It’s advantage Swindon Town as they recorded a hard fought 2-1 victory over Port Vale at The County Ground in their 2021-22 EFL Sky Bet League Two Playoff Semi-Final First-Leg on Sunday.
A brace from Harry McKirdy gives Ben Garner’s side a slight advantage ahead of the second instalment at Vale Park on Thursday, but a late James Wilson goal seven minutes from time leaves the tie finely poised.
The Town boss named an unchanged Starting XI from their final day victory over Walsall last weekend which cemented their Playoff place, and The County Ground welcomed yet another bumper crowd with an attendance of just over 14,000.
It was a cagey start to the match with neither side able to take control and produce a clear opening, with only a series of stray passes and late challenges to test referee Ross Joyce.
When the first chance did come, it fell to Vale midfielder Ben Garrity who tried his luck from long range, capitalising on a loose clearance, but his effort sailed safely over Lewis Ward’s crossbar.
Town responded positively though, with Jack Payne shooting wide of the target just moments later.
A medical emergency in the stands halted proceedings briefly, but play resumed with the hosts taking the initiative.
On 23 minutes, good work from Harry McKirdy in the penalty area setup Payne for another shot, but his powerful effort from a narrow angle was beaten away by Vale stopper Aidan Stone.
Swindon’s pressure finally paid off as they broke the deadlock three minutes later, with McKirdy arriving at the near post to glance home Jonny Williams cross with his head, sending the home crowd into raptures.
The goal gave Ben Garner’s side fresh impetus, and moments later they produced another good opportunity, with Payne involved again, but his shot from the edge of the box was well saved by Stone once again.
The visitors responded immediately with a chance of their own - Ryan Edmondson finding himself in a similar position to Payne at the other end, but his tame effort was easily collected by Ward.
With halftime fast approaching, it was the home side who continued to dominate – Williams struck a well driven strike that was tipped over by Stone, and McKirdy shot high and wide with a half-volley following a poor Vale clearance.
HALF-TIME: SWINDON TOWN 1-0 PORT VALE
A goal down at the break, it was the visitors who came out strongly for the second period, with Nathan Smith heading over from a free kick and James Wilson sending a low drive wide of Ward’s right-hand post.
Swindon struggled to get a foothold back in the game for the 15-minutes that ensued but defended resolutely to maintain their lead, and it wasn’t until the hour mark they created their first clear-cut chance of the second-half.
Great work from Louie Barry on the left created space for Ellis Iandolo inside the box, and his low drive across the face of goal was narrowly missed by the outstretched McKirdy - but the inform striker wouldn’t have to wait long to grab his second of the game.
On 68 minutes, great interchange play between him and the impressive Payne saw the latter hit a powerful drive at goal that Stone could only palm into the path of the forward, who kept his composure to volley home from close range.
Just a minute later, Josh Davison missed a golden chance to put further breathing space between the two sides, finding himself one on one with Stone, but he delayed his shot and could only fire over.
The tie was then blown wide open on 83 minutes, when Wilson tapped home from close range after Town failed to clear their lines in the box.
A nervy final seven minutes saw chances few and far between as Vale went in search of a late equaliser.
Jamie Proctor shot high and wide, while Wilson forced a good save from Ward at his near post shortly after, but it was the home side who emerged victorious, and will take their narrow advantage to Staffordshire on Thursday.
FINAL-SCORE: SWINDON TOWN 2-1 PORT VALE
TEAMS AND STATS
SWINDON TOWN - Ward; Iandolo, Conroy (C), Baudry, Davison, Payne, McKirdy, Egbo (Akin Odimayo 74), Barry (Jake O'Brien 90), Williams (Ben Gladwin 79), Reed.
SUBS NOT USED - Wollacott, Mitchell-Lawson, Aguiar, Parsons.
SCORERS - Harry McKirdy (26, 68).
BOOKED - Josh Davison, Louis Reed.
PORT VALE - Stone; Gibbons, Hall, Smith, Worrall, Garrity, Wilson, Martin (Mal Benning 76, Charsley (Jake Taylor 45), Pett, Edmondson (Jamie Proctor 63).
SUBS NOT USED - Covolan, Robinson, Amoo, Harratt.
SCORERS - James Wilson (83).
BOOKED - Harry Charsley.
Referee - Ross Joyce.
Attendance - 14,086 (1,659 Away Fans).