Cheltenham Town 1-0 Port Vale Six Things: the Robins’ sound home form continues

Luke Varney celebrates the first half winner –

Luke Varney’s first half strike proved enough for Cheltenham Town to win another relegation six-pointer at the Jonny-Rocks Stadium, beating struggling Port Vale 1-0. Here’s our Six Things from the game.

Pope dealt with

Port Vale were yet to attain their first point of John Askey’s reign and perhaps that impacted the nature of their 4-4-2 setup. David Worrall and Cristian Montano showed discipline in wide areas, closing down Chris Hussey and Ryan Broom respectively to try to deny them opportunities to get crosses in and force Cheltenham centre-backs like Charlie Raglan to play the diagonal balls into front man Luke Varney. They were not always able to maintain that structure though and, inside the first 10 minutes, Broom got in two crosses for Luke Varney, with both saved by the warmly-greeted returnee Scott Brown, as the home side found joy in wide areas. Although Cheltenham’s first half periods of prominence were not necessarily longer than those of their visitors, they looked more productive while on top and created the better chances as the likes of Charlie Raglan and Ben Tozer shepherded target man Tom Pope effectively.

Double-figures for Varney

Ben Whitfield had Vale’s best first half effort with a long-range drive that stung Scott Flinders’ palms on 15 minutes, before Worrall had a goal disallowed for offside, following Cristian Montano’s cut-back. Diminutive players like Whitfield and Montano though struggled to get into the contest more prominently in an attacking sense, however, because the Valiants tended to play long towards target man Tom Pope from deep. Just after Jacob Maddox fired over from inside the box following Broom’s cut-back, Cheltenham made the breakthrough on 34 minutes, with Varney converting from Chris Hussey’s assist, with Scott Brown not able to get a strong enough hand to his effort.

Hussey delivers

Varney had an opportunity to double Cheltenham’s lead just after half-time, when he steared over from close-range following Chris Hussey’s free-kick. That miss looked potentially costly because, as Luke Varney tired and the likes of Billy Waters and Jacob Maddox favoured balls to feet, Cheltenham were short on players to press and counter-attack as required after the break. That gave Port Vale a window to gain control but the lack of apparent drive meant they never quite seized that opportunity, with only a hint of a threat from set pieces as substitute Tom Conlon proved a rare bright spark and centre-back Leon Legge acted as a focal point.

Cheltenham’s composure

John Askey took Cristian Montano off in the closing stages and in fairness, the winger had struggled to get into the game in general play but, ironically, the time he could have been most useful came after he came off; Cheltenham dropped deeper in the closing stages, meaning Vale needed a left winger to stretch the play. Instead, they had replacement Ricky Miller, an individualistic goalscorer by trade, shoehorned out wide. To the home side’s credit, they managed the game well with the likes of Conor Thomas showing composure under pressure and created the better chances after the break, with the impressive Raglan nodding wide from delivery expert Hussey’s corner.

Not so Valiant Vale

For Port Vale, this result means John Askey begins his tenure in charge with four consecutive defeats. Even if one or two of those losses have been unfortunate, namely the 1-0 against Morecambe, it is very much the time at which results are all important, with their proud, historic EFL status on the line. The Valiants are now only three points above the drop zone and, with Macclesfield and Notts County showing signs of life, it is perhaps worrying that, Conlon aside, they did not quite show the battling qualities they will need in their final 12 games. A reluctance to diversify their long ball play is one thing, but most concerning is the lack of intensity and fight with which they applied their style.

Four on the spin at home for Cheltenham

For the Robins, this was a run of four consecutive home league victories for the first time since April 2013. The consistency with which Michael Duff’s side have defeated their relegation rivals could prove key to them securing their EFL status and here, they also showed signs that they can mix their game up. Earlier in the campaign, we saw them rely on early balls into Varney and target man Tyrone Barnett; only there did the football involving Jacob Maddox flow. Here, Barnett’s absence for the first 84 minutes encouraged Cheltenham to play more on the deck and embrace a more modern brand of football, which they will need for long-term progression. Duff will not admit it but, with an 11-point cushion from the relegation zone, the Robins can begin to set sights further afield.