Stoke City 2 Port Vale 0
A goal late in either half by Mike Sheron, one fortuitous and the other ferociously struck, guaranteed that Stoke City gave Lou Macari a deserved victory over Port Vale yesterday in what was not only his final Potteries derby as manager, but also the clubs' last meeting at the Victoria Ground.
Vale, who had won the three previous meetings at Stoke by 1-0, remain in contention for the play-offs to decide a place in the Premiership. On the day, however, their neighbours proved that local pride can still be a powerful source of motivation.
Undaunted by Macari's shock decision to resign this summer in order to pursue his claim for unfair dismissal against Celtic, Stoke hustled Vale out of their passing game. To their fans' raucous glee, it was as if they were intent upon ensuring that Vale are visiting them in the new Britannia Stadium next season rather than relishing trips to Highbury or Old Trafford.
The most notable incident of the first half appeared likely to be a brawl involving a dozen players after a bad foul by Vale's Dutchman, Rogier Koordes, on Ally Pickering. Stoke's Sean Flynn exacerbated the situation by charging with arms flailing, but he escaped even a yellow card and the home side enjoyed a further, more significant break 40 seconds before the interval.
Sheron drifted past Neil Aspin - the only time Vale's captain came off second best all afternoon - and Ian Bogie before taking aim from 22 yards. Paul Musselwhite had his under-hit shot covered, only for the ball to take a deflection off Dean Glover and spin gently into the opposite corner of the net.
It was the first goal Vale had conceded at Stoke in more than 400 minutes' play. Mike Macari, the outgoing manager's son, almost added another with an overhead kick that clipped the crossbar. Vale, despite a strong spell around the hour mark, failed to trouble Carl Muggleton.
The hapless Glover was again involved when Stoke made sure of the points. His clearance cannoned against the arm of Carl Beeston, where upon Sheron instantaneously drove home his 24th goal of the season from 12 yards. Only a diving header by Aspin denied him a hat-trick.
John Rudge, Vale's manager, conceded that his team would have to do better in their remaining fixtures, against Wolves and Crystal Palace, to extend the season.
His opposite number, looking drained after "a rollercoaster 48 hours", said it was Stoke's "last shot at doing something for our fans".
Macari confirmed that he will be leaving Stoke to concentrate on "a match I need to win more than any I've been involved in". He admitted that he feared "ruin" if the verdict went in Celtic's favour in September, with costs estimated at around pounds 450,000. "If I lose this case," he added, "I'll be selling The Big Issue the next day."
Fortunately for his place in parochial posterity, Sheron had already settled this particular big issue.
Goals: Sheron (45) 1-0; Sheron (85) 2-0.
Stoke City (4-4-2): Muggleton; Pickering, Sigurdsson, Whittle, Griffin; Flynn (McMahon 73), Beeston (Mackenzie, 90), Wallace, Forsyth; M Macari, Sheron. Substitute not used: Kavanagh.
Port Vale (4-4-2): Musselwhite; Hill, Aspin, Glover, Tankard; McCarthy (Corden, 70), Porter, Bogie, Koordes (Talbot, 70); Naylor, Mills. Substitute not used: Foyle.
Referee: D Allison (Lancaster). Bookings: Stoke: Wallace. Port Vale: Koordes, Mills.
Man of the match: Sheron. Attendance: 16,246.