Half-time: Port Vale 3 Bristol Rovers 0
Bristol Rovers will have to produce an almighty effort to leave Vale Park with anything other than a defeat this evening.
Two goals in two minutes from Port Vale striker Tom Pope just before the midway point of the opening period and another from Ben Williamson in the 35th minute see a patched up Rovers side staring at another defeat ahead of the second-half.
Rovers boss Mark McGhee was forced into making four changes to his starting line-up after David Clarkson and Joe Anyinsah both failed late fitness tests and did not travel. Garry Kenneth was also suspended to facilitate a change in formation to a back three to compensate for a lack of bodies.
The raft of injuries and suspensions the manager had to deal with along with some poor recent form saw Rovers offered little hope of suffering anything other than a defeat by those outside of their own camp – but a patched up side did start surprisingly brightly.
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Tom Eaves and the returning Matt Lund, who was returned to midfield, both had chances to claim what would have been an unlikely first goal - but that hope lasted all of 20 minutes before Pope grabbed a quick-fire brace to put Vale firmly in the driving seat.
The first came in the 20th minute when he received the ball in the penalty area and clinically smashed the ball past Etheridge. Rovers did not even have a minute to catch their breath and compose themselves before the striker was on the score sheet again; this time finding time and space at the back post to guide Ashley Vincent's cross into the net off his head.
Pope almost secured a hat-trick five minutes later when arrowing another shot on target, but Etheridge was equal to the effort on this occasion to offer Rovers some semblance of hope that they were still in the game. They had a couple of chances, too, just before the half-hour mark, but Lund's direct free-kick was curled straight into the hands of Vale goalkeeper Chris Neal, while Tom Eaves' shot from a tight angle when getting in behind the defence skidded just wide of the far post.
Respite was short, however. Ben Williamson scored Vale's third in the 35th minute when rattling in the rebound after Tom Pope's header had looped over Etheridge and come back out of the post. Vale sensed blood now. Vincent almost made it 4-0 minutes later, but his effort trickled wide of the post before McGhee got the opportunity to reassess how to limit further damage as the referee brought the opening period to a welcome end.
Rovers (5-3-2): Etheridge; M Smith, Woodards, Parkes, Paterson, L Brown; Lund, Clucas, W Brown; Eaves, Broghammer. Subs: Gill, Virgo, Harrison, Walker, Santos, Lockyer, Riordan.
Port Vale (4-4-2): Neal; Duffy, McCombe, McDonald, Yates; Myrie-Williams, James, Burge, Vincent; Pope, Williamson. Subs: Johnson, Dodds, Shuker, Davis, McAllister, Lloyd, Taylor.