Ten man Blues lose their faith against Pope
Port Vale 4, Wycombe Wanderers 1.
WANDERERS’ winning streak came to an end as they failed to hold on after Jo Kuffour’s first half red card.
Blues had looked set to extend their run of victories to four as a Joel Grant penalty gave them the lead at the interval against their second-placed opponents.
But striker Kuffour was dismissed in stoppage time after picking up his second booking, and without him on the pitch Blues cracked under the strain.
Vale had seen far more of the ball in the first half and their dominance continued after the break, with Ben Williamson and Tom Pope, twice, scoring the goals that turned the tie round in their favour.
Ashley Vincent put the gloss on things with a flattering fourth, with the scoreline failing to tell the full story.
Wanderers defended superbly throughout the game, and while not many sides will get anything from a trip to Vale Park this season they will go away from this one bitterly disappointed.
Such is the belief caretaker boss Gareth Ainsworth – given a standing ovation from the home fans before kick-off – has instilled into the team, Blues would have gone into the game confident they could have picked up another win to pull them further away from the bottom two.
It says much about how far they have come under Ainsworth that Wanderers will have been bitterly upset at losing to a side who have scored more than 30 goals already this season.
It was Vale who had the first chance in the opening minute as left-back Robert Taylor stood the ball up to the far post but the division’s top scorer Pope was unable to direct his header on target.
Half chances fell the way of both sides as Dean Morgan curled a free kick wide of the target and Jennison Myrie-Williams cut in from the right wing before ballooning a cross-shot well wide of the goal as the game struggled to find any real rhythm.
Vale had the upper hand though and Blues goalkeeper Nikki Bull was swiftly off his line to make a brave save at the feet of Vincent after the winger burst into the area.
It took a while for Wanderers to stamp their passing style on the game but it eventually came as a lovely flowing move involving Stuart Lewis, Bruno Andrade and Dean Morgan culminated in Josh Scowen firing in a low shot, although it lacked the power to seriously trouble Chris Neal.
The next time Blues came forward they had the lead as Kuffour flicked the ball on to Andrade, who was brought down by a clumsy John McCombe challenge and referee Carl Boyeson pointed straight to the spot. Grant stepped up to take it and tucked it into the corner beyond Neal’s despairing dive.
Back came Vale and Vincent was foiled again by Bull when he once again cut into the area, this time off the right wing, before Bull blocked his firmly-hit effort with his foot.
The Valiants had plenty of the ball but weren’t able to pierce the watertight Wanderers defence, and a series of decisions from Boyeson that fell in Blues’ favour served only to frustrate the home fans even more.
Pope clattered into Leon Johnson as he looked to get onto the end of a telling pass but Boyeson waved play on, leading to chants of ‘We want a ref’ from the incensed Vale Park faithful as Johnson remained injured on the ground.
Their jeers turned to cheers in injury time however as Kuffour, who had earlier been booked for a dust-up with Vale skipper McCombe, followed through on Neal as the home goalkeeper went to clear the ball and Boyeson showed him a second yellow card, leaving Blues to see out the entire second half a man light.
Neal possibly made a meal of the challenge but Kuffour was foolish to go in having already received a yellow card and left his side facing the prospect of facing League Two’s most potent attack with ten men.
The boos returned as the referee left the field, having blown the half time whistle before Vale had chance to take a corner after the ball had been desperately hacked to safety in a bout of penalty box pinball.
Within seconds of the restart Andrade was injured as he and Gary Doherty both went to clear the same ball, with the Portuguese winger coming off worst. He failed to recover and had to be replaced by Matt Spring.
Blues didn’t let that affect them as Grant ghosted past his marker and only a spectacular save from Neal, leaping to his left, stopped the winger’s curling shot from finding the top corner.
Vale were making their extra man count however as Pope had a shot blocked and Lewis did superbly to head Vincent’s swerving cross from off the goal line after the following corner broke to the winger.
A good spell of possession ended with Richard Duffy clipping the ball over the bar, before Clayton McDonald headed wide from a corner.
Finally the pressure told as substitute Ben Williamson levelled the scores on the hour, latching onto a precise Chris Shuker ball through the middle before racing beyond the Blues defence and slotting coolly past Bull.
The home fans felt the tide was starting to turn as Charles Dunne was booked for timewasting at a throw in and Morgan also had his name taken as he kicked the ball away towards goal, long after having been flagged offside.
Blues’ defence had been holding firm, with Johnson and particularly Doherty excelling at the back, but having been breached once it wasn’t long until they were undone again. This time Vincent crossed from the left and Pope nipped in ahead of Johnson to head home from close range.
Pope sealed victory for the Valiants late on when he firmly headed Vincent’s superb cross into the net.
Then in injury time Vincent himself got on the scoresheet as his long-range shot squirmed from Bull's grasp and crept agonisingly over the line to give the scoreline a flattering look.
Wanderers: Bull, Foster, Doherty, Johnson, Dunne, Andrade (sub Spring), Lewis, Scowen (sub Morias), Grant (sub McClure), Morgan, Kuffour. Substitutes not used: Winfield, Ainsworth, Ingram, Stewart
Attendance: 5,303 (232 from Wycombe)