Port Vale archive classic – six-goal thriller and a near miss with the play-offs


Port Vale had a fine team in 2003/04. In fact, after losing their place in the Championship at the turn of the century, they have never been closer to making it back to that level.

The Vale would eventually miss out on the play-off places on goal difference, meaning they would not only look back on the season with pride, but also at the close calls and ‘what ifs’ along the way.

That was certainly the case in a home game with promotion rivals Swindon on March 30, 2004. In fact, the game encapsulated the season, with Vale playing some brilliant football only be left frustrated.

The match had been postponed because of a frozen pitch a month earlier – controversially so following a second pitch inspection at 1.30pm, too late for the fans already well on their way from Swindon.

But when the game did go ahead, it was ever more obvious that Martin Foyle’s Vale and Andy King’s Swindon would be in the promotion reckoning.

What followed was an absolute cracker of a match……

Neither side could have had too many complaints had they lost 4-3, but the Vale were naturally the more disappointed with the draw having gone 3-0 up when Steve McPhee bagged his 21st goal of the season on 58 minutes.

The goal came against the run of play as Swindon had poured forward from the start of the second half, having been taken to the cleaners by the Vale before the break.

Foyle’s team were irresistible when the game eventually started after a 15-minute delay caused by a floodlight failing. Thankfully, the floodlight flickered to life, but nothing was as dazzling as the Vale who produced a breathtaking first-half display of lightning-fast, passing football.

Billy Paynter crashed a loose ball home on 14 minutes after McPhee’s header, from Craig James’s corner, was blocked on the line. However, the best moment of the half arrived on 41 minutes when McPhee reached the 20 mark for the campaign with a contender for goal of the season.

Port Vale v Swindon Town at Vale Park. Stephen McPhee’s celebrates his first goal.

Steve Brooker’s lay-off was cleverly dummied by Paynter, allowing McPhee to take the ball in his stride. His pace and strength then took him past the Swindon defence as he burst into the area. Rhys Evans was quick off his line, but McPhee calmly guided the ball over the keeper to complete a superb move.

McPhee, Paynter and James could have netted more before the break, but King changed the course of the game by taking off midfielder Sammy Igoe and bringing on Rory Fallon to join fellow six footers Tommy Mooney and Sam Parkin in a formidable front-line.

It signalled the start of an aerial bombardment, although there was still some silk to go with the steel, particularly on 49 minutes when Fallon curled the ball towards the top corner from 20 yards, only to see it strike the angle of post and bar and rebound to safety.

A minute earlier, Fallon had headed narrowly wide after beating Jonny Brain to a long ball forward, but Vale appeared to have seen off the Swindon revival when McPhee bustled into the area, twice pouncing on rebounds before sweeping the ball home from a narrow angle for 3-0.

There seemed no reason to panic when Parkin glanced home Andy Nicholas’s header on 63 minutes, but Vale suffered after Brooker was forced out with a groin strain on 67.

Matt Hewlett drove home from 15 yards on 68 minutes after the ball had ping-ponged on the edge of the area, but Michael Cummins struck the post with a screaming volley three minutes later.

Swindon should have been level when Parkin volleyed narrowly over the bar after he was played behind the Vale defence by Fallon.

However, the pair combined again on 83 minutes as James’s mistake allowed Parkin through on the right and he delivered the perfect cross for Fallon to chest the ball into an open goal.

Vale would still have snatched a dramatic victory had Paynter’s brilliant 30-yard strike not swerved just the wrong side of the post a minute from time, but a pulsating game had already given old Aldershot team mates King and Foyle enough to talk over for the next 10 seasons.

Foyle said: “Andy King said their big lads will get them out of this League and I probably agree with him.

“My players have worked their socks off and that is all I can ask. It is nothing to do with concentration, we just couldn’t handle the long ball.

“I thought we played tremendous football in the first half. People will say we then sat back and invited pressure, which we have in the past. But I thought we had four or five chances to win the game.”

While the Vale would just miss out on the play-offs, Swindon made it, but lost in the semi-finals to eventual winners Brighton.

PORT VALE 3 (Paynter 14, McPhee 41, 58)

SWINDON  3   (Parkin 63, Hewlett 68, Fallon, 83)

LEAGUE ONE

March 30, 2004

PORT VALE: Brain, Rowland, James, Pilkington, Collins,  Brisco, Cummins,  Bridge-Wilkinson, Paynter, Brooker (Birchall, 67), McPhee.

Substitutes: Lipa, Delany, Burns, Armstrong.

SWINDON TOWN: Evans, O’Hanlon, Nicholas, Gurney, Heywood, Igoe (Fallon, 46), Hewlett, Miglioranzi, Duke (Howard, 65), Mooney, Parkin

Substitutes: Griemink, Reeves, Pook.

Eddie Ilderton (Tyne and Wear) 7

Attendance 5,702

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