LOCAL lads Kemar Roofe and Bradley Garmston both found the net in this competitive pre-season friendly which Port Vale edged thanks to a bizarre Craig Dawson own goal five minutes from time.
Walsall-born Roofe broke the deadlock with a cool fifth-minute finish before Vale, who kick-off their League One campaign against Walsall on Saturday, took control with two goals in nine minutes.
Ben Williamson levelled from close range on 18 before Tom Pope headed Micky Adams’ side ahead in the 27th minute.
But four minutes after the break, it was Roofe’s fellow Academy graduate Garmston who came to the fore, with the Lichfield-schooled left-back lashing home a fine leveller from inside the box.
The game was heading for a draw until the off-balance Dawson miscued a header from a long punt upfield over the helpless Boaz Myhill and into the Albion net.
Head coach Alan Irvine blended three Academy products with senior pros in Burslem as he gave the likes of Ben Foster, Chris Baird, Graham Dorrans, Youssouf Mulumbu and Saido Berahino a breather.
Garmston, Roofe and Liam O’Neil all got a chance to impress while Myhill began between the sticks and skipper Chris Brunt made his first start after a groin operation.
Albion’s penultimate friendly came too soon for Joleon Lescott (knee), Sebastien Pocognoli (groin and hip), Gareth McAuley (tight calf) and James Morrison (knee).
With Jason Davidson, who completed his move from Heracles this afternoon, watching from the stands, Albion made a bright start and were ahead inside five minutes.
Craig Gardner, playing just behind Victor Anichebe, threaded through Roofe who beat the offside trap before calming slotting past Vale keeper Sam Johnson and into the bottom right-hand corner.
Albion continued to ask all the questions and Anichebe saw a curling 18-yard effort superbly tipped over by Johnson in the 16th minute.
A minute later, Andre Wisdom cut inside from Gardner’s diagonal ball before screwing his effort just wide of the near post.
However, out of the blue, Vale levelled on 18. Ryan Lloyd headed a deep right-wing centre back across the six-yard box and Williamson smashed home from close range.
Anichebe seemed determined to add to his two-goal pre-season tally and was only just wide with a fierce 20-yard drive.
But it was the hosts who troubled the scoresheet next. On 27, Michael O’Connor swung over a free-kick from the right and Pope rose highest to flick a looping header past the helpless Myhill.
Albion continued to enjoy plenty of possession in the Vale half but were unable to seriously trouble Johnson.
Anichebe powered onto Brunt’s slide-rule pass and held off two defenders before seeing his close range shot deflected over.
From the ensuing corner, Gardner tried his luck from the edge of the area but his shot lacked venom and Johnson gathered easily.
On the half-hour mark, Brunt spotted Johnson way off his line and tried to catch him out with an audacious 45-yard chip, but the Vale keeper was alert and back-pedalled in time to push away the Northern Ireland international’s effort.
Myhill was called into action just before the break when he did well to parry Pope’s stinging 20-yard strike after the Vale No.9 had had Jonas Olsson back-pedalling.
It took Albion just four minutes of the second half to level. Garmston collected Anichebe’s lay-off and darted past Adam Yates inside the box before beating Johnson at his near post with a ferocious left-footed strike.
Yates had another difficult moment two minutes later when he under-hit his back-pass. Anichebe intercepted but was denied at point-blank range by the onrushing Johnson.
Yet Vale almost resorted their lead in spectacular fashion on 54. After Brunt conceded possession on the edge of his own area, O’Connor beat Myhill all ends up with a spectacular chip which crashed against the bar. The rebound fell to Williamson who blazed over from 15 yards.
Back came Albion and Anichebe drew a smart save out of Johnson after a powerful run and shot.
On 61, Johnson was called into action again when he dived full stretch to his right to push away Gardner’s 20-yard snapshot.
Albion were now shooting on sight and Johnson was called on to palm away Anichebe’s 25-yarder three minutes later.
Irvine made his first changes 15 minutes from time, replacing Claudio Yacob, Olsson and Anichebe with Dorrans, Baird and Berahino.
If any team looked like nicking it, it was Albion – yet Vale bagged an unlikely winner five minutes from time. The off-balance Dawson miscued a headed clearance from Johnson's long punt upfield which looped over the helpless Myhill and into the net.
Albion pushed for another equaliser and Gardner struck the outside of the post with a terrific 20-yard drive before Berahino was denied in the box by Johnson.
VALE (4-4-2): Johnson; Yates (Veseli 62), Robertson, McGivern (Smith 62), Dickinson (Marshall 62); Birchall, O’Connor (Lines 62), Jennings, Lloyd; Williamson, Pope (Dodds HT). Subs not used: Neal, Boot.
ALBION (4-2-3-1): Myhill; Wisdom, Dawson, Olsson (Baird 75), Garmston (Mulumbu 78); O’Neil, Yacob (Dorrans 75); Roofe, Gardner, Brunt; Anichebe (Berahino 74). Subs not used: Foster (gk), Nabi.
GOALS: VALE – Williamson (18), Pope (27), Dawson (85 own goal). ALBION – Roofe (5), Garmston (49).
REFEREE: R Lewis (Shropshire).
ATTENDANCE: 2,145 (400 Albion fans).