Cristian Montaño’s 90th minute close-range finish helped Port Vale top Group 4 in this year’s Checkatrade Trophy competition, earning a place in the last-32.
The Colombian’s goal was timely as the hosts were under sustained pressure in the last 20 minutes. Defensively, they had to remain concentrated and avoid needless mistakes. Especially when Lewis Reilly reacted quickest in the area to rejuvenate Crewe once more, halving the deficit to 3-2 shortly after Chris Porter forced an acrobatic save from Ryan Boot.
The visitors were attacking with intent and looked dangerous on both flanks as too much space was afforded to their wingers.
You would’ve been excused for wondering how the match had changed so drastically, not least after Vale’s 20-minute display to start the first-half.
They were 2-0 up and seemingly cruising. Christopher Regis, formerly of Arsenal and Southampton at youth level, took just four minutes to open the scoring. Having only announced Regis’ arrival on a short-term deal less than an hour before kick-off, it was a welcome morale boost for the 20-year-old.
James Gibbons did remarkably well to tightly retain possession before teeing up the midfielder, but Anton Forrester’s strike was special. An audacious effort from range, he watched it swerve over goalkeeper Ben Garratt into the top corner.
They could have been further in-front but instead saw their lead and confidence weaken before the break. George Cooper’s incisive low delivery from the left was converted by Reilly, who duly punished Vale after a poorly defended scramble.
At the break, Vale made a change in central midfield as Michael Calveley was replaced by Billy Reeves. They started slowly and could have easily relinquished their slender lead too – losing possession easily while a lack of intensity meant fans were increasingly disgruntled.
Cooper and fullback Zoumana Bakayogo were threatening with their bursting runs forward, though execution was often underwhelming and dealt with accordingly by Vale’s sturdy backline.
Forrester could not add to his tally for the evening, lacking composure when he needed it most on the hour mark. Luckily for him, it didn’t prove costly as Adam Yates’ inviting cross was perfect for substitute Reeves to convert from a few yards out just five minutes later.
Had the hosts shown more of a clinical edge in the first-half, the game as a contest would have been out of sight before half-time arrived. Jack Stobbs and Montaño squandered good opportunities, while their high-pressing tactic wore off as Crewe eventually grabbed a foothold in the match.
The visitors were comfortable in possession and utilised space well, meaning Vale had to cover more ground defensively when off-the-ball. Much to the supporters’ frustration, they conceded a plethora of free-kicks.
Though some were contentious, it was a sign of the team’s collective annoyance. They struggled to settle the encounter and against their local rivals, tensions threatened to spill over.
Luckily they did not although for the injustice many felt by officiating decisions, Port Vale had the last laugh. They will be hoping for easier experiences to come once they return to domestic action in League Two against 8th placed Newport County on Friday night.