Subs: Hall 59 (for Wilkinson), McNaughton 59 (for Ream), Danns 71 (for Chung-Yong), Beckford 71 (for Craig Davies), Moxey 73 (for Threlkeld), Hughes 81 (for Mark Davies).
Attendance: 1,780 (197) REPORTS of Jermaine Beckford’s demise at Wanderers may be extremely premature after his stunning strike settled a win at Port Vale last night.
Dougie Freedman’s new-look Whites had been hanging on at Vale Park and had Andy Lonergan to thank for preserving the lead Matt Mills gave them just six minutes in.
But stepping off the bench with 20 minutes to play, the man rather overlooked in the current clamour for a goalscorer proved the answer to Freedman’s search might have been here all along.
Beckford’s wonderful 30-yard strike settled nerves before Tom Pope’s header started them jangling once again at the bitter end. And while the manner of victory was nowhere near as comprehensive as many would have liked, at least there was something to admire from 90 minutes’ work in the Potteries.
The Valiants’ most famous fan, Robbie Williams, blared out from the speakers as the players strolled on to the pitch though his request to “Let Me Entertain You” seemed a little far-fetched for a pre-season friendly.
This wasn’t a standard warm-up, though, as experimental as it seemed to be when Freedman lined his side up with three at the back.
Matt Mills, Dorian Dervite and Tim Ream were flanked by wing-backs Dean Moxey and Liam Feeney in a new-look team which also had Mark Davies playing in a deep-lying midfield role.
Chung-Yong Lee was again given licence to roam further forward in support of front two Craig Davies and Connor Wilkinson.
The result was an entertaining half of football.
Mills broke the deadlock after only six minutes, stooping to head home Feeney’s corner from the right.
Adam Bogdan was again nowhere to be seen, leaving Andy Lonergan to resume his summer run in goal.
He was kept busy early on too, making a decent save from Chris Lines and an even better one from Michael O’Connor, who had struck a fearsome volley from 30 yards out.
Wilkinson has been in rude scoring form this summer at both senior and under-21 level and he showed up well in the early stages, combining with his strike partner Davies to bring a low save out of Vale’s young keeper Sam Johnson.
The Republic of Ireland youth has done his cause no harm at all in pre-season and could well feature somewhere at the start of this season even if Freedman brings on board the more experienced heads he desires.
Vale grew stronger as the first half progressed and could have been level before the break.
Lonergan made another important stop from Mark Marshall but was beaten by another haymaker from O’Connor right before the interval that arrowed a couple of inches over the bar.
By that point the home side were on top, with the early promise that the Whites had shown starting to evaporate. Vale swapped their entire 11 around after the break and so lost a lot of the fluency they had gained in the opening 45 minutes.
Freedman also shuffled his back, albeit with the same personnel, with Moxey moving over to the left for a spell and Chung-Yong filling in as a wing-back.
The Korean was making his first start since the World Cup and though a few passes went astray, looked well at home in a more central position than he has become accustomed to in club football.
Wanderers created the first half-chances after the restart, and after Wilkinson had brought a save out of Johnson with a shot on the turn, Mills went close to a second, missing Feeney’s in-swinging corner by inches.
But back came Vale and Lonergan bailed his side out once again with a stunning close-range save from Carl Dickinson’s header.
Whatever the reasons for Bogdan’s absence, injury or otherwise, the former Preston man looks intent on making sure his name is first on the list at Watford a week on Saturday.
With 20 minutes left on the clock he got another vital touch to Louis Dodds’ low shot to tip it round the post, denying the home side a goal you couldn’t have denied they deserved.
Wanderers’ problems seemed to stem from an inability to keep hold of the ball up front, where Craig Davies was not having the most effective evening.
The Wales international’s game ended on 71 minutes when he was replaced by Jermaine Beckford – but it seemed Davies’ bad fortune had been passed on, as with his first touch, Beckford glanced a Feeney free-kick wide of goal from six yards.
Moments later he drilled an unstoppable shot which bounced off the woodwork before nestling in the net.
Vale still had enough about them to grab a consolation before the end with Tom Pope’s header and will argue they deserved at least a draw out of the game as Lonergan beat away another effort from Steve Jennings at the bitter end.
But as the match announcer thanked Freedman for bringing his side to Vale Park, wishing the Whites all the best for the season ahead, you were reminded that this is far from the competitive football we are all eagerly anticipating.