Football Features

How Port Vale striker Tom Pope lived up to his word despite 4-1 FA Cup defeat to Man City

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 19:28, 4 January 2020

FA Cup holders Manchester City sealed their passage into the fourth round with a 4-1 home win over Port Vale.

Pep Guardiola’s men were made to work for their predicted victory, at one stage the League Two side had levelled the contest at 1-1, but the Premier League giants class shone out in the end.

Oleksandr Zinchenko would break the deadlock before Tom Pope, against the run of play, equalised for the visitors. Sergio Aguero restored City’s lead, his 246th for the club, prior to teenage centre-back Taylor Harwood-Bellis unexpectedly grabbing his first and Phil Foden rounding off a stellar display.

Naturally, there were individual winners and losers. Here are some from this encounter.

Winner: Oleksandr Zinchenko

Oleksandr Zinchenko began the season as Manchester City’s first choice left-back a position he’d develop under Pep Guardiola having nominally been utilised in midfield. However, a serious knee injury would see him lose his spot to a returning Benjamin Mendy, but recent indifferent performances by the French full-back could potentially see the Ukraian international secure the position he relinquished.

Today, though, saw him fielded as part of a three-man City midfield alongside Ilkay Gundogan and David Silva where he most certainly put in a shift. Zinchenko, not known for his goalscoring, would put the hosts in front when his scintillating 25-yard strike flew past Scott Peter Brown via a wicked deflection.

Loser: Leon Legge

On second viewing, the League Two side were unfortunate to have conceded such a goal, Zinchenko’s effort for the FA Cup holders looked destined to bypass Port Vale’s goal if not for a massive deflection of skipper Leon Legge who – pardon the pun – stuck a leg out and the ensuing trajectory flew past his rooted ‘keeper. Port Vale boss John Askey, on the touchline, must have been kicking himself.

He would also be heavily involved in City’s next two goals; firstly, on the line and unable to prevent Sergio Aguero’s latest FA Cup strike before keeping Taylor Harwood-Bellis onside to score his first senior professional goal (albeit Harwood-Bellis inadvertently defelcted a John Stones shot).

Winner: Tom Pope

Askey would have feared an oncoming avalanche considering how the game was panning out. City, as expected, dominated possession but seldom troubled Peter Brown before suffering a shock against the run of play. Port Vale would neatly play the ball up the field; it ended with David Amoo whose subsequent whipped cross, which Angeliño struggled to close down, met the head of Tom Pope – who prior to this game infamously tweeted his strong opinion of John Stones as a defender – to level proceedings. Despite coming up against the England international, it was his centre-back partner Taylor Harwood-Bellis whom he muscled past. Nevertheless, a moment he will never forget.

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Loser: Claudio Bravo

The arrival of Ederson in 2017 cemented Claudio Bravo’s role as City’s second ‘keeper. He was likely to play this evening despite his sudden return to Premier League action. Ederson’s early sending off against Wolves the day after Boxing Day saw him make a second league appearance of this campaign, the first being at Anfield in November, and he’d follow that up with two more.

Keeping a shutout is proving to be difficult for the former European Cup-winning goalie. Across no fewer than 11 outings during this campaign he’s managed just two clean sheets. Even damning was the fact that today he only had to face one Port Vale shot on target.

Winner: Phil Foden

Guardiola was never going to send 19-year-old midfielder Foden on loan this season especially as this will be David Silva’s final year at the club. Every moment Foden spends with the Spanish maestro is beneficial to his development and the future England international has been racking up the minutes. Ever-present in their domestic cup involvements, it was no surprise to see Foden’s name on City’s team sheet, though where he was positioned raised a few eyebrows.

But this again is typical of those playing under Guardiola, the need to be versatile, Foden was stationed out on the left flank – in a 4-3-3 system – he immediately struck a rapport with marksman Sergio Aguero who led the line and that telepathy was best illustrated when his cross/shot was converted by the Argentine on the back post just before the break to put the hosts back in front. His tireless efforts, though, was ultimately rewarded when he nonchalantly converted Angeliño’s cross 14 minutes from the end.