Full-time: Bristol Rovers 2 Port Vale 0
Ryan Brunt grabbed a brace at the Memorial Stadium tonight to end what had already been an uplifting day for Bristol Rovers on a further high.
The club had been notified hours before kick-off that their hopes of building a new stadium had been boosted after Secretary of State Eric Pickles gave Sainsbury’s the go-ahead to build a new superstore on the site of Rovers’ current home.
John Ward’s team then went on to make sure that the feel-good factor would not be dampened by completing an impressive victory against another promotion-chasing side that served to put the disappointing defeat at Chesterfield on Saturday firmly behind them.
This victory was made all the more impressive after Ward lost defender Mark McChrystal to an ankle injury before kick-off and was forced to reshape a back four that has been the foundation of recent successes for the first time since Rovers lost at home to Gillingham on January 5.
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Obvious replacement, on-loan Port Vale defender Clayton McDonald, was unavailable because of a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ between Ward and Micky Adams for the 6ft 6inch centre-half not to play in this fixture.
Ward instead switched Danny Woodards from the centre of midfield to the heart of defence that was rarely troubled as Rovers set about avenging the 4-0 drubbing Port Vale had inflicted on them back in November.
Ellis Harrison was also returned to the starting line-up to replace Joe Anyinsah, who was withdrawn at half-time on Saturday because of a hamstring complaint, whilst Jim Paterson filled in on the left-hand side of midfield in what was his first start since Boxing Day.
Brunt, however, was the star of the show with two first-half goals he will have particularly enjoyed – being as he is a former Stoke City player – which served to edge Rovers to within two points of the 50-point mark.
The striker wasted little time in putting a further dent in Port Vale’s currently faltering promotion charge
Brunt, who arrived from the Britannia Stadium on a two-and-a-half year deal during the January transfer window, made up for missing a good fifth minute chance from a Harrison cross when finding space in the penalty area to execute a well-placed downward header to convert an Oliver Norburn corner in the seventh minute.
Ward’s side went on to control the remainder of the opening period – although Port Vale did miss glaring opportunities to get themselves back in the match when midfield pair Sam Morsy and Chris Birchall blazed over from close-range on two separate occasions during the early exchanges.
Rovers were mainly restricted to efforts from distance following the early opener with both Harrison and Norburn stinging the hands of Port Vale goalkeeper Chris Neal before Brunt hooked in the second goal from another corner in the 38th minute.
There was no sign that Rovers were content to sit on the lead they had carved out when they returned from the half-time interval; the impressive Harrison only denied what would have been Rovers’ third goal by the heroics of Neal, who tipped the powerful effort over the bar and away to safety in the 48th minute.
Adams had seen enough and introduced strikers Lee Hughes and Calvin Andrew from the bench in pursuit of a goal that would offer them a glimmer of hope – but it was Rovers that could and should have put the game to bed minutes later. Brunt, though, spurned the simplest of chances to complete a hat-trick when firing the ball high over the crossbar from a matter of yards after Neal had failed to hold Lee Brown’s blistering effort from some way out in the 66th minute.
Steve Mildenhall had to make his only real save of the evening in the 79th minute when getting a hand to the ball to keep Hughes’ hooked effort from going into the net. Substitute Ashley Vincent sustained a serious-looking injury when trying to convert the rebound to make an already bad night for Adams even worse.
Bristol Rovers (4-4-2): Mildenhall; Smith, Woodards, Parkes; Harrison (Harding, 86) Norburn (Lockyer, 74), O’Toole, Paterson; Richards (Hitchcock, 65) Brunt. Subs: Gough, Goddard, Clarke, Tounkara.
Port Vale: (3-5-2): Neal; Chilvers, McCombe, Duffy (Vincent, 67); Yates, Griffith, Morsy, Birchall, Taylor; Pope (Hughes, 64) Williamson (Andrew, 64). Subs: Boot, Dodds, Myrie-Williams, Shuker, Hughes.