City picked up their first point of 2019 after a draw against battling Port Vale at Sincil Bank this afternoon. The Imps took the lead when Shay McCartan netted his fourth goal of the season early in the second half, but the visitors grabbed a last minute leveller courtesy of a long range strike from Manny Oyeleke.
There was a return into the heart of the Imps’ midfield for Michael O’Connor, the former Vale man coming into the starting line up in place of Tom Pett who dropped to the bench, also returning was Shay McCartan in place of John Akinde who also took a spot amongst the substitutes.
The game got underway to the sound of the customary Sincil Bank atmosphere, but it was Vale who almost got their 2019 off to a positive start as they were close to taking an early lead with Manny Oyeleke ghosting in at the near post to sidefoot an effort on target, he first connected well with a low corner to the front post but Michael Bostwick read the danger clearing off the line, the ball rebounded to the Valiant’s number eight and he again looked to lash home but once again he found the Imps’ defence in no mood to let the visiting side get the advantage.
Matt Rhead up the other end of the field was then close to forcing Scott Brown into a save, the striker latching onto a right wing cross but he couldn’t turn it home. Despite their recent downturn in fortunes, the visiting side weren’t showing any signs of nerves as they looked to attack quickly and quieten the loud City supporters who were certainly doing all they could to give their side an extra boost.
That continuous noise was indeed driving The Imps forward and they were close to opening the scoring on the quarter hour, McCartan did well to hold up play, then dink the ball to Harry Anderson who clipped in the first time cross which was met by Rhead, his measured header was aiming for the bottom corner but Brown did well, diving low to his left and pushing the ball away.
The game settled in terms of attacking chances and neither side could really make the breakthrough as defensive solidity was the order of the day, mainly in midfield areas as both sides were cancelling each other out, bustling into tackles and just trying to create the one telling opportunity to get into the lead. Rhead couldn’t quite get any purchase on a looping Neal Eardley cross from the right, while Vale’s Antony Kay tried to take things into his own hands but his long-range effort didn’t trouble Grant Smith.
The effervescent Anderson was proving to be a thorn in the side of the visitors, and his burst down the right following a neat link with McCartan led to an opportunity for City to get a shot away, as Luke Joyce brought down the marauding City man. Jason Shackell stepped up to take the free kick but Brown was right down the barrel, saving the goalbound effort as the home side began to ask a few more questions. Harry Toffolo found space on the left to cross into the box and Anderson met it powerfully but couldn’t keep his header under the crossbar.
The atmosphere in the stadium really heated up to match the contest on the field which was as combative as ever in the final five minutes of the first half but the game remained goalless as the whistle was blown to end the opening 45 minutes.
The Imps 0 Port Vale 0
The early throes of the second half followed the pattern left behind at the end of the opening half, both teams disciplined and keeping their shape but City were edging further forward into opposition territory. Vale were now looking to hit The Imps on the break but there was no opportunity for them to make their mark on the scoresheet. Bostwick in particular showing all his usual determination to win his battles as the away side looked to slide the ball round the back for Tom Pope to get onto.
McCartan was the first to get any sniff of a chance for the home side, Eardley curling in a low centre which skipped off the turf and the Northern Irishman stooped to head just wide of the near post.
Anderson won a corner in front of the Vale supporters in the Stacey West stand, the first of the second half for the home side and it was to be one which brought the opening goal. The ball was drifted into the box by O’Connor and up leapt sub, John Akinde, his goal bound header was blocked on its route towards the net but McCARTAN was there to sweep home from deep inside the box before the visitors could even think of clearing the danger.
Vale responded well to going behind, arguably having their longest spell of possession but again it wasn’t a period which was to come to any fruition for the visitors as Luke Gibbons’ audacious effort from fully 30 yards that didn’t force Smith into a save being the only half chance.
The Imps were in relative control and were naturally were looking for the second goal, Anderson trying a low sidefooted effort which Brown gathered before the visitors gave a timely reminder of their prowess as Mitch Clarke curled in a teasing low outswinging cross that Smith dealt with. The City ‘keeper was in confident mood as he was called upon to deal with Vale sub Cristian Montano’s high ball into the box with Pope looking to profit.
McCartan skipped past two Vale defenders before firing low and hard on target, and it was to be the goalscorer’s last touch as Tom Pett replaced him with 15 minutes left on the clock.
A quick burst from Lee Frecklington almost brought an opportunity for Akinde to shoot until Kay got a foot in at the last moment just as the home supporters turned up the volume sensing a second goal for City maybe needed.
That threat from the visitors was highlighted as Oyeleke was inches away from levelling things, the Valiant’s number 8 hitting a thunderous effort which beat Smith only to see the ball cannon off the crossbar and away from goal. Nathan Smith was then close to getting on the end of a looping ball into City’s area before the visitors won a corner as full time approached which they couldn’t turn home. That threat though did lead to the equaliser in the final minute of the game, Oyeleke hitting another effort from distance which this time arrowed into the goal past Smith giving the battling visitors a share of the spoils.
The Imps 1 Port Vale 1
21 Grant SMITH
4 Michael O’CONNOR
5 Jason SHACKELL
8 Lee FRECKLINGTON
9 Matt RHEAD
11 Bruno ANDRADE
14 Harry TOFFOLO
16 Michael BOSTWICK
17 Shay McCARTAN
23 Neal EARDLEY
26 Harry ANDERSON
24 Sam SLOCOMBE
2 Kellan GORDON (65’ for Andrade)
6 Scott WHARTON
7 Tom PETT (75’ for McCartan)
15 James WILSON
18 Bernard MENSAH
29 John AKINDE (46’ for Rhead)
Booked: Eardley 43’
GOAL: McCartan 58’
1 Scott BROWN
2 James GIBBONS
4 Luke JOYCE
5 Leon LEGGE
6 Antony KAY
8 Manny OYELEKE
9 Tom POPE
11 Luke HANNANT
15 Nathan SMITH
23 Mitch CLARKE
24 Ben WHITFIELD
12 Sam HORNBY
3 Cristian MONTANO (71’ for Whitfield)
7 David WORRALL
16 Danny PUGH
19 Louis DODDS
21 Theo VASSELL
22 Tom CONLON
Booked: Kay 17’ Joyce 36’ Clarke 43’ Hannant 47’
Goal: Oyeleke 90’
Referee: Peter Wright
Assistants: Abbas Khan & Anthony Moore
4th Official: Joe Clark
Attendance: 9,106 (235 Port Vale Supporters)