Smurthwaite calls for noisy fans and no let up as Vale close in on promotion

The Bycars End on Friday night.

The Bycars End on Friday night.

Four wins from the last four games is what Port Vale owner Norman Smurthwaite wants from the team as they close in on automatic promotion.

Speaking ahead of the vital home game against Aldershot, Vale’s chief executive said he expected no let up from the team he has dubbed ‘the entertainers’.

He said: “Micky and the lads know exactly what they have to do and the fans will have done the maths.

“I certainly don’t want the chairman or owner of any other club pointing a finger at us and saying we took our foot off the gas at any stage of the run-in.

“I want us to finish on a high with four wins and take that form into next season. I don’t see any reason why we can’t do that.”

Smurthwaite paid tribute to the role supporters have played in the club’s successes so far this season and called for fans to be a twelfth man again tonight.

In the wake of Friday’s 7 – 1 drubbing of promotion rivals Burton Albion, he said: “When I saw our players before the game I could sense they were up for it.

“As they stood in the tunnel the noise was immense and I think it really lifted the lads. There was a sparkle in their eyes and a swagger about them I hadn’t seen before.

“What followed will live long in the memory. It was a terrific advertisement for the club and basically said to people who aren’t among our hard core of fans: ‘If you want to be entertained, come to Port Vale’.”

Vale dropped the price of admission to just £9 for the Burton game and saw the crowd swell to almost 11,000 as a result.

Smurthwaite said: “That attendance has certainly given us some food for thought as we consider season ticket and walk-up prices for next year.

“Listening to the chanting competition between fans in the Railway Stand, Bycars End and Lorne Street was just brilliant.

“It was the kind of atmosphere that our fantastic away following generate. I am so proud of them when we travel.

“They have definitely been the difference in some games this season – like in the last 15 minutes against Chesterfield where we snatched a point.

“The trick for us now is to create that kind of buzz for all our home games.”

For all the latest Port Vale news, views and pictures pick up a copy of The Sentinel. The Weekend Sentinel on Saturday includes The Green ‘Un sports paper with extensive Vale coverage.

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This is Port Vale’s biggest game for many years. Be there!

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The biggest game in Port Vale’s recent history. That’s how we should view tonight’s home fixture against Burton Albion.

Our season won’t be decided by these 90 minutes but the result will undoubtedly have a huge bearing on whether or not we finish in the top three.

On Monday, once again, the results went for the Vale: The Pontiff’s late equaliser snatched a valuable point for us away at promotion rivals Chesterfield; Cheltenham did us a favour by beating Northampton and ex-Stokie James Beattie, of all people, scored the goal for Accrington which denied tonight’s opponents a priceless win.

With just five games left I’ve heard people say that 77 points may be enough to secure automatic promotion. I don’t think so.

I’m still looking at 80 points as the target if we want to go straight up.

I think it’s vital we don’t lose against Burton or Aldershot and I’d happily take four points from these two games.

Having endured a torrid period of a month or so when our form and results were poor, it seems we’ve finally turned a corner.

Despite giving away soft, sloppy goals the spirit in the camp seems terrific – with fringe players coming in and doing their bit to cover for the injured and suspended.

We’ve gone behind in the last two games – something the gaffer won’t be too pleased about – but then shown real character and desire to rescue four points.

After a barren spell, Tom Pope is finally fulfilling his destiny and could well go on to emulate Andy Jones’s post-war goal-scoring record of the mid-Eighties.

At the same time, Jennison Myrie-Williams is back to his tricky, creative, penetrating best.

Micky Adams now has some big decisions to make in terms of team selection tonight and for me, once again, the battle will be won or lost in midfield.

That’s why skipper Doug Loft’s return to the team is so very welcome as his all-action performances have re-energised us in the centre of the park.

Surely we are looking at the biggest crowd of the season tonight who will hope to create the kind of atmosphere generated by Vale’s awesome away following which puts some Premier League clubs to shame.

