Wycombe Wanderers 0 Port Vale 0
The Chairboys’ hopes of briefly climbing to second in the table were thwarted as a frustrating encounter at Adams Park ended in stalemate.
Vale manager Neil Aspin said before the game that his plan was to play a high defensive line to negate the threat posed by Wanderers’ target-man Adebayo Akinfenwa. He did exactly that, and it worked.
Not quite firing on all cylinders this afternoon, Gareth Ainsworth’s side were unable to craft a way round the visiting defence, and that, coupled with another inept refereeing performance, was enough to earn the visitors a welcome point in their relegation battle.
The Blues’ boss made two changes to his starting line-up, with Curtis Thompson and Nick Freeman replacing Matt Bloomfield and the injured Luke O’Nien. Michael Harriman was named on the bench, making a welcome return to the squad for the first time since September.
Having propelled themselves back into the automatic promotion places with two fine away wins, expectations were high at Adams Park, but there was nervous tension in the air, and a cagey first-half was played out with barely a whiff of goalmouth action.
There was a promising spell after 6 minutes, when Thompson released Freeman down the right and the wide man shimmied to the by-line and sent over a delicious cross which a Vale defender headed clear just as Akinfenwa was about to pounce.
A flurry of corners followed, and from the second, the Beast headed the ball goalwards via the turf, Vale keeper Ryan Boot doing well to read the bounce and make a save.
That was it for thrills until the 26th minute when Ben Whitfield had Vale’s only attempt of the first-half, a long range effort that soared over the Valley terrace roof.
The next time anyone threatened was five minutes before the interval when Nathan Tyson chased what looked like a lost cause down the left flank, got there in time, and hooked a low shot across the face of the visitors’ goal.
Then in the final minute of the half, Sido Jombati headed a Joe Jacobson corner towards the top corner of the net only for Root to make another important save.
The first half had shown that set-pieces and getting to the by-line behind the Vale defence looked promising, while long balls in the direction of Akinfenwa were having little effect.
It was also clear that referee Lee Swabey and his assistants were no exception to the long list of officials who either fail to see or fail to acknowledge the big Wycombe striker having his shirt constantly tugged.
The undercurrent of nervous tension had grown. Some of the teams below were winning, but Vale looked there for the taking if Wanderers could only find a way to prise them open.
The first chance of the second-half was a free-kick in Sido territory, but as the crowd eagerly awaited a curl into the top corner, all they got was a scuff into the wall.
Flat games like this sometimes come to life with a bit of animosity, and the atmosphere certainly picked up when David Worrall enraged Wycombe players and fans alike by not returning the ball following an injury stoppage.
We even had a melee of players from both sides jostling each other (for the second time in three days) before calm was restored and Worrell was booked.
The pattern of the game hadn’t changed much, so Ainsworth made a double substitution after 62 minutes, with Scott Kashket and Craig-Mackail-Smith replacing Tyson and Freeman.
Moments later Vale almost scored when Tyrone Barnett was allowed a free run at the defence before dispatching a daisy cutter that Brown did well to tip round the post.
Wanderers responded with an attack of their own that saw Kashket release Tafari Moore, who burst into the area and almost poked it beyond Boot despite a heavy first touch.
By this time Thompson appeared to be struggling with an injury, and he was replaced by Bloomfield after 66 minutes.
The Notts County loanee had done a decent job, but the midfield as a whole had struggled this afternoon, the second ball always seemed to be won by Vale and Wanderers were clearly missing O’Nien.
As time ran out, the Chairboys had two chances to win the game, both of which fell to Mackail-Smith.
The first was a breakaway that saw Bloomfield and Kashket combine to set CMS up and the second chance came from a Jacobson free-kick. Both efforts were comfortably saved by Boot.
Five minutes of stoppage time didn’t produce a fairy-tale ending, and the final whistle sounded to a chorus of boos aimed at the referee.
Two points from the last four home games is a disappointing haul, but seven points in the last eight days is admirable work.
Results elsewhere could have been worse. Luton, Coventry and Exeter all won, but Mansfield and Swindon lost while Lincoln were also held to a draw.
Wanderers will remain in third place whatever happens to Notts County tomorrow, and Ainsworth’s men will quickly put this one behind them as they prepare for Friday’s trip to Meadow Lane. A big game to savour.
Line-up & ratings
Brown (7), Moore (7), Jombati (7), El-Abd (7), Jacobson (7), Bean (7), Gape (6), Thompson (6) (Bloomfield 66 (6)), Freeman (6) (Kashket (62 (6)), Akinfenwa (6), Tyson (6) (Mackail-Smith (6))