First-half goals from Byron Moore and Uche Ikpeazu condemned Sheffield United to defeat at Port Vale this afternoon.
Nigel Adkins’ side, who host Notts County in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy on Tuesday evening, appeared to have made a comfortable enough start with Billy Sharp and Jose Baxter both causing problems until Moore changed the course of the contest by claiming his third of the season.
Ikpeazu doubled Vale’s advantage moments before the break and, despite seeing Matt Done make his long-awaited return from injury as a second-half substitute, the visitors were unable to plot a route back into the game.
Done’s finish, deep into added time, reduced the deficit but referee Graham Salisbury called as soon as the re-start took place.
United, who restored Baxter in midfield following injury, also welcomed Jay McEveley, Terry Kennedy, Jamal Campbell-Ryce and Che Adams back on the bench. Baxter, immediately made his presence felt by driving forward through the centre of the pitch before releasing Paul Coutts with a perfectly angled pass but Anthony Grant stepped-in to quash the threat. Baxter, having missed Tuesday’s draw at Burton Albion due to a groin complaint, was clearly intent on releasing his pent-up frustration. Always involved during the early exchanges, he delivered the two corners which saw both David Edgar and Chris Basham go close.
Games of football, though, can turn in an instant and just as United seemed destined to score, they conceded a goal themselves when Moore turned home in the 16th minute. Mark Howard had done well to prevent Colin Daniel from heading home Enoch Andoh’s cross but was powerless to stop the former Crewe Alexandra midfielder from converting when the ball was recycled.
Sharp, who had gone close after profiting from Conor Sammon’s superb pass before Moore’s intervention, saw another snap-shot saved by Jak Alnwick as United responded. Andoh hooked well wide after clipping over the advancing Howard as Vale, quite deliberately, went direct. At the other end, Sharp and Sammon continued to combine well with the latter only a deflection away from sending his strike partner clean through on goal. Vale, though, strengthened their grip on the game during the closing moments of the first-half when Ikpeazu hammered home off the underside of the crossbar.
United, who introduced Adams and Kennedy for the start of the second period, were wheeling away in celebration when Sharp met Sammon’s cross only yards from goal but, somehow, Alnwick came up with the ball. Done’s entrance increased United’s attacking options but inevitably, as they searched for a route back into the fixture, so they also became even more open at the back. A fact Daniel underlined when he saw an attempt hit the woodwork following a skirmish in front of Howard.
Basham was cautioned in the 90th minute and, as a result, will miss the second round tie against Ricardo Moniz’s side. Done marked his comeback by firing home from point blank range but, with only seconds remaining, there was to be no route back for United.
Port Vale: Alnwick, Purkiss, Dickinson, Streete, Duffy, Ikpeazu (Dodds 74), Foley, Daniel (Leitch-Smith 89), Moore, Andoh, Grant. Not used: Johnson, McGivern, Birchall, Hooper, Brown.
Sheffield United: Howard, Freeman, Edgar (Kennedy 46), Collins, K Wallace, Coutts (Done 60), Baxter, Basham, Flynn (Adams 46), Sharp, Sammon. Not used: Long, McEveley, Campbell-Ryce, Reed.
Referee: Graham Salisbury (Lancashire).