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For the neutral, this was certainly not the prettiest game of a football to watch as both sides seldom managed to string a passing move together. So, instead the long ball was reverted to in both camps which, as ever, amounted to very little.
Vale came out early on looking the strong side as within the opening 5 minutes, the first came after just two-and-a-half minutes as the record chasing Steven McPhee shot past Steve Mildenhall in the Notts goal – only for Steve Jenkins to clear the weak effort off the line. The second – again from McPhee – failed to beat Mildenhall as the Notts shot-stopper caught his effort comfortably.
Then Notts hit back with three chances of their own as Mark Stallard volleyed over from 20 yards before Nick Fenton was denied by ‘keeper Jonathon Brain. The best of the opening three County opportunities came as Darren Caskey struck a sweet free-kick goal bound – only for Brain to again keep Notts at bay in a different manner on the entire.
On the half-hour mark, County’s Nicky Fenton was the first of eleven players who worked their way into referee, Mr. S. Tanner, book for his challenge on Vale striker, Billy Paynter. Fenton was followed into the book eleven minutes later as Mark Stallard played on after the whistle.
HALF TIME: Port Vale 0-0
The first 15 minutes of the second half was very much uneventful apart from a foul from Steve Jenkins on Adrian Littlejohn which earned the Notts skipper a booking.
But 56 minutes into the contest, came the decisive goal. A long-throw from Sam Collins which was lifted into the area caught Mildenhall off guard as he failed to gather the ball from Paynter. Paynter then rolled the ball into the path of Steven McPhee who made no mistake in the finish.
Adrian Littlejohn then dived in with a knee-high lunge on County’s Ian Baraclough which, unbelievably, only warranted the ex-Sheffield United player a yellow card. In the aftermath of the incident, Paul Bolland was cautioned as he became the Magpie’s fourth name to be added to the growing list of offenders.
Ian Baraclough was then replaced by Paul Heffernan for what seemed to be a decision with no relevance to the Littlejohn tackle just 5 minutes earlier.
Although, this did not come before ‘Bara’ was also booked as the first year official continued to show the strain, failing to control the set of players before him.
Kevin Nicholson then became the seventh and final Notts player to be booked that afternoon for a foul on Mark Boyd.
Dearden then brought on his subs in an eleventh hour type move which he has become renowned for somewhat as he gave Willis Francis a rare run out and Danny Livesey a chance to impress as Tony Barras and Paul Bolland – who, it must be said, had an especially poor afternoon looking every bit out of his depth.
The Magpie’s final chance of the afternoon was just a width of a post away from being struck home as Paul Heffernan was denied by the woodwork of ‘keeper, Jonathon Brain.
FULL TIME: Port Vale 1-0 NOTTS COUNTY