Darryl Clark was as forthright as ever after he witnessed the Valiants lose another close game by the odd goal as Bolton continued their promotion form, collecting three points and boosting their haul to twenty-nine points from thirty-three available.
“We’re looking for Character, men, leaders … Who’s standing up to be playing the next game?”, but in all honesty Vale were outdone by a moment of quality from Oladapo Afolayan creating the winning goal and never looking light repeating that skill in the attacking third themselves.
Vale indeed started on the front foot, sloppy play at the back from the visitors, allowed Alex Hurst, then David Worrall, to press the Bolton defence and goalkeeper alike, Matt Gilks slipping before finally clearing the Vale danger. Two minutes later, good work down the left allowed a snap cross from Alex Hurst, but Matt Gilks took the ball above the head of Devante Rodney at the second attempt.
On twenty-two minutes Vale probed down both sides of the Bolton defence, Worrall crossing from the right before Hurst got to the by-line on the left, but his cross drifted over the goal and away for a goal kick.
Vale’s best move the of the half came moments later as Worrall broke down the right, firing the ball into the feet of Swan. The young striker took an assured touch before a short pass to Rodney. Vale’s top goal scorer headed towards goal, but his shot was scuffed and Gilks collected comfortably.
Bolton’s only real threat of the half came on thirty-five minutes, a corner chipped high into six-yard box towards the towering centre back Ricardo Santos. Scott Brown managed to get it clear, but as it was pumped back in Brown was well positioned to collect the flicked head at his near post.
Vale were left to rue another good chance on forty minutes, a long throw from Legge from the attacking right ricocheted around the Bolton penalty area, dropping to Skipper Tom Conlon around 12 yards out. The Midfielder caught it crisply, the ball rocketing towards goal, but Alex Baptiste lunged towards the ball and it deflected wide for a corner.
Two minutes later Vale were on the attack again, this time a corner from the right. Worrall chipped it up to the back post where he found an unmarked Legge, the centre back connected well enough, heading it down, but his effort was blocked, and the Bolton defence scrambled clear.
The second half started much the same as the first ended, Theo Robinson picking the ball up around thirty yards from goal, but his shot was tame when progressing forward might have been the better option.
The game though was turned on its head on sixty-three minutes as Bolton attacked down the left wing, Afolayan getting to the by-line before pulling the ball back to an unmarked Gethin Jones who despite slicing his effort, it was more than enough to bobble past a wrong-footed Brown and into the Vale goal via a deflection.
Desperate times called for desperate measures and on seventy-nine minutes Vale made a treble Substitution – Zak Mills, Devante Rodney, Luke Joyce coming off – Mark Cullen, Jake Taylor and Manny Oyeleke joining the game. This though worked against Vale and as Adam Crookes went down with an injury, Vale were forced to play the final ten minutes with ten men having made the maximum number of substitutes and Bolton saw the game out comfortably.
Given Barrow’s late winner at Walsall last evening and Southend securing a point at home to Stevenage, it was the worst possible result but with Colchester, Barrow and Grimsby all left to play this season, the season is still firmly in Vale’s hands.