Mark Perrow reports from Vale Park
City extended their lead at the top of Sky Bet League One to four points with a routine victory at the home of struggling Port Vale.
Aaron Wilbraham broke the deadlock with a scruffy 13th minute opener – just as he did in Saturday’s 3-0 success over Doncaster Rovers.
His second goal arrived just after the hour to inflict the same scoreline on hosts Vale, who hardly troubled their high-flying visitors throughout.
Sandwiched between Wilbraham’s sixth and seventh strikes of the season was an Aden Flint header three minutes after the break in another dominant performance from Steve Cotterill’s men.
City, fielding the same starting XI for the fourth successive encounter, started brightly, particularly down their left-hand side.
Joe Bryan was proving an early thorn in the side of Vale, firing one low cross which goalkeeper Chris Neal did well to hang on to, before cutting inside and shooting over the top on his right foot.
But it was the home team who carved out the first meaningful chance. Left-winger Colin Daniel burst into the box and toed the ball into the path of Tom Pope who blazed his shot too high from 15 yards.
It was a wake-up call for City, who responded in the best possible fashion. More good work down the left from Bryan culminated in a back-post cross towards Flint, whose towering header struck the crossbar, looped up into the air and was prodded home by Wilbraham
from virtually underneath it.
The towering presence of Flint was unnerving the Vale defence. Another far-post header was a little too close for home comforts soon after, looping just beyond the opposite upright.
At the other end, Pope’s knockdown to Michael O’Connor was acrobatically volleyed over before the same man forced a first save from Frank Fielding with a well-struck shot too close to the City stopper.
First-half bookings for Derrick Williams and Wilbraham were indications not all was going City’s way, and the home team threatened an equaliser in the final minute before the interval when Chris Birchall’s looping header required emergency action from Mark Little at the back post.
It was a late rally to raise belief in the Vale dressing room as they went eye to eye with under-fire manager Micky Adams at the break, but any hope from the terraces was shot down just three minutes into the second period.
This time Wilbraham turned provider, finding himself on the far side of the penalty area from a Freeman free kick and crossing for Flint
to head City’s second from six yards.
Adams’ desperation at seeing his side fall two behind to the league leaders prompted a triple change before the hour mark, including the withdrawal of former Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Michael Brown after he drilled a shot just beyond the top corner.
But Vale’s fresh legs were powerless to prevent Wilbraham’s second and City’s third on 61 minutes.
The in-form striker chased what looked a lost cause as former Ashton Gate defender Ryan McGivern faced his own goal, but the Northern Irishman could not get the purchase needed on his header back to Neal, allowing Wilbraham
to nip in and round the goalkeeper to score.
In truth it was a more difficult finish that it looked, with the bouncing ball racing away from goal, and was a goal of a man potentially higher on confidence than at any point in his 17-year professional career.
A couple of half-chances for Wilbraham to complete his hat-trick came and went before he was replaced late on to a standing ovation from the 421 travelling fans.
It had been another commanding City display to seal a fourth straight victory and third successive clean sheet, much to Cotterill’s delight.