SHREWSBURY Town moved to the brink of League One by sinking Port Vale with a high octane display in a pulsating midweek rematch which ensured justice was done.
Denied a probable three points by an abandonment when leading 1-0 three weeks earlier, Town made up for lost time by stretching their unbeaten home run to an astonishing 31 matches as they consolidated second place in the promotion race.
It was little wonder manager Graham Turner cut such a relaxed figure afterwards, although he’s in no mood to get carried away.
But the Town boss knows better than anyone that the club are now within touching distance of securing potentially stand-out fixtures against the likes of Portsmouth and Coventry next season.
With the stakes so high, Town delivered another excellent display in front of the Meadow’s biggest crowd of the season.
They combined their trademark easy on the eye passing football with a fierce determination to get the job done against a fired up Vale side, intent on giving it their best shot to derail Shrewsbury’s dreams.
As Vale boss Micky Adams noted: “We learned a few lessons from the game abandoned here a few weeks ago. We were lucky that we got another crack at them.
“They are a good side, worthy contenders for promotion and we will miss them because it’s a local derby, and we enjoy playing against them and the atmosphere that’s created, both at Vale Park and here.
“But we wanted to have a go at them. We didn’t just want to sit back and let them tickle our bellies.
“We had a go and I was proud of my players.”
Vale went toe-to-toe with Town for the much part and forced impressive goalkeeper Chris Neal into a string of excellent second-half saves, the pick of them when he dived full length to his left to claw a Marc Richards drive round a post.
That paved the way for the other Richards on the park, classy Town midfield operator Matt, to take centre stage by rattling home the decisive goal of the game 10 minutes into the second-half.
Taking possession 25 yards out, Richards cracked home a glorious strike which moved in the air to deceive Vale goalkeeper Chris Martin on its way to the bottom corner of the North Stand net.
Town shot-stopper Chris Neal, who walked off with the man of the match champagne, said: “Goalkeepers can tell when the ball moves.
“He made a couple of good saves but it was a great strike by Richo.
“He does that in training and both he and Nicky Wroe move the ball awfully well. I could even tell from my end that it moved.”
It needed to be something special to beat Martin who was in excellent form, on hand to deny Mark Wright and Richards with flying saves in the first-half.
And the Vale No 1 was also twice rescued by the woodwork, with James Collins smashing an angled shot against the bar in the first period and Wright hitting a post later, on as Town chased a second goal to kill off the valiant challenge of the visitors.
The atmosphere around the Meadow was at fever pitch in the closing stages, the home fans roaring their team over the finishing line.
And, now, they should have plenty more reason to be celebrating in the coming days.
TOWN: Neal; Grandison, Sharps, Cansdell-Sherriff, Jacobson; Wildig (Taylor 83), Wroe, Richards, Wright; Gornell (Morgan 80), Collins. Unused subs: McAllister, McLaughlin, Smith.
Referee: Andrew Madley (Yorkshire). Attendance: 7,678 (805 from Port Vale).
CHRONICLE STAR MEN: 1 Neal, 2 Richards, 3 Cansdell-Sherriff.