As anticipated, battling Neath were on the back foot for most of this match but to their credit they stayed in touch with the home team until the curse of the yellow card struck in the last 10 minutes when the home side finally nailed down the result.
Under pressure for most of the game, Neath did well to concede but three scores to the high-riding Gwent club whose play is based solidly around an experienced pack which has been together for five seasons or so.
In contrast, Neath handed first starts to two young players – outside-half Iwan Evans (Ystradgynlais) who had starred briefly as a replacement at Carmarthen Quins a week earlier and prop Geraint James (Gorseinon).
Young Evans had the misfortune to suffer an ankle injury early on and had to be replaced by Gareth McCarthy and, while Neath conceded a lot of weight at the scrums, Geraint James impressed not least with his high tackle count. In the second-half, Craig Price came off the bench for the first time since returning from the Scarlets and he will be an asset once he gets into the swing of things.
But, as silver linings go, there was precious little else for Neath supporters to cling to as the experienced, battle-hardened home pack exerted a firm grip on proceedings.
Vale scored the game’s opening try after 18 minutes when wing Steffan Jones juggled with the ball prior to crossing wide out for outside-half Ian Smerdon to convert. But Neath stuck to their task and somehow managed to keep at bay Vale’s much-vaunted, not to say over-done, lineout drives.
The second-half was much the same story : Vale on top but Neath scrambling to keep them out and just occasionally threatening at the other end. As time ticked by, Vale resorted to a long-range penalty attempt by Smerdon which never endangered the posts and Neath had centre Dean Howell carded for not rolling away at the tackle.
Neath survived until the final minute of Howell’s absence when Vale finally took advantage of their numerical superiority for Jones to claim his second try and, as the game entered its dying moments, Neath conceded a third – again, they were down to 14 men as replacement hooker Ieuan Dobbs had found his way into the sin-bin and fis opposite number Joe Franchi got the touchdown.
Neath showed plenty of heart and a whole lot of effort but they could have few complaints and Vale were worthy winners at Eugene Cross Park where few visiting sides will triumph this winter.