Cummins strike stuns slack Stoke

Stoke City 0 Port Vale 1
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Having publicly laid into his players in no uncertain terms after a feeble defeat at the hands of Bournemouth last week, the Stoke manager, Gudjon Thordarson, must have watched the first half here in disbelief, for seldom can a team which aspires to automatic promotion played quite as badly as the Potters did in the first half yesterday.

That it was a local derby, for many supporters the most important match of the season, simply exacerbated the offence. Port Vale, by contrast, were as fired up as they usually are for this fixture, ripping into their relatively affluent neighbours from the opening whistle.

Indeed, they should have taken the lead after barely 20 seconds, Stephen Brooker seizing on Michael Cummins pass to hammer a rising drive which brought a good save from the Stoke goalkeeper Neil Cutler.

After struggling before Christmas, Vale came into the game having won five of their previous eight fixtures and looked full of confidence. Marc Bridge-Wilkinson almost turned Neil Brisco's cross home after 20 minutes and Brooker blasted wastefully wide from 10 yards soon afterwards, but the goal long threatened finally arrived when Cummins, attempting to head on a Matt Carragher throw-in, saw a fortunate rebound roll slowly past a flat-footed Cutler and squeeze in at the far post.

It was the least Port Vale deserved and Steve McPhee would have given the scoreline a more realistic look if he had managed to steer his header under instead of on to the bar as half-time approached.

Thordarson's words in the break must have been stinging, but the fact is that Stoke were not that much better in the second half. Only the fact that Vale were content to sit back allowed the home side to put them under some sort of pressure late on, but Stoke never for a moment looked like scoring.

"That was not acceptable," said Thordarson afterwards. "They wanted it more. We were unsure on the ball and uncomfortable with what was asked of them."

Vale, the LDV Vans Trophy holders, are now 12th and look safe from relegation, although the threat of financial melt-down hangs over Vale Park.

"We like to win derbies for the supporters, but we really set our standards today," said their manager, Brian Horton.

Goal: Cummins 35.

Stoke City: Cutler; Clarke, Shtaniuk, Flynn (Iwelumo, 90), Thomas; Goodfellow, O'Connor, Vandeurzen (Henry, 70), Gudjonsson; Cooke, Dadason (Thordarson, 62). Substitutes not used: Rowson, Bevan.

Port Vale: Goodlad; Carragher, Walsh, Burns, Rowlands; Bridge-Wilkinson, Brisco, Durnin, Cummins; McPhee, Brooker. Substitutes not used: Delaney, McClare, Ingram, Armstrong, O'Callaghan.

Referee: G Laws (Whitley Bay).

Booked: Stoke: Thomas. Port Vale: Rowlands, Carragher.

Man of the match: Cummins.

Attendance: 23,019.