Proud doesn’t cover it.

Our fate is in our own hands and fans of a club that started the season in administration can’t ask for more than that.

For all the latest Port Vale news, views and pictures pick up a copy of The Sentinel. The Weekend Sentinel on Saturday includes The Green ‘Un sports paper with extensive Vale coverage.

Keep doing what you do, Popey: That accolade is richly-deserved

Local hero Tom Pope: 27 goals and counting.

Local hero Tom Pope: 27 goals and counting.

Only time will tell if the weather did us a favour when Saturday’s home game against Aldershot had to be cancelled.

We may not get as many through the turnstiles for a mid-week game but perhaps it has given some of our players carrying knocks time to get match fit.

It goes without saying that today’s game against Cheltenham is huge and represents the first of our six-pointers.

Earlier in the season we’d have had no worries facing anyone but because we’re at home and because of our indifferent form since the middle of February there’s bound to be a few nerves around Vale Park.

The visitors will be well up for it – knowing that a win could put them ahead of us and into the automatic promotion places (albeit we would have a game in hand over them).

But with virtually a full-strength squad to pick from I’m backing the gaffer to put out a team capable of delivering three points.

Now isn’t the time for faint-hearts: It is about believing in the players whose performances have put us in the top three for most of the season.

One of those, of course, is the newly-crowned League Two Player of the Year Tom Pope.

I couldn’t be more happy for a bloke who has made many doubters eat their words this season.

Of course, Tom modestly reflected the glory on to his team-mates who have been instrumental in his impressive tally thus far.

But let’s take nothing away from the first Vale striker in many years who looks set to break the magic 30-goal barrier.

Popey’s recent barren spell has coincided with the team’s poor run of results and, while his strike partner (for the most part) Lee Hughes has been scoring, some fans have been quick to point out that his goalden touch seems to have deserted him.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Popey’s confidence has been dented and he’s snatched at several chances he’d have buried without thinking earlier in the campaign.

But any suggestion that he should have been dropped/rested is nonsense in my opinion.

You don’t leave out a 27-goal striker unless he’s crocked – especially when his work-rate, link-up play and assists are still there for all to see.

I’m loving every minute of the story within a story that is the incredible renaissance of a local lad enjoying the time of his career.

There’s no pressure Popey. Just keep doing what you do. The goals will come.

For all the latest Port Vale news, views and pictures pick up a copy of The Sentinel. The Weekend Sentinel on Saturday includes The Green ‘Un sports paper with extensive Vale coverage.

Let’s stick together and finish the job

Vale manager Micky Adams.

Vale manager Micky Adams.

It’s amazing what a difference a win makes: How, a clean sheet and a couple of goals can reinvigorate supporters and inspire some optimism.

This time last week there were some, probably a minority, calling for Micky Adams to be sacked. Perhaps some still are.

But to have given the manager the boot with eight games remaining and us sitting in the automatic promotion spots wouldn’t have made any sense at all.

Not to me, at any rate.

If we get to the end of the season, don’t get promoted and then our new owners want to discuss the manager’s future with him behind closed doors then fine.

But you don’t sack your manager when you’re third in the table. Unless, of course, you’re owned by a Russian billionaire.

Yes, our form of late has been poor. Yes, the manager has to take some responsibility for team selections and tactics that haven’t paid off.

Yes, in an ideal world we would all have hoped the Ryan Burge Twittergate incident could have been handled differently.

I, for one, just want to see the lad who has been a key component of our successful midfield back in the team ASAP.

But for all of the disappointment and frustrations of the last month or so, we still find ourselves handily placed for the run-in.

When times get tough then that is when the manager, the player and the club itself need our support.

That’s when we need to take a step back and get some perspective.

That’s what Norman Smurthwaite provided with his calm assessment of the situation and rallying cry to fans this time last week.

Twelve months ago we were in administration and had you told Vale fans back then that in a year’s time we’d be second in the table most would have laughed.

