Wednesday, 29 July 2015

28/07/15 Review: Port Vale vs Bolton Wanderers

Port Vale 1-2 Bolton Wanderers (Pre-season Friendly)
Vale Park

Tuesday night football, it's been a while. The last game I attended on a Tuesday night was Macc vs Telford back in March- and it was freezing! Tonight's game was another pre-season delight and in Port Vale and Bolton Wanderers I hoped to see two teams going at it before the Football League season kicks-off next weekend. The Vale had pulled out a 2-2 draw with La Liga side Getafe and Bolton had meanwhile been held to a 1-1 draw at Scunthorpe in their last friendlies, and considering the last SIX games I have attended have ended in draws it seemed almost inevitable that another tie was on the cards. My prediction, however, was that Bolton would triumph by one goal.

Both sides ended last season in 18th Place in their respective leagues, with Vale only 4 points away from relegation and the Wanderers comfortable in the end with a 10 point gap from the drop zone. Having signed new players in Osede (Real Madrid), Ceberio (Real Sociedad), Lussey (Liverpool) and Amos (Manchester United) it looked like Bolton would be in for a much better season with players from Europe's top sides, albeit academy youngsters, at their disposal. Vale had also been bringing in the newbies, with Uche Ikpeazu (loan- Watford) seeming to be a happy signing for the Burslem side.

One of the nicest buildings I've seen in Burslem.
As kick-off was advertised for 7:30pm I set off at 7:20pm, due to the fact that I live just 2.2 miles away. I did not know I lived this close until recently, so it is a crime really that it has taken me over 2 years since living in Sneyd Green to actually visit Vale Park. I arrived and parked up down a scabby side street at around 7:27pm, then rushed towards the ground, passing many fans who didn't seem concerned about missing the kick-off. I eventually got to the turnstile at 7:32pm and was told I had to buy my ticket from "a ticket office near the railway". Say whaaaaaat?! So, being a cunning son of a gun, I decided to walk around to the away end and as luck would have it away fans could buy a ticket from a much closer location. Looks like I'm a Bolton fan for the evening then. I purchased my ticket, read that it was actually a 7:45pm KO (phew!) and took my seat with a miserable group of people who sounded like Peter Kay. The teams came out to the sound of "Uptown Funk" and the line-ups were announced. With all my rush I hadn't settled down enough to take note that Emile Heskey, scorer of England's 2nd goal away at Kazakhstan in 2009, wasn't playing. Alas, I did listen in enough to hear that new signings Amos and Osede were starting and Vale looked to be sporting their first XI, so it was game on! About four Bolton fans must've been part of the Wanderers' bad boy gang as they 'booed' every players name being called out for Vale, classy.

Safety netting applied to stop the away fans mixing with.... erm, the rest of the away stand?
Unlike the past two pre-season friendlies I've viewed in July, this one started off like a real match. Shots were constant and the tackles were hard, with Vale having a loanee injured within the first 5 minutes. Vale looked up for it, with prior mentioned Ikpeazu looking like a handful for the Bolton back-four. He rose above them, outpaced them and despite being a bit greedy at times, looked like he may provide the opener from open-play or set-piece. However, it was the ex-Stoke man, Carl Dickinson, who rattled the post, almost giving them the lead. The Bolton fans didn't have much to cheer about and when a player got anywhere near the goal one fan would, without fail, shout "Shoooooooot!" to which on one instance another fan responded with "I'll shoot you in a minute". With only a few minutes until the break another new Bolton signing, Madine, did Shoooooooot and score- a goal which Vale fans protested was offside, but the precise finish was allowed, none the less. Vale 0-1 Wanderers. The 150 or so away fans gave a slightly enthused cheer before returning to their seats. Half-time came shortly after, with Bolton holding a slight advantage. With no programme and no money for a pint, I decided to check out the away facilities and see if £1.20 would get me anything to drink.

The away area was exactly what you'd expect, the beers were warm and pies were cold. I approached the of the queue and had the following exchange with the server:
Me: How much for a beer?
Server: £2
Me: Ok, what about a coke?
Server: £2
Me: A tea?
Server: £2
Me: Anything you can get me for £1.20?
Server: You can have a coke.
Me: Thanks.
In hindsight, I think what actually happened was the very nice lady let me off by 80p, but at the time it seemed as though she was selling items to the nearest pound in an attempt to rob away fans. Following that, I returned to my seat and listened to "Uptown Funk" on the Half-Time PA for the Second time- closely followed by a hat-trick as the teams came back out.

The local Stoke-on-Trent black clouds are the 12th man at Vale Park
No subs at half-time, which left me still wondering if Emile had made the trip to Stoke. I had thought that all hope was lost until I heard some fans shouting "Heskey, give us a wave, Heskey, Heskey, give us a wave." during half-time. It was a similar sense false hope that I used to receive whilst watching him play for England in the 2000's. Anyway, on with the second half. Bolton started well and looked threatening, but it was through well-worked build-up than an attacking onslaught.
The second goal, however, came from a great tackle and run from the Wanderers right-back, passing it to the winger who curled one towards the lethal Madine. His second goal made it Vale 0-2 Wanderers. The Vale didn't deserve to be 2 down and they knew that, with Leith-Smith coming on Port Vale pressed from the kick-off and made a chance of their own. A cross came in to Moore, who scuffed his shot wide- luckily Foley had made a well-timed run and before the ball could go out of play he swept in and prodded it in to the net. Vale 1-2 Wanderers, game on!

With a comeback on the cards, it was a bit too much to take for one steward.
Having already hit the woodwork twice, Vale pressed even more to look for an equaliser. Subs were coming on, the Vale fans were getting rowdy and the rain was starting to pour- it was turning into a proper game of English football. With 10 minutes to go Vale struck the bar again, feeling at this point that it just wasn't their day. The final set of subs came on, putting down my dreams of seeing a Heskey goal and it was in stoppage time when the big call came. The ref gave the home side a last-minute penalty. At 2-1 down with one of the last kicks of the game to come, Byron Moore was transported from a wet friendly in Burslem to the World Cup final in Rio. The pressure was on to beat debutante Ben Amos from 12-yards. And, you guessed it, crashed against the bar and out. Shortly after, the final whistle went and that was it. Full Time, Vale 1-2 Wanderers.

A Vale legend, probably.
On our way out, the PA sounded with respectful comments from the Vale announcer to wish Bolton a good season. One fan was thrilled at this, saying "that's nice of 'em, they didn't have to say that." whilst another shouted back at the ground "we'll need it!". I then made my way around to the dressing room exits to see if anyone, mainly Heskey, was about. I waited and waited, got a few players to sign my ticket so that I didn't seem too weird. I then knew there was no chance when the main man, Neil Lennon, popped out to jump on the departing coach. As a fan of Lennon, I decided to get a picture with him- and even went as far to ask what he thought of his team today. "Aye, was a good showing" was his reply. I wanted to ask if Emile was in his plans for the new season, but I didn't want to upset the lad mid-photo.

That is me with Neil Lennon, I promise.
So that was it, home time. I had done it on a cold Tuesday night in Stoke, so to speak. Knowing that this nice, local stadium was within 2.2 miles of my house meant that another trip must be made to support the Vale. They were unlucky tonight and I'm sure this season will be a bit less nail-biting than the last.
Good night Vale Park, see you again.

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