Crewe Alexandra did their hopes of retaining their League One status the power of good with a morale boosting victory in the Cheshire/Staffordshire derby. In another hugely entertaining encounter Crewe ran out deserved 3-1 winners thanks to goals from Mathias Pogba, a well taken spot kick from Chuks Aneke and a well crafted goal from Brad Inman. Tom Pope gave Port Vale a lifeline with a trademark header from a corner.
It was no more than the Railwaymen had deserved for their outstanding attacking play and in truth it could have been more if it wasn't for the form of the Port Vale goalkeeper Chris Neal. He saved superbly to deny Pogba, Aneke and Tootle more goals.
Although Crewe defended resolutely throughout, the home side also had their chances too. Pope was the dangerman throughout for the Valiants, having a header that clipped the crossbar in the first half. He also saw a shot cleared from the line by Harry Davis and a clever chip tipped over by Ben Garratt before his goal.
Crewe Alexandra were once again without the on-loan Uche Ikpeazu and a possible replacement in AJ Leitch-Smith, so Steve Davis altered the formation for the trip to Vale Park. Winger Byron Moore returned to the starting line-up after being left out against league leaders Brentford last weekend.
Club captain Abdul Osman dropped back to the bench to accommodate the return of Moore. The change to 4-4-2 saw Mathias Pogba move into a more central role with Chuks Aneke in support. Matt Tootle reclaimed the captain's armband.
Our former striker Tom Pope lined up for the home side, as did the club's former Academy graduate Adam Yates. The Davis brothers also lined-up against each other with Joe Davis given the nod after recent good form.
The two former Crewe players combined after just three minutes of play with Pope reaching Yates' cross first but his looping header was comfortably collected by Ben Garratt.
Two minutes later, a slip from Joe Davis after just five minutes presented Chuks Aneke right on the edge of the Port Vale penalty area. Aneke seized on the lapse of concentration but couldn't quite bend the shot past Chris Neal.
Aneke was involved in the action to sent Byron Moore down the Vale left and after holding up play he cleverly found the supportive Tootle. The right back cut inside and fired a shot that Neal did well to hold at his near post.
It was fairly opening ten minutes with Port Vale placing a couple of crosses into a crowded box that Ellis and Davis headed clear. The in-form Doug Loft also dragged a shot wide of the mark from 25 yards out.
Crewe took the lead on 14 minutes via a quick thinking corner. After winning it from a sliding tackle from Dickinson, Moore was alert to collect a short corner from George Evans. Vale were caught napping and Moore's excellent delivery caused sufficient trouble in front of Neal. Ellis applied a touch in the mayhem and Pogba forced it over the line with his knee for his second goal of the season.
Joe Davis became the first to be booked for catching Aneke as the on-loan Arsenal youngster beat him to the ball. From the free kick, Tootle enjoyed another shot at goal that Neal was equal to.
Crewe were on top and creating more of the genuine chances. After Grant was felled by Chris Line, another quickly taken set play saw Pogba force Neal into a smart save. It was a terrific effort that Neal did well to push behind.
Aneke should have put Crewe 2-0 up after 25 minutes after he latched onto a header forward from Pogba to go clear on goal. Crewe's top scorer looks odds on to score after a sublime first touch saw him take the ball in his stride but he side footed his shot wide of the target. You would have certainly backed him to score.
Young Davis was rather fortunate to escape a second yellow card after again catching Aneke after he had played the ball around him. It could quite easily have been a game-changer before the half an hour mark but referee Roger East let him off with a final warning. The Vale manager Micky Adams wasn't going to take any chances and quickly withdrew him for Jennison Myre-Williams. Gavin Tomlin also came on early for Jordan Hugill as Adams tried to halt the Crewe dominance going forward. More good defending from Tootle prevented Pope from having a back post header.
Pope did reach the next one though and his towering header from Lines' cross struck the angle of the Crewe crossbar and rebound away to safety. Pope also drilled one right across goal that only needed a touch from Lines at the far post.
It was real end to end stuff and after more good work from Tootle and Moore, the advanced Guthrie kept the move alive to allow Inman to get a shot off. Neal once again made a fine save. The busy Port Vale goalkeeper was again called into action just moments later after Vale failed to clear the danger and presented Aneke with another chance to get a shot off. The agile Neal again saved and reacted quickest to foil Pogba from close range as he looked to bundle it home again.
It was a cracking encounter and Pope must have thought he had scored after he connected with a pull-back from Myrie Williams only to see a well placed Harry Davis to head off the line.
A thrilling first half saw Pope flick a header just over the crossbar.
Three minutes into the second period Crewe went 2-0 up after Tootle was tripped inside the box by Loft. Aneke showed great strength and vision to switch the play to Moore on the right and he waited for the forward run of Tootle. The full-back cleverly chopped back and Loft's trailing foot caught him. Aneke stepped up confidently to convert from the spot and register his 12th goal of the season.
There was a stoppage in play because Jack Grimmer needed lengthy attention and had to be stretched off. Billy Knott replaced him with Anthony Griffith asked to play in the centre of the Vale defence. Knott, who previously played for Wycombe against Crewe in the FA Cup, quickly sent a ball out to Daniel Jones and under pressure from Davis, Pope couldn't direct his header on target.
Aneke had another half chance after great work from Pogba but he couldn't quite get the ball under his spell as it bounced off his knee. If he had he would have been through on goal.
Some good interchange of passing involving Pope and Jennison Myrie-Williams saw the substitute winger shoot wide of the mark. He was a little off balance.
On 63 minutes it looked to be 3-0 when Inman's pull-back fell perfectly for Aneke but with Neal grounded and struggling, his close range shot seemed to hit either the back of Pogba or Dickinson and spin over the bar.
At the other end, Myrie-Williams lashed a half chance at the back post over Garratt's crossbar. There was then nearly an almighty mix-up between the makeshift centre-half Griffith and his goalkeeper. They seemed to have left it to each other and an alert Pogba nearly took full advantage. He just lost his footing at the crucial moment and Neal was able to pounce on it.
The influential Aneke drifted across the Vale penalty area and shot just wide of the mark.
On 72 minutes, Crewe scored the third goal our play had deserved and it was superb awareness from Inman. He played a neat one-two with Pogba on the edge of the Vale box before drilling a low shot past Neal for his third goal of the season. He gave a salute to the travelling Alex fans behind that particular goal.
Port Vale went close to pulling one back when Pope wriggled free of the grounded Ellis and his clever chip had to be tipped over superbly by Garratt. Crewe didn't organise quickly enough from the corner and Pope stole in at the far post to head a lifeline. There were 14 minutes left in the derby.
Aneke had another opportunity to kill the contest after Dickinson missed a long ball up the pitch from the covering Moore. The Arsenal youngster raced into space and drew a smart save from Neal.