The Cherries soon got into their stride and began passing the ball around ominously well. It was therefore no surprise when they took the lead after just nine minutes when Garreth O’Connor deftly played the ball through to John Spicer in the inside-right position. The Arsenal man effortlessly turned his marker and shot low past Brain who did get a hand to the ball but to no avail.
A great start, but Vale soon began showing some attacking intent of their own, aided by an unusually dodgy performance by Moss. On one occasion he dropped a fairly easy cross onto the head of Dean Smith who headed over when it looked easier to score. Marc Goodfellow also had a couple of decent long-range efforts that narrowly missed the target.
Then we suffered a setback after 25 minutes when Dani Rodrigues had to go off with what looked like a hamstring problem. When a rather unfit-looking Steve Fletcher took his place up front, we temporarily lost the good attacking tempo that we had shown earlier and the game looked as if it could go either way.
However, it swung massively in our direction 6 minutes before half time in somewhat fortuitous circumstances. Neil Young launched a long throw into the visitors’ box from the right which was headed out by a Vale defender. The ball bounced invitingly for Brian Stock on the edge of the area and our midfield maestro volleyed it straight at Brain on the goalline. The ball appeared to bounce upwards as the Vale struggled to hold the fiercely struck shot. Although there was a half-hearted appeal from our forwards, they must have been as surprised as anyone when the linesman near the corner flag indicated a goal. The keeper and his teammates chased after the lino and an inevitable booking followed. We certainly got lucky on that occasion!
The visitors were understandably aggrieved and a few rash challenges started going in as we went looking for further goals. However, it looked as if the Valiants would go in just 2-0 down at half-time and still in the game as the first period drew to a close. But Stocky had other ideas! As 2 minutes of added time were being announced, Hayter crossed from the right. The ball was headed out, but once again it dropped for Stock in a similar position to his previous effort. This time, though, he struck it even more venomously and it rocketed into the top right-hand corner giving Brain no chance. Certainly a contender for Goal of the Season!
After just a minute of the second period, the Cherries fans thought they were in dreamland. From a short corner on the right, the ball was passed back towards Eddie Howe on the edge of the area. In time-honoured fashion, the fans’ favourite stepped over the ball and let it run though to Warren Cummings in the middle. Now, how often have we seen a defender hoof the ball into Row Z from this position? Not this time, however. The Scot steadied himself before side-footing the ball high into the left-hand corner of the goal. Game over.
With nearly half of the match remaining, we were wondering just how many we might score against demoralised opposition. But with the visitors playing for pride and us taking our foot off the gas (the players probably not wanting to get injured ahead of Tuesday’s game), it soon became clear that double-figures were not on the cards. Not that we didn’t create several more chances, Hayter in particular missing a sitter from close range after being set up by Wade Elliott, and Fletcher having a looping header cleared off the line.
Wade Elliott was giving Ryan Brown, the visitor’s stand-in left back, a torrid time but kept crossing too close to the keeper.
It was almost too easy for him. Moss did have to make one good save, however, and Vale nearly got a consolation goal late on, when Brown found himself in possession near Moss’ right-hand post, but failed to find any of his strikers in the box and the danger was cleared.
After the disputed second goal, the result of this game was never in doubt as the Cherries played some excellent incisive football and always looked like adding to their goal tally. The win puts us 5th in the league and if we can hold onto Spicer and Howe, who knows what we might achieve.....
Brian Stock for a couple of great strikes and excellent all-round performance.
Cherries: Moss, Young, Cummings, Howe (Maher 81), Broadhurst, O'Connor, Stock, Spicer, Elliott, Hayter, Rodrigues (Fletcher 24 (Holmes 72))
Unused subs: Browning, Stewart.
Ellis Griffin, Chertsey