Wycombe Wanderers 1 Port Vale 1
Blues’ keeper Nikki Bull saved a late penalty to ensure the spoils were shared at the end of an entertaining clash at Adams Park.
They couldn’t make it six home-wins in a row, but having been a goal down to promotion rivals Vale, Wycombe’s first draw since October could prove to be a valuable point at the end of the season.
Injuries and suspensions gave the Wycombe line-up an unfamiliar look. Scott Donnelly started his first game for the club in place of Matt Bloomfield, Danny Foster continued to deputise for Andy Sandell at left-back and Leon Johnson returned to the side in the absence of both Dave Winfield and Alan Bennett.
Worryingly, the Blues named just six substitutes and loanee left-back Anthony Straker was the only defender on the bench.
In a frantic start, Vale attacked straight from the kick-off with Robert Taylor showing an impressive turn of speed down the left to serve notice that he was one to watch.
At the other end, a Donnelly free-kick was bundled goalwards by Gareth Ainsworth, and when the ball broke to Kevin Betsy, his fierce drive was parried by Vale keeper Chris Martin.
Still only minutes into the game, Taylor raced down the left flank again and crossed for Doug Loft whose shot was brilliantly tipped over the bar by Bull in a superb reaction save.
After a breathtaking start, the game settled down, and neither side forged another clear-cut chance until five minutes before half-time when Ben Strevens beat the offside-trap and found himself in the clear. With only the keeper to beat, one option would have been to go for goal himself, but with both Betsy and Donnelly in support, Strevens picked a poor pass which allowed Vale to clear the danger. It was a glorious opportunity wasted.
Vale immediately responded with a break down the right and another shot from Loft which Bull dived low to his left to save.
It seems no match would be complete without an audacious effort from Gareth Ainsworth and today was no exception. The veteran had already sent one rasping long-range effort narrowly over the crossbar, but that was nothing compared to a fifty-yard drive that had Vale keeper Martin scampering across his box before gratefully watching the ball glide just past the post.
Vale scored the opening goal two minutes into the second half when Taylor went on a run down the left and delivered a low cross which outfoxed both Bull and Leon Johnson. Bull’s dive failed to intercept the ball and the hapless Johnson slid in behind him to bundle it into his own net.
Ten minutes later the Blues were level when Donnelly scored his first goal for the club. Still working on his match-fitness and virtually anonymous up to that point, the loanee collected the ball outside the box and weaved his way past a couple of defenders before planting a low shot into the corner of the net.
Wycombe pressed for a winner, but this game could have gone either way and they had Bull to thank for saving a Lewis Haldane header from close range and a Tom Pope drive from distance, while at the other end Betsy glanced a header narrowly past the post.
With less than ten minutes remaining, The Blues suffered what looked like a killer blow when Johnson was unable to get out of the way of a fierce cross from the left, the Vale fans screamed handball, and the referee duly pointed to the spot.
Nikki Bull has earned Wycombe so many points this season that it almost felt greedy to hope he would do it again, but he did. To an enormous roar of appreciation, Bull dived to his right but kept his eye on the ball and used his trailing leg to lash Pope’s spot-kick well clear of danger, thus preserving yet another precious point for the side.
It’s tempting to name Bull as man-of-the-match, but with Bloomfield out injured and Donnelly not quite in the same combative mould, Stuart Lewis really had his work cut out in central-midfield today and his tireless performance was magnificent.
Special Mention – Nikki Bull
Man of the Match – Stuart Lewis
Bull, McCoy, Westwood, Johnson, Foster, Ainsworth (Rendell 73), Lewis, Donnelly, Betsy, Strevens, Beavon (Pittman 84).
Bull saves the day as Blues draw with Vale
Wycombe Wanderers 1 Port Vale 1