Port Vale played some brilliant football in the second half of the 2000/01 season, in fact worthy of winning a trophy.
That was achieved on April 22, 2001 at a rain-soaked Millennium Stadium as Brian Horton’s side overcame Brentford 2-1 in the LDV Vans final.
This was the second time the Vale had lifted the Trophy, following John Rudge’s side in 1993, but this one was harder to see coming in the first half of the season.
The Vale had endured a rocky campaign – and that’s putting it mildly. They were in the League One relegation zone at the start of February 2001 and had been knocked out of the FA Cup by Canvey Island.
But when they clicked, boy did they click. Horton’s side put together a run of one defeat in 21 games, a remarkable sequence that would briefly give them hope of the play-offs and would catapult them to the LDV Vans final.
That Trophy run had some memorable games. Not least a 2-1 win at holders Stoke City before Lincoln City were dispatched over two legs in the semi-finals.
So, on to the Millennium Stadium which was hosting the national finals because Wembley was being rebuilt.
The Vale were backed by 13,000 fans in the crowd of 25,654, but they saw their side suffer a setback after just two minutes when Michael Dobson headed home a corner.
Vale’s response was excellent as they began to dominate – going close through Dave Brammer, Marc Bridge-Wilkinson and Steve Brooker. When Tony Naylor had a goal disallowed on the hour, they may have feared this was not going to be their day.
However, their perseverance paid off in the 77th minute when Darren Powell brought down Naylor to concede a penalty.
Bridge-Wilkinson was ice-cool to score from the spot before Vale claimed the winner six minutes from time. Naylor won possession from Gavin Mahon on the edge of the area and squared it to Brooker who walloped the ball home from 18 yards.
Cue a furious response from Brentford as Mark McCammon went close, before Lloyd Owusu headed a foot wide with the last touch of the game after keeper Oli Gottskalksson – up for a corner – flicked the ball into the six-yard box.
But the Vale held on for a deserved victory and Matty Carragher lifted the Trophy.
Popular captain Carragher, who died in 2016 after battling with cancer, was a key performer in a swashbuckling team in the second half of that campaign.
Horton’s decision to play with a back three – Carragher, Sagi Burton and Michael Walsh – paid dividends as wing-backs Michael Cummins and Alex Smith were a huge threat on the flanks and Dave Brammer, Neil Brisco and Bridge-Wilkinson formed a super midfield three behind strikers Brooker and Naylor.
That was all in front of Mark Goodlad, one of the best keepers in the club’s history, but whose career would be cut short by injury.
Vale finished that season in 11th after a hectic schedule caught up with them at the end of the campaign.
Hopes were high they could build on that to go for promotion in 2001/2002. However, they lost Tony Naylor and Alex Smith to Cheltenham and Reading respectively and Dave Brammer was sold to Crewe for £500,000 on the eve of the new campaign.
Vale failed to build on the huge potential they had shown during their LDV Vans success and finished the 2001/02 campaign in 14th place.
Even so, the memory of winning the Trophy at the Millennium Stadium remains a special one.
PORT VALE 2
LDV VANS TROPHY final, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. April 22, 2001.
Port Vale: Goodlad, Burton, Carragher, Brammer, Walsh, Brisco, Bridge-Wilkinson, Cummins, Naylor, Brooker, Smith.
Subs: Twiss, Tankard, Viljanen, Widdrington, Delany
Brentford: Gottskalksson, Gibbs, (Williams 88), Dobson, Mahon, Powell, Theobald, Ingimarsson, Evans, Owusu, Rowlands, (McCammon 90), Partridge.
Subs: Smith, Folan, Lovatt