Tom Pope header earns Port Vale fine win at Walsall

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Tom Pope’s eighth goal of the season was enough to see Port Vale to a hard-fought win away at Walsall.

Pope rose above defender Andy Taylor from a corner and headed the only goal of the game after 28 minutes.

The win is the Valiants’ first in five games and their first away from Vale Park since December.

Manager Rob Page made three changes following his side’s 3-1 defeat at league leaders Bristol City on Tuesday night.

Striker Ben Williamson returned from injury to replace Achille Campion, and Byron Moore came in on the wing at the expense of Chris Birchall.

Page also blooded youngster Ryan Inniss, signed on loan from Crystal Palace on Thursday, with Richard Duffy making way.

Walsall winger Jordan Cook’s cross just evaded James Baxendale at the far post in the tenth minute as neither side had a shot on goal early on.

The lively Cook then pulled the ball back for Romaine Sawyers, who spun expertly but his low shot was easy for Vale keeper Chris Neal.

There was also a penalty appeal for Walsall when Jordy Hiwula went down in the area under pressure from Ryan Inniss.

The referee saw nothing wrong and left the home fans incensed.

Williamson was through on the edge of the area but Saddlers goalkeeper Richard O’Donnell threw himself at the shot to save for a corner.

And it was from that corner that the Valiants gained the lead.

Carl Dickinson’s cross was met by Pope and he made no mistake with a firm header.

Walsall offered a dangerous reply when Sawyers jinked inside and struck the base of the post, while Cook warmed the hands of Neal from range.

Walsall put Vale under siege in the closing minutes but Page’s side defended superbly to keep their 1-0 lead at the break.

The Saddlers continued to dominate possession in the second half, as Sawyers threaded a ball through to Hiwula and he put the chance wide.

Vale then won a free kick when Taylor wrestled Williamson to the floor, and Michael O’Connor’s deflected strike drew a smart reflex save from Walsall stopper O’Donnell.

Pope also out-jumped centre-half James O’Connor to meet another Dickinson cross, but this time his header lacked enough power to trouble the keeper.

Byron Moore tricked his way past Taylor and made O’Donnell save again at his near post.

For all the hosts’ possession Port Vale were having the better chances, with a bobbly pitch limiting the slick passing that both sides are used to.

A scrappy game seemed to suit Vale more with their 1-0 lead to hold onto and, although the Saddlers rallied late on, they couldn’t find the equaliser as a superb team performance earned the Valiants a victory.

The win ends Port Vale’s miserable run of form and bumps Rob Page’ men up to 14th in League One.

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