|Vale of Leven Football & Athletic Club
Millburn Park, Leven Street, Alexandria, Dunbartonshire
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After the bitter disappointment of last week's penalty shoot out defeat Vale bounced back with this hard earned win over a battling Shire side who played the last 35 minutes with 10 men after having a player sent off. The win moved Hugh Hamill's side a step closer to league leaders Kilsyth Rangers who could only draw at Blantyre but the Vale boss admitted that his side have to be more ruthless in front of goal. The many missed chances could have come back to haunt Vale had it not been for David Meechan's decisive third goal 5 minutes from time that finally broke the fight of the home side who had looked a much better side with 10 men than they did with eleven.
For the visit to an immaculate looking Keppoch Park playing surface Vale had to do without the organisational talents of Jim Meechan with Paul Barton starting his first game since September. The only other change saw Alan Brown returning after injury in place of Graeme McKenzie which meant that Brian Smith pushed further forward between midfield and attack.
Vale almost got caught cold after just three minutes when Cunningham burst through the middle but Maclaurin got down to save although the goal wouldn't have counted as the referee had blown for a marginal offside decision. In the eighth minute Vale missed their first clear cut chance of the day when Meechan helped the ball onto Ward but the top scorers weakly hit shot was easily saved by Thomson in the Shire goal.
Shires Cunningham beat Barton shortly after but fortunately for Vale the striker's effort was both high and wide. Although Shire looked fairly lively up front, at the back they looked none too clever and they should have been punished after 20 minutes when Ward had an easy chance to score but seemed to get the ball stuck between his feet and although King eventually netted his close range effort was disallowed as he had strayed offside.
After both Wardle and Meechan were denied by keeper Thomson Shire very nearly caused a surprise when Cunningham broke on the left and from his cut back Hamill saw his strike well saved by Maclaurin in the Vale goal. Vale returned to the offensive and after a mix up in defence Hugh Ward lobbed the ball over the advancing Thomson but his effort rebounded from the base of the keepers right hand post. Vale were not to be denied a second goal and it duly arrived after 35 minutes when Brown's inswinging corner was forced over the line by Brian Smith who netted his third goal of the season. A minute later the post again came to the home side's rescue when Brian Wardle's glancing header beat the keeper but rebounded to safety as Vale threatened to run up a healthy score.
Half Time 0-2
Vale came out for the second period with the words of warning from boss Hugh Hamill fresh in their mind. Shire were still in this match and Vale would need to score again to dampen the spirit they were showing.
Vale really needed a disciplined performance but David Meechan was lucky to escape with only a caution after a crude challenge on Cahoon after 52 minutes. A minute later Thomson misjudged a long ball and King was in around the keeper but as he rolled the ball across the face of goal Ward just failed to connect.
The game totally changed after 54 minutes when home striker Kirkwood lashed out at Brian Wardle and then after being sent off he spat in the face of the Vale defender. This seemed to spur on the home side and they were presented with a lifeline just 5 minutes later when Barton was short with a pass back and Cunningham nipped in to round Maclaurin to score.
A minute later Toby King broke clear but as he was about to enter the area he was sent crashing by Johnstone who received a yellow card for his tackle as the Vale support were calling for a different coloured card to be shown.
The Millburn men survived a scare after 65 minutes when a corner wasn't cleared properly and McShane hooked the ball wide of target. At the other end Hunter's pass found Meechan but his effort was comfortably saved.
Hugh Ward's mazy dribble along the goal line after 80 minutes presented King with a simple chance to score from close range but he didn't have time for the two touches he wanted and the chance was blocked.
With 5 minutes remaining Vale finally got the crucial third goal they needed to reduce any threat the 10 men were causing. Brian Smith won the ball in midfield and burst forward before rolling a pass to David Meechan wide of centre and his powerfully struck 20 yard shot nestled nicely in the back of the net to secure all three points.
At the end of the day Vale were happy to take the points but their inability to kill teams off caused a few hearts to flutter in the Vale support. Best for Vale were Brown, Wardle, King, Meechan and man of the match Brian Smith who worked tirelessly throughout.
Team: Maclaurin; Lacy, Wardle, Barton, Goodwin; Hunter (Fox), Brown, King; Smith; Ward (Ruane), D.Meechan. Unused subs: Roger, McKenzie & McKernan.