Port Vale 3 Oldham Athletic 2

Last updated : 26 January 2002 By Ross Coyne
They say that football is a funny old game. Well, if that's the case it
won't get much funny than this and as Port Vale fans must have left Vale
Park in hysterics. Or maybe not, maybe the Valiants left this match more in
disbelief that they actually came away with three points. As it was three
more than they deserved.

All that is irrelevant now, as the top and bottom is that the Latics should
have coasted this game but instead handed an average team with two useful
strikers a two goal lead. To their credit, a fantastic comeback almost
succeeded but for another defensive mistake to undo the Latics and cast a
shadow over any play-off hopes.

With a side sporting just the one change, Corazzin welcomed back for John
Sheridan, the formation moved back from a 4-4-2 (or if you like 4-5-1) to
make it another warped 4-3-3 formation. Eyres held his left side between the
midfield and attack, whilst John Eyre complemented on the right with
Corazzin down the middle. However, in the first half this never worked like
it was meant to. Armstrong looked isolated and was blocked off from his
usual link up Eyres by middle man Murray. The former Premiership player
added to this missing armoury as he under-performed, failing to win tackles
and when with the ball at his feet, giving it away needlessly.

Defensively this display showed more of the same. Too lethargic and
unintelligent. In Brooker and McPhee, the two forwards worked excellently to
create space and were ripe for being caught offside numerous times, but the
Latics never used of the offside trap. Instead, Vale made the Latics chase
for every ball when they attacked. In doing so, the defence opened up gaps
all over the field and eventually Vale learnt how to exploit this. But that
tells only half the story.

The visitors were the better side throughout the 90 minutes and eventually,
when being forced into it, the Latics produced their best weapon - attack.
Appleby looked superb in his Sheridan-esque role but the Latics failed to
produce anything clear cut for 45 minutes and although they looked like
scoring first and it was a defensive horror show that gave a mountain to

Early on, Berehall showed uncertainty over a clearance allowing McPhee to
nip in and shoot for goal. Fortunately, Rachubka had spotted the danger and
managed to advance enough and spread himself, blocking the effort with his
chest. With the game lively and seemingly under the Latics control, Eyre
volleyed a decent half chance narrowly over from 25 yards. However, the game
turned the visitors way moments later.

With the Latics happy to allow Vale time and possession in their third of
the pitch, the hosts became camped on the edge of our box and looked ready
to shoot once working an opening. Sure enough, it came as McPhee laid off
and McClare struck a sweet curling shot across Rachubka and into the far top
left corner. 0-1.

The Latics continued to run the show, with Vale happily mopping up and
hitting on the break. On 33, Eyres hit a long range daisy-cutter which had
Goodlad scrambling to fingertip around his post. Vale looked to capitalise
on the visitors frustration and on 36, McPhee again showed his menace as he
flipped the ball over Balmer and volleyed an inch wide, with Rachubka

No sooner could the hosts have been further ahead, but Burns wasted a golden
opportunity after he rose above Balmer to a McPhee free-kick and headed just
wide of the upright. Vale were now looking good for their one goal lead, but
that was to be doubled within seconds of half-time.

With Murray looking lost, Carragher ran the former-Southampton man ragged
before nutmegging him and sending a peach of a cross in for Brooker. Again
unchallenged, a Vale player had been allowed a golden opportunity and
Brooker made sure this one was going in. He glanced a looping header over
Rachubka and into the top corner. 0-2.

Finding themselves 2 goals to the good, Vale ended the half on a high,
although this scoreline was harsh on the Latics. Unfortunately though, it
shows how easily teams are finding our defence to breach. Saying that
though, the response after the break was perfect, as Vale saw their own
defence ripped apart.

The move of the match on 48, saw McNiven advance into the opponents half
with time and space. John Eyre cleverly ran onto the right wing pulling his
marker with him and creating a huge gap in the middle. McNiven sent a
perfect ball into the gap, where Murray laid off and Appleby followed up in
full stride to smash the ball home from 20 yards. A cracking reply and now
game on. 1-2.

From here on the Latics dominated throughout. Only on the break did Vale
look like nicking something and on 59, they had 2 half chances easily
claimed by Rachubka. The Latics were creating the better chances though and
on 65, Eyres almost nodded in at the far post but Carragher just got a head
to the ball. Seconds later, Beherall sent a glanced header just over the bar
but an equaliser continually eluded the visitors.

Not for long though. On 73, the Latics fully deserved their leveller as
Balmer's downward header from Eyres' corner, hit a defender and stopped dead
in the goalmouth. Corazzin pounced to slot the ball in between Goodlad's
legs. 2-2.

With the tempo of the game in full flow now, a softly dinked ball from Eyre
allowed McNiven plenty of space to crack a screamer for goal. Heading for
the top corner, Goodlad was at full-stretch to fingertip away. Pressure
continued and the turning point of the game will no doubt be Duxbury's 76th
minute header, which hit the post and then Murray's follow up was blocked by
Goodlad's feet. It should have been the winner for Oldham but it wasn't to

For all the Latics hard work in retrieving the game, it was soon to be
undone. Vale broke away on 81 and with Balmer failing to get up for a
header, substitute Mark Bridge-Wilkinson nodded into the 6 yard box, the
Latics half cleared and McPhee smashed home the winner. 2-3.

Looking desperate to achieve a 2nd comeback, Duxbury, tamely headed
Armstrong's cross into the arms of Goodlad on 85 and a minute later, Eyres
teed Murray up for another long-range effort but again Goodlad palmed the
ball away. In the end, that mountain had become too high to climb.

This match highlighted that major problem the Latics has - we can score, but
we can also be outscored. No team should look for promotion by travelling
away, scoring twice and still be beaten. It only took a goal each for
Reading and Bristol City to become the only two sides to win at Boundary
Park this season. Surely we should be aiming for this too. It just goes to
show - despite being the 2nd Division's top-scorers again with 50 goals -
little has changed since the Ritchie days.