“The writing’s on the wall. It won’t go away. It’s an Omen.”
Wise words there from The Prodigy’s Liam Howlett although he probably wasn`t thinking about the Chairboys’ impending visit to Vale Park on Saturday when he wrote them. We take an unbeaten away record in 2010/11 with us and we are also unbeaten at “the Wembley of the North.” Seasoned football watchers will know that “there may be trouble ahead.” Yet whilst there’s still a Wycombe Wanderers, love and Kevin Betsy, let’s face the Valiants and dance.
We’ve faced Vale on five previous occasions in the Potteries and we`re going back to our first ever visit for the latest episode of “Face-To-Face”, which took place on the last day of September 2000. The Blues were in good form under Lawrie Sanchez and travelled in confident mood. Part of that confidence was the settled side selected by the manager and he named an unchanged line-up for the fourth consecutive game. The Wanderers had just been knocked out of the League Cup in midweek, losing a second round, second leg tie by a solitary goal (5-3 on aggregate) to Birmingham City at St. Andrews.
Recent signing Andy Rammell had returned for that cup-tie after his red card against Bristol Rovers was overturned on appeal. Andy Baird also made his comeback from a groin strain and took his place on the bench. Keith Ryan, who was beginning his eleventh season with the Blues, was ruled out after suffering from a thigh strain in a reserve game on his comeback from a groin strain.
The Chairboys` line-up was: (4-4-2)
Mark Rogers – Jamie Bates – Paul McCarthy – Chris Vinnicombe
Mo Harkin – Dannie Bulman – Michael Simpson – Steve Brown
Jermaine McSporran – Andy Rammell
Port Vale lined-up as follows: (3-5-2)
Matthew Carragher – Sagi Burton – Michael Walsh
Ville Viljanen – David Beresford – Tommy Widdrington – Michael Cummins – Michael Twiss
Tony Naylor – Marc Bridge-Wilkinson
There were 3,615 fans inside Vale Park and it was the visitors who seized the initiative from the first whistle. Wycombe attacked the Bycars end and Steve Brown whistled a shot that flew just wide of the right-hand post after six minutes. Vale manager Brian Horton was forced into a change with only nine minutes gone when Liam Burns had to replace the injured Sagi Burton in the centre of defence.
Andy Rammell was making a big difference to the side and his hold-up play helped the Blues retain possession and keep up the pressure. He chested the ball off for Michael Simpson who played in Jermaine McSporran but he could only clip the ball over both Vale goalkeeper Mark Goodlad and the crossbar.
With 21 minutes played the Blues took the lead. Martin Taylor`s clearance was flicked on by Rammell and he reacted first to Michael Twiss` poor clearance to take a touch and curl a shot around Goodlad and into the right-hand corner of the net from 25 yards.
Vale almost levelled straight from the re-start when Matt Carragher`s right-wing cross was met by Ville Viljanen but he headed wide of the target. Wycombe continued to make chances and Brown crashed a shot against the crossbar with Goodlad beaten on 37 minutes.
Three minutes later Bulman and Simpson created a chance for McSporran but he could only fire his shot into the side-netting. McSporran had another chance a minute later and he forced Goodlad into a brilliant save, pushing his powerful shot over the bar after his first effort had been blocked.
The visitors continued to push forward and Bulman was the next man to have an attempt on goal but he couldn`t keep his shot down from just inside the area after being set-up by Mo Harkin. In the final minute of the half Viljanen had another headed opportunity but sent it just wide of the far post.
Port Vale started the second half on the front foot and Jamie Bates twice had to make blocks to keep the hosts at bay. Sanchez made a double substitution on the hour with Danny Senda and Andy Baird coming on for Mo Harkin and Jermaine McSporran. Within two minutes Baird had been brought down right on the edge of the penalty area by Michael Walsh but the Wanderers couldn`t make anything of the free-kick.
With twenty minutes remaining Senda missed a great chance to make it 2-0 after being set up by Brown, who squared the ball after being gifted possession following a dreadful clearance from Goodlad. The Blues were relieved to see referee Terry Jones wave away home appeals for a penalty for handball after the ball was smashed against Paul McCarthy following a goalmouth scramble. The Referee most certainly wasn’t a very naughty boy.
Brown was replaced by Martyn Lee with ten minutes remaining and the visitors comfortably held on to take a thoroughly deserved three points and it left them sat in fifth spot in the Division Two table. A promising league campaign was soon forgotten as the team embarked on a fairytale run in the F.A. Cup. Interestingly, just over two weeks later at the Clubs` AGM it was announced that Sanchez has agreed a new contract to the end of the 2003/2004 season and he told members: ‘In my time here I expect to be in the First Division.’