Bright sunshine (remember that?) greeted the teams at kickoff, with the pitch looking in excellent condition despite the horrific recent weather. Manager Josh Gallagher gave a first start to new man Palace Francis on the right side of midfield, with Nathan Lewis back from injury to partner temporary loan signing Issac Philpot in the centre of defence. Isthmian league stalwart Uxbridge, starting the game in 8th position in the league, promised to present a strong challenge to the Vale’s 4 game winning streak in the league.
Uxbridge carved out a chance within 2 minutes, with a good delivery from a free kick deflected over Billy Bishop’s bar. The next 10 minutes were a fairly even game of midfield ping-pong, edge to Uxbridge, until Francis beat his man on the by-line and Vale felt he was fouled just outside the area…the referee disagreed. Slowly but surely, the Vale’s pressing began to turn the tide, with some good passing moves between the midfield group of James Dickson, Jordy Gallagher and Cal MacAllister with Charlie Penny offering movement up top. JJ O’Sullivan and Cal Hope were willing participants pushing up from the defensive edges as well. But Uxbridge was still dangerous on occasion, in particular flashing a cross through Bishop’s box on 18 minutes and O’Sullivan clearing a looping cross from the far post on 20’.
Dickson unleashed a decent effort from all of 30 yards which produced a save from Uxbridge keeper McCorkell and a similar range effort from Gallagher deflected away for a corner before on 26’ Gallagher cut in and let rip with real venom from the left side of the box, again deflected away. Two minutes later from yet another corner, Gallagher again beat his man and zipped in a left-footer which beat the keeper and was destined for the far corner until being cleared off the line by an Uxbridge defender.
Then, on 34’ the Vale produced possibly their best move of the season thus far: Philpot recovered a loose ball a yard from his own defensive corner flag… to Dan Moody, to O’Sullivan, to Lewis – still in the Vale’s defensive penalty area – who hit Gallagher in stride near midfield, one touch to MacAllister, outside of his right boot to a streaking Penny who held it up for Francis who then switched it over to Cal Hope…then a perfect cross onto a quickly breaking Penny’s head and it was flashed into the Uxbridge net. 8 Vale men had combined in a 10 pass move to take the ball from one end to the other for a 1-0 lead. A thing of beauty.
Is it true that the 2nd goal in a game is the most crucial? Often yes, and the Vale set about getting it. On 39’ another good-looking bit of play; the ever aggressive O’Sullivan cleared an Uxbridge throw-in on midfield straight to Dickson, who reacted quickly, turned smartly and split the Uxbridge defence with a perfect through ball left Jordy Gallagher completely alone with Uxbridge keeper McKorkell for a chance he wouldn’t miss in a million years…well, except this time. But Gallagher found himself with the rebound and got himself fouled…um, sort of, a yard outside the box in a central position. Having spurned the easy breakaway chance 30 seconds earlier, Gallagher instead deposited the much higher degree of difficulty free kick into the top corner. Even the Russian judge had to give that a 10. 2-0 to the Vale.
But getting to halftime proved a bit of a challenge. On 41’ Bishop had to rush out to spare the defence’s blushes after a mixup on the edge of the box left Uxbridge’s attackers in the clear and from the resulting throw-in, another lapse saw Bishop pick up a ball which had been passed back by Lewis. The resulting indirect free kick from literally 5 yards out was an adventure which luckily resulted in only a corner kick. Bishop palmed that away and halftime beckoned.
The record will show that the 2nd half was a stalemate with no change to the scoreline, but there was plenty of entertainment. Uxbridge started with purpose and a decent opportunity on 48’ was blocked for a corner which itself resulted in a good shooting chance from the edge of the box, luckily wide. The Vale largely kept things in midfield and carved out a chance on 52’ when Gallaher put in an inviting cross which Francis could not quite corral. Again on 55’ Vale had a chance, this time with O’Sullivan executing a sexy little chip for Dickson to run onto; his cross was just behind a charging Penny. Vale continued to look dangerous and after a mazy Francis run and cross Moody had a double chance and MacAllister also a pop on 55’, all blocked by a resolute Uxbridge defence.
If Uxbridge were going to get back into the match, now was the time and they duly had their best spell, eventually carving out the chance they needed on 65’ when Uxbidge man Williams found himself on the end of a cross which somehow snuck through a maze…but the excellent Bishop was off his line in a flash to deflect wide from no more than 4 yards. Indeed, that was their chance, and no amount of huffing and puffing, long throw-ins and occasional corners would ever see them get another one as good.
The Vale kept things in front of them and nearly salted the game away on several occasions: on 75’ Penny had a cross/shot cleared off the line, on 80’ O’Sullivan drilled one in from 20 yards which required a smart save plus some luck in the ensuing scramble not to yield a 3rd for the Vale. And on 83’ Gallagher popped up on the right flank to whip in a ball which flummoxed McKorkell and nearly dribbled in. Brad Sweeney and Jermaine Greene came on with fresh legs and bags of pace to make a tired Uxbridge defence stay honest, so no support was available up front and the Uxbridge challenge fizzled away uneventfully.
A solid all round performance from all involved and we look forward to next Saturday away at Thatcham Town.