Port Vale 0 Bradford City 0
If Port Vale are the second best side in this division then City must be a contender.
Phil Parkinson had said there was little to choose between the two teams – and last night’s goalless clash at Vale Park underlined that.
The point would have been greeted with more relief in the home dressing room than the away one.
City’s performance backed up the win at York three days before and the only tinge of disappointment was that it did not result in another victory on the road. And hearing that Cheltenham and Rotherham had both won would have left the Bantams feeling frustrated because they had deserved more.
But five points from the three games since Wembley keeps the tally ticking along, providing City can follow up with a long-overdue success at Valley Parade against struggling Aldershot on Saturday.
Jon McLaughlin was the only City player to have started all three of this season’s meetings with Vale – five of the side from the JPT win at Vale Park three months earlier were no longer at the club, including the two goalscorers Ritchie Jones and Craig Forsyth.
Parkinson made three changes after York. Garry Thompson’s reward for his decisive goal was a return up front in place of the out-of-sorts Nahki Wells.
Rory McArdle came back in defence for Andrew Davies and Zavon Hines, another to make a real impact from the bench at the weekend, replaced Kyel Reid. Will Atkinson switched to the left to help Carl McHugh counter the pacy threat of Jennison Myrie-Williams.
Saturday’s star man Ricky Ravenhill kept his place in midfield, where he was up against his former Doncaster team-mate Anthony Griffith, who went straight into the Vale side after returning on loan from Leyton Orient on Monday.
Despite sitting pretty in the promotion places, Vale boss Micky Adams admitted confidence had waned after a dip of three defeats in four, including their last two at home.
Griffith’s return was intended to add some bite – and he needed only five minutes to go into James Adcock’s book for a late lunge on Thompson.
The edginess among the Vale fans was audible in the opening exchanges as City enjoyed plenty of play in the home half. There was no real cause for concern as Hines had two wild thrashes at goal.
City won the first corner after 18 minutes and it bounced invitingly in the box but nobody was able to pounce in time.
Jones and James Hanson worked hard to keep the ball alive for Will Atkinson to find room for a shot but his low left-footer skewed wide.
Vale’s first effort came from a City corner with a quick break before Louis Dodds’ effort at the other end was deflected wide. League Two’s top scorer Tom Pope was first to the corner but could not direct his header on target.
As the hosts livened up, McLaughlin produced a superb save to deny Pope his first goal in eight games. Darren Purse nodded a Myrie-Williams free-kick into the goalmouth, where the striker met it with a reaction header but the City keeper, who appeared to be going the wrong way, stuck out a strong arm to turn it behind.
Myrie-Williams overhit another set-piece into the box as half-time arrived but there were warning signs that Vale were starting to up their game. It was still a satisfying 45 minutes for the visitors – and certainly backed up Parkinson’s pre-match suggestion that there was not much between the sides despite the disparity in the league table.
City began the second half brightly and Hanson was a whisker away from scoring for the third game in a row.
McHugh’s deep cross from the left was met with a confident header, which Neal tipped up and onto the Vale bar.
The contest was opening up and Vale responded with a driving run from Doug Loft. Then Stephen Darby produced a fine sliding block to deny Ashley Vincent.
Hanson immediately had another chance and should have done better with his header after finding himself space to meet Gary Jones’ free-kick. But the ball rattled the advertising board a couple of yards wide of goal.
City needed to make the spell count and thought they had done so from a low corner by Jones. McArdle appeared to have the first shot that was blocked on the line by Richard Duffy and then the full back did the same to deny Hanson’s jab from the rebound.
The chances were stacking up but the stalemate remained as City made their first change at the midway point. Thompson required treatment after taking a whack and left the action gingerly to be replaced by Nahki Wells.
Vale had been very much second best since the restart but Dodds roused the home crowd with an instinctive volley from 25 yards over the bar.
Ravenhill was booked after a midfield hand ball but the officials were unmoved by City’s claims for a penalty when Purse shoulder-charged Wells to the ground. It looked the correct decision despite the pleas from behind the goal.
Reid was ready to come on for Hines but before he could appear, Vincent had bent a dangerous cross onto Pope’s head and his effort didn’t miss by much.
Good pressing won a fourth corner but again it was a Vale head under the crossbar to clear out the danger. Even with time ebbing away, City were not content to sit on their point.
Micky Adams threw on Lee Hughes for the ineffective Myrie-Williams for the last five minutes. And the sub striker almost had an assist with his first touch.
City were undone by a long ball and suddenly looked outnumbered at the back as Hughes back-heeled into Pope’s path 12 yards out. But McArdle was across with a crucial intervention to block his shot.
As Vale continued to look for a late winner, Pope was again on the end of Daniel Jones’ cross but his downward header was straight at McLaughlin.
Parkinson brought on Nathan Doyle for Jones to see it out for City but Vale’s building momentum was cut short when they were reduced to ten men in the first of the five added minutes. Loft went in high on Ravenhill and Adcock reached straight for the red card.
There was still time for Hanson to loop another header into the danger zone and it needed both Vale centre halves to scramble the ball away from the waiting Wells. And Reid put in a teasing cross which Neal just managed to get to first as Hanson looked to pounce.