Talisman targetman Tom Pope ended his goal drought in stunning style as his superb hat-trick helped Vale win a five goal thriller against promotion rivals Cheltenham Town.
Vale made one change. With Chris Birchall still on his way back from International duty and Captain Doug Loft ruled out due to a family matter, Dan Jones was brought back. Rob Taylor moved to the wing and Louis Dodds partnered Anthony Griffith in the midfield engineroom.
Chris Neal was called into action on 12 mins to save a long-range drive by Penn. Then moments later, Hughes’ header looked to cross the line but it was ruled out for offside. That was Hughes’ final involvement as he limped off and was replaced by Ben Williamson.
Vale were not to regret that Hughes incident as five minutes later, Tom Pope broke his eleven game goal drought to open the scoring. It was the 28th goal of the season for League Two’s player of the year.
The goal spurred Vale into life and Williamson had a good chance to double the home side’s advantage. Then with Vale in the ascendency Louis Dodds hit the post.
Goals: Pope (19,58, 72), Mohamed (47), Benson (54)
Vale bookings: Jones
Despite that pressure, the visitors came close to equalising in the 42nd minute as Benson hit the crossbar.
Cheltenham made two changes at the break and were level moments into the second period as poor defending allowed Cheltenham a chance. Chris Neal pulled off a good save but from the rebound Mohamed tapped the ball in. The visitors completely turned the game around five minutes later as Benson scored to give Cheltenham the lead. That goal sparked an angry exchange between Pope and Neal as Vale’s tempers flared.
But Vale fans’ nerves were calmed as the home side countered two minutes later. Pope netted his second of the game from Myrie-Williams’ corner and in an astonishing passage of play the visitors nearly retook the lead as Byron Harrison rounded Neal, but his shot was cleared off the line by McCombe.
And it was Pope who capped a dramatic game with his third of the game on 72 minutes. Pope ran onto a through ball and coolly converted to make it 30 goals in a season for the striker.
Cheltenham tried to counter in the closing stages and Dan Jones made a good block on a Keith Lowe strike. But despite five minutes of stoppage time, the Vale held on to secure a hugely valuable three points.
It was a vital victory for the Valiants against one of their closest rivals and one that further boosts their hopes of securing automatic promotion.
Vale: Neal, Yates, McCombe, Chilvers, Jones, Myrie-Williams, Griffith, Dodds, Taylor (Andrew), Hughes (Williamson), Pope
Subs: Johnson, Shuker, Duffy, Purse, Lloyd