Port Vale 0 - 2 Notts County
Competition | Sky Bet League 1
Scorers | Jones (11), Noble (87)
Attendance | 5,090 (381 away fans)
Referee | Mark Brown
Notts County secured back-to-back victories in Sky Bet League 1 thanks to another battling display that saw them survive a spirited second half display to beat Port Vale 2-0 at Vale Park on Saturday, thanks to goals from Gary Jones and Liam Noble.
Having secured a hard-earned 2-1 win over Colchester United at Meadow Lane in midweek, Notts had to work even harder to take all three points away from Port Vale, who were unbeaten going into the game.
With Nicky Wroe and Cieron Keane both serving one game suspensions for their red cards in that match earlier in the week, Manager Shaun Derry was delighted to be able to recall Blair Adams after a short injury lay-off to fill the vacant left back position. Alan Smith also returned from injury to take his place in midfield in the only other change to the side that started against the U’s.
Shaun Harrad, who signed a short-term deal to return to Notts this week, had to make do with a place on the bench for his first game back, with Ronan Murray and Jake Cassidy continuing upfront.
A lively opening period saw Murray almost presented with a great chance to give Notts the lead as early as the second minute, when a lovely ball over the top from Liam Noble dropped invitingly between the striker and Vale goalkeeper Sam Johnson, but the Irishman couldn’t quite get a toe to it as he stretched forwards.
Notts continued to press but it was the home side who would get the ball in the net, with captain Carl Dickinson heading home from a well-delivered corner only to see his effort chalked off for a foul in the area.
That would prompt a short spell of pressure from the home side, but having ridden that out, Notts were back on the front foot and had the lead in the 11th minute with a fabulous strike from midfielder Gary Jones.
Murray had broken into the area on the left hand side and had Noble for company, but Vale were able to get the ball clear, only to see it drop invitingly for Jones some 25 yards out and his sweetly hit volley may have taken a deflection but nestled into the back of the net all the same to give Notts the lead.
The visitors continued to look dangerous, with Zeli Ismail going on a mazy run down the right midway through the half, after Mustapha Dumbuya had done brilliantly to dispossess Mark Marshall and set his teammate away, who was then fouled on the corner of the box by Ryan McGivern as he tricked his way past the big defender.
There was a setback for Notts in the 27th minute though, as Adams, just back from injury, was forced to come off to be replaced by Curtis Thompson, with Dumbuya moving across to left back as he has done previously.
Thompson had the unenviable task of keeping the dangerous Marshall quiet but it was a battle that he would come out on top in and Notts would not show the effects of the enforced change.
Indeed they came close to doubling their lead shortly after the half hour mark, with Jones delivering a fantastic ball across the face of goal that Haydn Hollis couldn’t connect cleanly with for what would almost certainly have been a second goal for Notts.
The only other real chance of the half fell to Murray, after Thompson had done brilliantly to beat both Marshall and Dickinson in a strong break down the right flank, before getting a good cross in to his teammate, who saw his shot well blocked on the edge of the six-yard box.
HT: Port Vale 0 Notts County 1
Vale started the second half brightly but weren’t able to carve out any clear-cut chances in the opening minutes after the restart and it was Notts who had the best chance, almost out of nothing, five minutes in.
After a mix-up in the Vale defence, Noble found himself one on one with the keeper and despite taking his time and allowing the keeper to go to ground before getting the Notts midfielder saw his effort deflect off the keeper’s legs and over and behind for a corner.
After that, the second half built into a crescendo of noise from the home crowd and fast-paced action on the pitch, with Vale having much the better of it and Notts forced to defend for long periods.
A double substitution by the home side shortly after the hour mark, bringing on Colin Daniel and Byron Moore for Ben Williamson and Chris Birchall would be the precursor for a wave of attacks and near misses that would exasperate the home crowd, who thought the ball had found the net a number of times, only to see a Notts player deny them through a deflection or clearance.
Daniel had an early chance to make an impression as the ball fell to him over the head of Hollis but he mistimed his attempted volley and Notts were able to clear. The substitute would then turn provider as he headed the ball down well for Tom Pope, whose shot from a tight angle went through the legs of Roy Carroll, but the keeper did brilliantly to react and flick his heel out to deflect the shot on to the far post and it was shepherded behind by Mullins.
The resulting corner saw a dramatic melee in the area, with the home side swinging boots at the ball and Notts trying desperately to clear at every opportunity, which they were eventually able to do and this led to a rare chance for Murray, who shot across goal after some good build-up play by Noble and Ismail.
A second substitution for Notts saw Harrad introduced to the action in the 71st minute to replace Alan Smith, with Murray moving out to the wing and Noble coming into central midfield.
Moore and Pope had further chances to equalise for the home side, but the best chance came in the 74th minute when a goal-bound header by Daniel was deflected behind by Jones and then from the resulting corner a Marshall header that looked certain to hit the net was cleared off the line by Thompson.
The home crowd must have been questioning how they were still behind by this stage and having survived the deluge of attacks, Notts looked to turn the tide with Ismail capitalising on a fine move down the left to strike for goal and then Cassidy getting a shot away from a tight angle.
Vale boss Micky Adams made his final substitution with 10 minutes to go, bringing on Louis Dodds for Frederic Veseli and the home side would have another decent chance shortly afterwards, but once again Notts survived thanks to another great block.
The first yellow card came in the 84th minute of the match, as Noble was penalised for a clumsy foul on Moore as he broke over the halfway line, but it was only a temporary setback for Notts.
A foul by Dodds on Jones just outside the area a couple of minutes later rightly brought a freekick that Noble would take and double County’s lead thanks to a big deflection off the wall that diverted the ball into the bottom right hand corner of the net.
Vale continued to push and had five minutes of added time to try and take something from the game, but the final exchanges would only bring further bookings for Pope and Hollis as Notts stood firm to claim an important away win.
FT: Port Vale 0 Notts County 2
MAGPIE PLAYER MAN OF THE MATCH | Gary Jones
A stunning opener set the tone for what was a composed and solid performance by the experienced midfielder.
Look out for full reaction and post-match highlights on Magpie Player.
Photos by Dan Westwell