The heavens opened over South West 6 tonight but the football was divine. Port Vale are clearly not a wet weather team, but this was like watching Muhammad Ali sparring with a stuffed bear: “If the pitch gets slick I’ll hit them for six”…
It was brilliant to watch, for all kinds of reasons. First, the resurrection of Matthew Briggs, who is going to need first team football sooner or later, and got a chance to show what he could do tonight. This is unfortunate for Paul Konchesky fans (Liverpool bound, then?), but nice for Briggs. Indeed, the first five minutes seemed to be all about giving him ‘early touches’, Murphy in particular doing the captainly thing and bringing the youngster into the game whenever he could. And it wasn’t long before Briggs made a serious contribution, laying on one of the better goals we’ll see at the Cottage this season.
Damien Duff spied acres of unguarded green grass on the left wing and switched play accordingly. There was one man on the field who could keep Duff’s pass in, and sure enough Briggs retrieved the ball and whipped a wondrous high ball into the area, at which point Zoltan Gera hurtled through space and thumped home with a falling header, getting a boot in the face in so doing. It was an extraordinary goal, with immense credit to all three players.
Moussa Dembele, making his first start, made it two. Showing tremendous control and a delicious sense of.. time? (the old adage about great sportsmen never rushing springs to mind).. Dembele wandered infield and smacked a low drive into the very bottom corner of the Vale net from the edge of the box. Sad to say, but he looks like the player we all hoped Clint Dempsey might be (and I say this as a huge Dempsey fan); he looks absolutely brilliant really.
The third came from Briggs again, his pass infield dummied by Zamora, picked up by Gera whose angled pass set Zamora free in the area. A cross was on, but instead Zamora whacked a shot into the top corner. Extraordinary pace to the move, beautifully done.
Zamora teed up Gera for a fourth, the latter given time to control and swivel and shoot home off the bar. A nice goal, again.
The second half saw things calm down slightly. Zamora made it five with a free-kick, then Dempsey six with a humming drive from the edge of the area.
Dempsey had six or seven shots at goal and appears to be trying a bit too hard. He’s a good player but is again having to force his way into the side at the start of the season. His has been a strange stint, our longest serving player, scorer of several vital goals without which life would have been much less interesting at Craven Cottage, but still he is somehow not entirely at home. An attempted reprisal of “that chip” was (as Jamie suggested to me) almost a cry for help: “see what I can do; remember what I did“. When he eventually scored he ran towards the bench where his friend Eddie Johnson was waiting.