Football: Francis raises Stockport's expectations: Port Vale fail in late push for victory in Second Division promotion battle

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Stockport County. . .2

Port Vale. . . . . . 1

AFTER TWO consecutive play-off failures, Stockport's attempt to gain automatic promotion this season acquired fresh momentum on a wet night at Edgeley Park when two goals from their giant striker, Kevin Francis, lifted them above Port Vale into third place in the Second Division, level on points with Plymouth but with two games in hand.

Danny Bergara, the County manager, saw the match as the most important in his five years at the club and his team caught the mood with a performance of considerable vigour. They were after revenge as well as points, having been beaten by Vale in last year's play-off semi-final before suffering defeat at their hands again in the Autoglass Trophy final at Wembley.

Bergara is from sophisticated South American football stock but the method the little Uruguayan employs with Stockport owes little to fancy finery. The towering presence of the 6ft 7in Francis simplifies Stockport's tactical approach but it is mightily effective, if not particularly uplifting.

Francis opened his account with his 100th goal for the club in the 39th minute from a throw-in move that was clearly well rehearsed, even if the end result was perhaps more spectacular than intended. Mike Flynn hurled the ball to the near-post from the right touchline, Andy Preece flicked it on with his head and Francis found the net with an adroit overhead kick.

Francis added his second, his 31st of the season, in the 62nd minute. Released on the left by Preece, the striker paused as if awaiting support but then spotted a gap left by goalkeeper Paul Musselwhite and whacked a low drive inside the left post.

Port Vale summoned up a determined response but found John Keeley in defiant form in the Stockport goal. He produced excellent saves from David Lowe, Kevin Kent and Ian Taylor before Lowe's goal in the 84th minute set up a desperate finish.

Stockport County (4-4-2): Keeley; Connelly, Flynn, Miller, Todd; Gannon, Williams, Wallace, Ryan (James, 89); Francis, Preece. Substitutes not used: Frain, Ironside (gk).

Port Vale (4-3-3): Musselwhite; Aspin, Swan, Glover, Stokes (Tankard, 67); Kent, Porter, Taylor; Foyle, Lowe, Cross (Griffiths, 76). Substitute not used: Wood (gk).

Referee: T West (Hull).