npower League 2 action from Vale ParkThere may have only been two places and four points between these Staffordshire rivals at start of play but the gulf in class on show at Vale Park was evident for all to see as a rampant Port Vale put a huge dent in Burton Albion's promotion prospects with a 7-1 hammering on a sobering night for Brewers fans in the Potteries. As he was for Notts County on his previous appearance against Albion, experienced striker Lee Hughes was the destroyer in chief notching a hat-trick for himself as the Brewers were blown away in emphatic style.
The damage was all done in a thirteen minute spell midway through the first half with Hughes opening his account on 12 minutes with a thumping header followed up by a penalty after Ian Sharps fouled Tom Pope and Chris Birchall lashed in a third as Albion heads continued to spin. After the break was not much better for Albion as Hughes smashed home his second penalty of the evening five minutes into the second period before Pope and substitute Ben Williamson completed the rout equalling Albion's worst ever Football League defeat almost a year after the Brewers had capitulated by the same score at Bristol Rovers.
Lee Fowler was handed his first start since returning to the club on loan from Doncaster Rovers. Matt Paterson was the unlucky player to drop out of the team from Easter Monday at Accrington Stanley. Fowler lined up alongside Lee Bell in the centre of midfield with Jack Dyer pushed out to the wings to try and counter the attacking threat of flying Vale winger Jennison Myrie-Williams. After impressing in his cameo striker's role at the Crown Ground, Alex MacDonald was again asked to partner Michael Symes in the Burton attack. Stuart Tomlinson and Damien McCrory both lined up against their former club whilst Vale had Adam Yates in their back four, a player who wore Albion colours at the start of their Blue Square Championship campaign.
Burton made a bright start amidst a cracking atmosphere at a bouncing Vale Park. Alex MacDonald won an early corner but having looked like he was being troubled by a groin problem opted not to take the corner but Damien McCrory put the curling delivery straight into the arms of Chris Neal.
Lee Bell also had an early strike on goal when he was allowed to cut inside in the sixth minute but his low shot slid wide of the post.
Having made a relatively tame start to the game Vale spung into life taking the lead in the 12th minute. A swift break was led by skipper Doug Loft who played in Daniel Jones down the left. He looked up and pulled out a peach of a cross for Lee HUGHES who buried his header from twelve yards out.
MacDonald was left hobbling again shortly afterwards as he was fouled twenty five yards out but Lee Bell's delivery evaded everyone in the centre and allowed the home side to clear.
The Valiants had the wind in their sails now and they poured forward in search of a second and their pressure was rewarded when Ian Sharps was adjudged to have fouled Tom Pope to give HUGHES the chance to double his tally from the penalty spot with less than a quarter of the game gone.
The home side were rampant and soon made it three as Albion threatened to fall apart. Lively winger Chris BIRCHALL picked up the ball in midfield and looked up before smashing a shot from 22 yards that flew past Stuart Tomlinson with an awkward bounce making it awkward for the ex-Vale stopper.
It could have been even worse for Albion three minutes later. Birchall again busy in and around the edge of the Burton box, skipped past a challenge and scuffed a shot wide. Moments later and the dangerous Pope also managed to turn his marker and pick out the same spot, wide of the goal.
Damien McCrory picked up a yellow card in the 38th minute as he challenged to win the ball back after earlier conceding possession to Myrie-Williams. The tackle was full blooded but looked fair to everyone apart from referee Gavin Ward.
A shell shocked Albion recovered slightly and at least ensured they did not concede any more before the break and in a rare glimmer of attacking promise Jacques Maghoma drove towards goal before sending a shot dipping over the crossbar as the clock ticked into first half stoppage time.
The half time whistle was a blessed relief to Albion as Vale left the field with a roar of approval from their vociferous home support.
Half time: Port Vale 3 - 0 Burton Albion
Within seconds of the restart Vale were on the attack again and skipper Doug Loft tried his luck from outside the box but this time Tomlinson was firmly behind the speculative effort. Had it gone in it would have probably rendered the half time substitution of Lee Fowler with Matt Paterson as futile. Alex MacDonald switched to his more accustomed side midfield berth and Jack Dyer moved infield to partner Lee Bell.
Maghoma again looked to be Albion's most dangerous threat as he took command of a free kick that dipped just over the bar.
It was most certainly game over for Albion five minutes into the second period as MacDonald was outdone by Loft in the right channel and as he went down just inside the box HUGHES was given the chance by referee Ward to bag his hat-trick and second from the penalty spot. It was a chance he did not miss, completing his second hat-trick against the Brewers.
A fifth goal followed for Vale on 56 minutes and this was pure route one. A clearance from keeper Chris Neal was flicked on by Hughes and Tom POPE got in behind Sharps all too easily to calmly round Tomlinson and slot home from close range.
Hughes then took his leave as he was substituted on 59 minutes for young striker Ben Williamson. It was a relief for Albion as the former Oldham man had led the Brewers a merry dance all evening.
The substitutions continued as Albion took off MacDonald and replaced him with Andy Corbett, the long serving utility player slotting straight in on the right side of midfield.
The pacy Myrie-Williams was also given a well earned rest on 66 minutes as he was withdrawn in favour of Louis Dodds. When Jack Dyer scuffed a low shot well wide after a promising move it was further evidence that nothing was going to go right on the night for the Brewers.
That was until Matt PATERSON got himself on the scoresheet with a superbly crafted goal on seventy minutes. Latching onto a neat one two around the edge of the Vale area the former Southampton striker took a touch and lashed an unstoppable shot across Neal and into the far top corner.
It was only a momentary bright spot for the Brewers as Vale swept up the field three minutes later and lashed in a sixth. It was another ball over the top that allowed substitute WILLIAMSON to get goal side of Sharps and from just inside the penalty area on the angle he showed great composure to comprehensively beat Tomlinson.
With thirteen minutes to go there was time with the game already long gone for young midfielder Matty Palmer to make his Football League debut. The young apprentice has waited patient for his chance all season and he took over in midfield from Lee Bell.
The final whistle could not come quickly enough for the Brewers and there was more pain for them in the final minute as WILLIAMSON got ahead of both Sharps and Tomlinson to head home from a free kick.
It remains to be seen just how much of a morale sapping defeat this will prove to be but the Brewers have to come out fighting next game with three home games left in their final four fixtures to still salvage what is looking like a battle for the play-offs.
VALE: Neal, Yates, Griffith, Purse, Loft, Myrie-Williams, Pope, Chilvers, Birchall, Hughes, Jones. Substitutes: Johnson, McCombe, Dodds, Shuker, Andrew, Williamson, Duffy.
ALBION: Tomlinson, O'Connor, Sharps, Diamond, McCrory; Maghoma, Bell, Fowler, Dyer; MacDonald, Symes. Substitutes: Lyness, Corbett, Webster, Palmer, Paterson, Holness, Phillips.
Referee: Mr. G.Ward (Surrey)
GOALS: Vale - Hughes (12, 22 pen, 51 pen), Birchall (25), Pope (56), Williamson (73, 90); Albion - Paterson (70)
Attendance: 10,978 (883 away)