Reds returned to winning ways with a hard-fought success at Vale Park as they avenged their opening-day defeat to the Potteries’ outfit.
The dangerous Tom Pope put Vale in front early on but Reds levelled from the penalty spot when Josh Payne scored after Jimmy Smith had been pushed.
Neither side created much in the way of clear-cut chances in the second half until with eight minutes to go Vale defender Nathan Clark turned Lewis Young’s cross past his own keeper. With Newport County and Cambridge both beaten, Reds moved back into 12th place and the top half of the table.
Harry Kewell named the side which was unlucky not to beat Swindon on Monday but the squad was boosted by the return of Thomas Verheydt, who has been out for six weeks, and Josh Doherty, sidelined for three weeks, after injury.
Arjan Tajbakhsh had an early sight of goal but the defender was well off target in the seventh minute as Reds made a solid start against a Vale team looking for the win which would virtually seal League 2 football next season.
And the hosts twice went close to getting the early goal they craved in the space of nine minutes with striker Pope denied by the woodwork on both occasions.
Glenn Morris produced a terrific save in the ninth minute when he pushed Pope’s header onto the post. Then Pope got in again, this time from David Worrall’s cross, only to see another header strike the upright.
But Pope wasn’t to be denied. James Gibbons delivered a good ball in from the right in the 22nd minute and Pope had enough space 12 yards out to send a powerful right-foot shot inside the right-hand post for 1-0.
Jimmy Smith couldn’t keep his shot on target when Lewis Young’s pass found him as Reds looked for a response but the skipper did play his part when Reds levelled in the 28th minute. Premier League referee Mike Jones spotted Nathan Smith’s push on his namesake in the box and Payne stepped up to score for the second successive away game from the resultant penalty, sending Sam Hornby the wrong way.
Christian Montano failed to keep a shot on target after breaking forward before Hornby showed smart reflexes when he came out to smother the ball at the feet of Karlan Ahearne-Grant after Smith’s pass put him through.
Tajbakhsh was booked along with Pope during a lively first half.
Pope was Vale’s main threat throughout and he had two half-chances to put Vale back in front early in the second period.
A header from Worrall’s cross failed to extend Morris but Lewis Young did well in the 52nd minute to block the striker’s shot after he was found by Gibbons inside the box.
Morris made a comfortable stop from Whitfield’s shot but the visitors defended well in the second half and as the game became stretched they began to look more of a threat.
And with eight minutes to go Reds had the breakthrough. Mark Connolly played a good ball down the inside-right channel to find Young’s run and he got into the box before sliding the ball across goal and Clark, in trying to clear, sliced it past his own keeper.
Vale brought on ex-Reds striker Tyrone Barnett, who scored our first Football League goal at Vale Park in 2011, in the closing stages to try and get an equaliser, but Reds held on – defending three corners in the last minute - and could celebrate an eighth away win of the season with the travelling fans.
Reds: Morris; Young, Connolly, Yorwerth, Tajbakhsh; Payne, Bulman; Boldewijn, Smith, Ahearne-Grant (Verheydt 84); Camara (Roberts 60).
Attendance: 4005 (81 away)