Manager Darrell Clarke threw no punches when he summed up Vale’s performance this evening,
“The quality wasn’t there tonight; we were nowhere near to be honest”.
But thankfully, a solid defensive display from a back four that has suffered more than most this season, gave Vale a clean sheet and a share of the spoils.
Manager Clarke rang the changes on the back of the Valiants 1-1 draw at Lyton Orient. Leon Legge, Cristian Montano, Jake Taylor and Will Swan making the starting eleven as Mustapha Olagunju, Alex Hurst and Kurtis Guthrie dropped to the bench, Dave Worrall missing out with an ankle injury.
A cagey start from both sides meant that the first real chance of the game fell to the visitors on 13 minutes, Stevenage breaking through the Vale press, Jack Aitchison finding himself free on the edge of the box, but his shot was charged down. Two minutes later Vale nearly found themselves behind, Remeao Hutton getting the better of Cristian Montano down the Stevenage right, flashing a cross across the Vale goal cutting out Leon Legge. Nathan Smith, maybe surprised as the ball reached him at the back post, deflected the ball towards his own goal, but Brown did well, scrambling across the goal line and diving to his right, to keep it 0-0.
Vale responded on Twenty minutes, Tom Conlon with a dangerous free kick from the inside left channel, which was met well by Scott Cuthbert heading clear, but the ball dropped to Luke Joyce who took a touch 20 yards out and shot just wide of the left upright.
At this stage Vale were living on their nerves and Joe Martin might have done better for the visitors after he lined up a direct free kick on the edge of Vales box, Conlon cautioned for a lunge on his opposite number. Martin’s free kick cleared the wall, but the ball drifted wide of the post with Scott Brown well beaten.
On Thirty-Three minutes Will Swan won a corner down the Vale left, Conlon delivering low into the box, beating the first man, but no white shirt could get a touch and the Boro defence scrambled the ball clear. Poor play in the Vale defence on Thirty-Nine minutes almost gifted Stevenage the goal their first half performance deserved as two misplaced defensive twenty yards from goal, allowed Elliot List to take a snapshot, but with Brown flat footed, the ball flashed wide past the post.
The second half start much the same as the first ended, Stevenage winning a corner after a good block from Smith. Former Valiant Chris Lines floated the ball over, headed towards goal but Montano took a steady touch in the six-yard box and volleyed clear.
For large swathes of the second half Vale had their backs firmly against the wall, often looking out numbered and out gunned in the midfield, but Smith and Legge, back as pairing for the first time in Months, rarely look flustered as they dealt with several free kicks and corners comfortably.
On Eighty-One minutes, Vale might have pinched not only a goal, but all three points as Burgess picked up a bouncing ball Thirty yards out, hitting it on the half volley. He caught it perfectly, but his effort flashed just wide of the left post.
Manager Clarke has much to ponder over the next few days, the loss of Worral before kick off and Joyce just before half time left a side bereft of attacking options and should Vale play against League leaders Cambridge United like that this Saturday, it will make for a very long Ninety minutes.