Port Vale must have hoped they weren’t tempting fate when they invited members of their 1993/94 promotion team to watch the home game with Burton on April 5, 2013.
The club was in the thick of what they hoped would be another promotion season, and keeping their fingers crossed for a result in a Friday night game against fellow League Two contenders Burton Albion.
But Micky Adams’ side rose to the challenge, and then some, to win 7-1 on a remarkable evening in Burslem.
Vale were brilliant to blow away Gary Rowett’s Brewers, all in front of easily their biggest crowd of the season so far.
The Vale performance matched some canny marketing for the game. So, not only were heroes of their last promotion campaign invited, they also cut ticket prices to 1994 levels.
Admission was £9 adults and £6.50 concessions, fans could enjoy a pint in Tommy Cheadle’s for £1 and the club announced number one hits from 1994 would be blasted out at the ground during pre-match and half time.
A whopping crowd of 10,978 turned up, so all that was left was for Adams’ men to do their bit. What followed was fantastic…..
Chris Birchall and Lee Hughes returned to the starting line-up as Calvin Andrew and Rob Taylor dropped out of the team, while Jennison Myrie-Williams passed a late fitness test on a calf injury.
Adams’ side only had to wait 12 minutes to take the lead, through a peach of a goal. Skipper Doug Loft sent Dan Jones rampaging down the left, and his superb cross was inch-perfect for Hughes to climb above his marker and send a powerful header beyond former Vale keeper Stuart Tomlinson.
The veteran front man raced towards the Railway Paddock to perform his celebratory dance routine, and the crowd were lapping it up.
Growing Vale pressure then told on 21 minutes when Tom Pope was pushed over from behind by Ian Sharps.
Having taken over the penalty duties from Myrie-Williams, Hughes rammed his spot-kick down the middle and the home side were already well on their way.
The third arrived five minutes later as Loft’s short ball was enough to give Birchall the chance to run forward and curl a stunning right-foot shot past Tomlinson’s dive and into the far corner.
Sentinel reporter Guy Pearson observed: “Shell-shocked Burton looked in complete disarray, and their frustration showed on boss Gary Rowett, whose heated discussion with Adams on the touchline prompted an intervention by the fourth official.”
Half time offered the visitors some relief but a parade of the 93/94 team at half time, plus their manager John Rudge, only whipped up the crowd further.
Five minutes into the second half, Hughes’s cute back-heel gave Loft the chance to run into the area, and when the skipper was felled by the back-tracking Alex MacDonald, the referee pointed to the spot once more.
Hughes kept his cool to ram his second penalty into the top corner.
Six minutes later, Chris Neal’s long punt was flicked on by that man Hughes, and Pope ran beyond his ponderous markers to side-step Tomlinson and slide home Vale’s fifth.
Albion at last had something to celebrate when they pulled one back after 70 minutes. Jack Dyer slid in Matthew Paterson on the right and he outpaced Liam Chilvers to crack a shot across Neal and into the top corner.
But Vale fans were on their feet again three minutes later when Ben Williamson made it six. Pope’s flicked header sent the substitute clear, and he kept his composure to crack home a sweet finish into the far corner.
There was still time for the final flourish. Substitute Chris Shuker’s free-kick from the left had the Burton defence struggling, and Williamson stole a march to get there first and glance past a stunned Tomlinson.
Reporter Pearson concluded: “Incredible stuff. League One here we come.”
He was right. The Vale would go on to clinch automatic promotion in the penultimate game of the season. That was some achievement considering the club had begun the campaign in administration but Adams and his players exceeded expectations.
That Burton win was certainly a highlight, as Adams would recall: “It’s not often as a manager you can stand there and feel really comfortable about what your team is doing in a game. That night with the crowd, over 10,000 fans, it just really all clicked into gear.”
Pope who scored 33 goals that season, would later reflect on the Burton game in his Sentinel column.
He said: “Port Vale 7 Burton 1 – I still wouldn’t believe it if it wasn’t there in black and white.
“That’s one of my favourite football memories, not just for the result which gave us a huge shove towards promotion, but also because of the atmosphere at Vale Park.
“We always had a fair idea of what the atmosphere was going to be like in home games when we came out of the tunnel and looked across to the Railway Paddock. When we went out for the warm up we thought there were a few more in than usual, but when we came out before kick off the place was absolutely rammed.
“It was a real ‘wow’ moment and we realised this was going to be something special. There were 11,000 in the ground on the night and it was the best atmosphere I’ve been part of as a player at the Vale.”
Despite his own exploits that season, Pope used the Burton game to highlight the importance of fellow striker Lee Hughes.
He said: “Everyone played well, but I have to single out Lee Hughes who scored a hat trick. Lee had come in with Darren Purse in January that season in what proved to be an inspired double signing because I don’t think we’d have got over the line and been promoted without those two.
“We had some young players who hadn’t been in a promotion battle, but Darren and particularly Lee seemed to absolutely love the pressure.
“On the pitch Lee was a big horrible centre-forward. Off the pitch, I found him to be one of the nicest people you could meet.
“I scored 33 goals that season but it’s true that I was more prolific in the first half of the campaign than I was in the second. That wasn’t the fault of Lee Hughes or our manager Micky Adams, but when teams are doing well, as we were in the first half of that season, opposition managers look at your strengths and do everything they can to stop them.
“But by bringing in Lee Hughes, Micky gave us another experienced goalscorer and a player who could also be a battering ram in the area.
“We were probably a bit more direct in the second half of that season, but teams struggled against us – and Burton certainly did that night.”
PORT VALE 7
April 5, 2013. League Two.
Port Vale: Neal, Yates, Chilvers, Purse, Jones, Birchall, Loft, Griffith (Shuker, 72), Myrie-Williams (Dodds, 65), Pope, Hughes (Williamson, 58). Subs not used: Johnson, McCombe, Andrew, Duffy.
Burton Albion: Tomlinson, O’Connor, Diamond, Sharps, McCrory, MacDonald (Corbett, 61), Dyer, Fowler (Paterson, 46), Bell (Palmer, 79), Maghoma, Symes. Not used: Lyness, Webster, Phillips, Holness.Attendance: