What is it with home games against Port Vale, eh? From half-way line strikes to conceding an equalizer in the 92nd minute to scoring the winner in the 93rd minute, when Oxford United and Port Vale meet at the Kassam Stadium, the neutral is rarely left unsatisfied.
Oxford went into the game today with seven points from a possible nine, with the two wins being away from home to Plymouth and top-of-the-table Gillingham. The recent upturn in form has somewhat altered the complexion of Oxford’s season. The club have been struggling in mid-table for the majority of the season, but today’s hard-earned three points has put Oxford in a position to surge towards a play-off place by the end of the season.
Alfie Potter got the scoring underway as he latched on to former U’s centre back Darren Purse’s poor backpass before opening up his body and slotting the ball cooly past Chris Neal into the far corner to make it two in two against the top two for Alfie. An excellent finish that set the tone for the remainder of the game. Despite being a superb game of football, there were countless mistakes made by both sides.
It took Port Vale just a minute to react with a Doug Loft effort from 20 yards going just wide of Oxford goalkeeper Luke McCormick’s right-hand post. But, five minutes later Loft had re-calibrated his right foot sufficiently to guide Tom Pope’s knock-down just inside that right-hand post from 25 yards for 1-1.
Vale almost took the lead in spectacular fashion as Calvin Andrew attempted an overhead kick from the penalty spot. Unfortunately for Vale fans, he is Calvin Andrew and it rolled out harmlessly for a goal kick.
Oxford themselves could have taken the lead just before half time but Sean Rigg could not direct Liam Davis’ cross on target.
As the half time whistle went, United walked off to a ripple of applause and then a chorus of boos as the matchday officials came into view. The U’s supporters clearly upset with the referee’s decision not to award a penalty for what looked a blatant push on Alfie Potter.
The Yellows came out pumped for the second half and appeared to have be suitably motivated by the coaching staff during the break. Deane Smalley continued his tireless work rate up front, Damien Batt carried on providing an option of an overlap on the right and Josh Parker even won a header. Oxford were pushing for a goal with a barrage of corners, free-kicks and throw-ins from the feet (and hands) of stand-in central midfielder Tony Capaldi. In fact, Vale left back was doing his level best to push Josh Parker with a barrage of shirt pulls, head-locks and even a UFC move that ended in the pair of the going into the referees book.
Port Vale probed and Ryan Burge saw his effort tipped onto the crossbar after Jake Wright over-played, but it was Oxford that got the winner. James Constable accelerated down the right and provided a cross that Vale’s top goal-scorer Tom Pope almost turned into his own net. From the resulting corner, the ball wasn’t cleared properly by the Vale defence and the ball fell fortunately to Deane Smalley who slammed the ball between the keeper’s legs for his fourth goal of the season and what turned out to be the winner.
Oxford pressed to make the game safe and Liam Davis burst into the box after clever play from Sean Rigg only to be tripped by Ryan Burge. This time the referee pointed to the spot and Oxford had the chance to make the game safe. Sean Rigg took responsibility in the absence of first-choice penalty taker Peter Leven. He smashed the ball hard and low to Chris Neal’s right, but the Vale stopper anticipated and saved well. It wasn’t necessarily a bad penalty, it was just a saved one.
Fortunately, the penalty miss was not to prove costly as United hung on to record their first win at home since Cheltenham Town on New Years Day.