Chris Eagles hit a stunning goal to give Port Vale a 1-0 away win over Walsall and keep the Valiant’s season alive for the last game of the season.
It was a clean, crisp strike from inside the penalty box and the ball sailed past the outstretched arms of Walsall’s Craig MacGillivray into the right-side of the net.
Michael Brown, Vale’s under-pressure caretaker manager, admitted that he nearly tore a hamstring leaping up from the bench and almost received a yellow card for entering the field of play when he celebrated the goal.
After an insipid first half in near-freezing conditions at the Banks’ Stadium, the Valiant fans were becoming frustrated as they struggled to hold onto the ball, let alone create any chances on goal.
But Eagle’s sublime strike sent the fans into raptures and gave hope for the game at Fleetwood Town at Sunday lunchtime.
But it may have been different.
The game started slowly and Vale goalkeeper, Leonardo Fasan, a surprise late inclusion, had a few nervous clearances in the first ten minutes, and supporters were worried about a repeat of his dodgy performance against Northampton Town.
In the 13th minute Chris Eagles whipped the ball along the ground and across the goal but a Vale foot was unable to tap the ball in.
Walsall hit the bar in the 24th minute before Fasan leapt high and wide to pull off a splendid fingertip save to deny the Saddlers in the 27th minute.
The first half was slow going and Port Vale were struggling to put two passes together and it was unclear how they would find the net and extend their season.
Vale did not show aggression and they seemed to be out of position when the ball ran truly for them.
Their only other chance on goal came when Mbamba latched onto a ball on the left side of midfield and passed to Dan Turner who sprayed his shot very wide.
Walsall picked up the only yellow card of the game for a dangerous tackle by Kory Roberts in the 30th minute.
In the second half, the Vale support become more vocal as they realised that only 45 minutes of their season remained and the only thing they would get out of Sunday’s away match at Fleetwood would be the ‘Kiss-me-quick’ hats from Blackpool beach.
But it was the Saddlers who threatened to win the game in the second half when Amadou Bakayoko smashed a shot on target in the 57th minute that brought another brilliant flying save from Fasan.
Vale’s Sam Foley then had an excellent chance at the other end in the 61st minute when he fired a fierce header towards the Walsall goal, only for it to fly over the bar.
The match was heading for a 0-0 draw before Eagles produced his moment of magic to win a cold Tuesday night encounter and send the Valiant fans home happy until Sunday.
After the match Michael Brown was hopeful of staying up: “That’s what we wanted and we got it. It’s achievable and its up to us now.”
He said the players were apprehensive before the match and remained quiet after the match, realising the task is not completed.
Vale will still have to win again at Fleetwood on Sunday to have a chance of staying up, unless Gillingham lose by six goals or more at Northampton – in which case a point will be enough.
Tickets for the Fleetwood clash are sold out.
Kick-off is Sunday, at noon.