good test of the new look squad.
Reporter Mark Bale managed to catch up with Managers John Askey, Ryan Austin and Vale new signing Richie Bennett.