Port Vale eased through to the next phase of the CheckaTrade Trophy on Tuesday night with a routine 2-0 victory over Middlesbrough U23’s at Vale Park.
Goals from Ricky Miller and Connell Rawlinson either side of half-time sealed the win, which means that the Valiants will progress through to the next round regardless of the result in their final group game against League One side Walsall.
Vale boss Neil Aspin used the game to test a different system, making a total of six changes to the side which were on the wrong end of a 6-2 score line to Lincoln City on Saturday.
Sam Hornby, Luke Joyce, Lewis Hardcastle, Louis Dodds, Ricky Miller and James Gibbons all featured in a new look 3-5-2 formation, with the latter making his first appearance since returning from injury.
The deadlock was broken only six minutes into the evening when Tom Conlon raced onto a loose ball and fed Miller through on goal and the striker made no mistake, slotting the ball past Boro goalkeeper Zach Hemming.
Sam Stubbs, son of former Celtic and Everton defender Alan, was captaining the away side and he had strong appeals for a penalty waved away on 22 minutes.
Nathan Smith looked to have tugged Stubbs to the ground after a free-kick was floated into the area, but referee Matthew Donoghue didn’t come to the same conclusion and play continued.
Vale’s experience was showing against a Middlesbrough U23 side who had an average age of only 18 and a number of key players away on international duty.
Tom Conlon was pulling the strings in the middle of the pitch and if it wasn’t for Boro keeper Hemming, the contest would have been over at the interval.
Just before the break, Conlon unleashed a shot from outside the box, but his effort was palmed away by the goalkeeper and just minutes later he tried his luck again only for Hemming to tip the ball over the crossbar, keeping the half-time score 1-0.
In Vale’s previous game against Lincoln City, set-pieces had been the team’s downfall, with Aspin’s men conceding four goals from dead ball situations. However, the Valiants seemed to learn from the weekend’s hammering and doubled their lead from their own set-piece.
Four minutes into the half Theo Vassell had volleyed just wide of the target from an in-swinging corner and Boro received a tough lesson themselves as Connell Rawlinson lost his marker from a second corner and nodded the ball past hemming in the 66th minute. 2-0.
Vale were firmly in control throughout the game and despite some half-chances from the away side’s Tyrone O’Neil and Matt Ward late on, Valiants’ goalkeeper Hornby was rarely called into action in a half with few chances.
The scores didn’t change on a very comfortable evening for Vale, and the 2-0 victory saw them book their place in the next round.
Port Vale: Hornby, Gibbons (Pugh 45’), Joyce, Miller, Rawlinson (Kay 81), Smith, Dodds, Vassell, Conlon, Clark, Hardcastle (Worrall 64’).
Unused Substitutes: Brown, Kanu, Daniels, Whitfield.
Middlesbrough Team: Hemming, Dodds, Guru, Stubbs, Robinson, D. Spence, K. Spence, Liddle (Watts 90’), Ward, Malley (Stephenson 77’), O’Neil
Subs not used: James, McGill, Hood, Wilson