It goes without saying that Vale have a love hate relationship with the League Cup, if it was a relationship it would have ended up in the divorce courts long ago, but every year the Valiants give it one last chance, only to feel the obvious disappointment of another first round exit. Given the seeding system and the injury to Montano on Saturday, Vale went into this in hope rather than expectation and it again proved to be a tricky evening.
Straight from the kick-off the visitors looked to impose themselves on the game winning their first corner in the second minute, short from Fraser, before crossing to the back post, thankfully cleared with Vale breaking down the left. Just a minute later, Boyce should have done better after good work down the Burton left, his shot from the edge of the box going just wide of the left upright..
Vale had started on the back foot but registered their first chance on five minutes, Cullen really should do better as Worrall went down the inside right channel to the byeline, standing a cross up to the back post, where Cullen had worked himself free, but his right foot shot was badly mistimed and ballooned high into the air. Vale continued to push forward on on eight minutes good inter play from Montano and Worrall in the midfield freed up Gibbons whose fierce drive from distance was goal bound but turned away by Keeper O’Hara.
But it was the Visitors that opened the scoring Burton, Quinn with a surging run down the left, putting the ball across the six-yard box, a sharp diagonal run from Boyce across the defender, a flick and the ball is past Brown and Burton lead. Burton’s early superiority continued a few minutes later, Edwards taking a corner from the Burton attacking left, alarms bells were ringing as Brown seemed to get under it, but he managed recover and to palm the ball away to safety.
On thirteen minutes, another chance for Boyce, this time his flick is high over the bar from the edge of the box.
Vale finally gained a little control in the game on twenty minutes, Conlon creating a sight on goal as Vale win a free kick on the edge of the box. The midfielder manged to get it over the wall, and it bounces just in front of the goalkeeper, but O’Hara read it well and pushed it out for a corner diving to his left. Worrall floated the corner in, but O’Hara took comfortably above his defenders.
Vale were indebted to Brown on twenty-five minutes after a great save by Brown. A great run down the right-hand channel found Fraser in front of goal but Brown stood up well and saved low to his right conceding a corner Burton but Vale stand firm.
Despite the Visitors dominance, Vale were showing flashes as Gibbons freed Worrall down the right, getting to the byeline, pulling it back to Conlon that had pulled to the back post and headed back across goal, but O’Hara had read it and saved comfortably to his left.
Vale continued to look to get a foothold in this game, a lovely stepover from Montano thirty yards out freed him into the Burton attacking third, crossing with the outside of his right foot to Cullen who headed towards goal but it was a comfortable save for O’Hara.
On thirty-five, Vale did have the ball in the back of the net but its ruled out as Worrall just fails to retrieve a ball over the byeline crossing to Cullen who found the back of the net with the header but the flag was up early and Vale are denied. Two minutes later, Vale win a free kick in the left-hand channel, thirty yards out, which Worrall took but the Burton defence cleared easily.
No one could question the commitment of the Valiants and this was solidified as Gibbons picked up a caution for a full blooded challenge which left Boyce grounded in his own half.
Burton might have gone into the break two up, Fraser getting ahead of Smith from a Burton corner but his firm header down bounced over the bar and Vale survived.
Vale started much the better of the two teams in the second half and this was rewarded when on fifty-three minutes, Vale winning a penalty after O’Toole was judged to have handled in the box. Cullen calmly stepped took the penalty sending the keeper the wrong way firing to the left of the goal and Vale were level.
Just as Vale were hoping for a second half onslaught, Burton went back in front despite a great save from Brown, Scott Fraser following up to fire into an empty net. On sixty-six the visitors looked to solidify their lead after winning a free kick on the edge of the Vale box, which was wasted really, Sarkic curling his effort high over the wall and bar and into the Hamil End.
With twenty minutes to go, Vale changed back to a 442 formation, Worrall departing the field to be replaced by Bennett but this offered little help as Gibbons missed his defensive header and the ball ricochets around the Vale six yard box finally cleared by Legge.
On seventy-one, Montano tried his luck from the edge of the box, but O’Hara helped his looping effort over the bar. The resulting corner was fired in by Conlon but Referee Marsden had seen something he didn’t like and it resulted in a free kick to the visitors.
With fifteen minutes remaining Club Captain Pope was thrown on to bolster the front line but as the half continued, Vale started to run out of ideas how to break down a resolute Burton defence.
On eighty-five, it might have been three – one, Boyce attacking the Vale box, checks and beats Legge, shooting for the bottom left hand corner but Brown was down well and conceded the corner which Vale cleared through Bennett.
Game management was crucial at this stage and despite the additional five minutes being shown by reserve official Massey-Ellis, Burton managed to see the game out comfortably, moving into the second round.
Concentrate on the league anyone?