Had you told most supporters that we’d have new owners who would have increased the wage budget for players by 40 per cent they would have scoffed.

We are in good shape and it is still all to play for this season. Let’s stick together and finish the job.

Let’s forget about the teams around us and forget about winning the league. That would just be a bonus.

Finishing in the top three and avoiding the lottery of the play-offs has to be our priority.

Seven cup finals: That is how we have to approach the remaining games – starting tomorrow with what, on paper, has ‘home win’ written all over it.

For all the latest Port Vale news, views and pictures pick up a copy of The Sentinel. The Weekend Sentinel on Saturday includes The Green ‘Un sports paper with extensive Vale coverage.

‘Not the time for falling out. The players and manager need a cuddle…’

Vale co-owner Norman Smurthwaite.

Vale co-owner Norman Smurthwaite.

Norman Smurthwaite says he knows exactly what the Port Vale players and manager need right now – and it’s not criticism.

The club’s chief executive and co-owner has called on supporters, home and away, to get behind whoever wears the shirt.

Smurthwaite said: “What the players and the manager need at this moment in time is a cuddle. They need us – the owners, the staff at the club and – crucially – the fans, to put our arms around them and make them feel warm and loved.

“We can all see what is going on. We know that results haven’t been going for us, but criticising the players and the manager who have put us in the automatic promotion places won’t help.

“Every other team and set of fans is out to get us. Our team and our manager are there to be shot at, and we can help take some of the heat off them by encouraging and supporting them at this difficult time.

“The younger players aren’t daft. They know that this is their time and they know that unless they do the business they could end up painting and decorating Vale Park rather than playing here, which is a real privilege.

“Of course, fans are entitled to their opinions and I understand their frustrations, but the truth is that everyone at the club is just as disappointed as them at the way things have gone recently.

“I can assure the supporters that no-one hurts more than the players and the manager when we get beat. Micky Adams is a proud man and he doesn’t accept failure.”

On the subject of the manager, Smurthwaite was unequivocal in his support.

He said: “Micky Adams is going nowhere. He will be at York on Saturday, he will be with us until the end of the season and I fully expect him to be with us next season when we will hopefully be in League One.

“There is no doubt that Micky Adams was one of the key reasons for me buying this football club.

“As much as I saw potential in the stadium, I could see that we were lucky at this level to have a manager of his calibre and experience.

“I was also struck with what he and the group of players he had assembled had achieved in the early part of the season before we came in and spent money to strengthen the squad.

“If ever I’m feeling low I think back to that terrific day in the FA Cup at Sheffield United. I was so incredibly proud – even though we lost the game.

“On that day I saw our potential. I saw how we could stand toe-to-toe with teams from a higher level, play good football and have fantastic supporters.

“It is about re-discovering the spirit of earlier on in the season when the club was fighting for its life.”

On Tuesday night, midfielder Ryan Burge took to Twitter to claim he was just five minutes away from Bristol Rovers ground on Tuesday when he received a text saying he was not in the Vale squad.

Asked what he thought about players voicing their disappointment at being left out of the squad on social media, Smurthwaite said he was disappointed.

Smurthwaite said: “In a perfect world this kind of thing wouldn’t happen and issues between the manager and the players would remain behind closed doors.

“However, I trust the manager and the players to get their heads together and sort these kind of things out.

“They are grown-ups and they’re paid to do a job. This isn’t the time for fallings out.

“At the end of the day we need the best possible team out on the pitch on Saturday – irrespective of personal grievances.”

Despite Vale’s recent poor run, Smurthwaite said he was still “loving” the challenge.

He added: “It was unfortunate but I had to be away for a few days and I returned to a real storm.

“But nothing will divert myself or Paul (Wildes) from our goals. We are here for the long-haul.

“I hope that the fans can see that we’re doing our bit and are happy with what we are doing.

“It is a massive learning curve because we are still relative newcomers to the business of football, but I’d like to think the fans can see that we’ve done everything that’s been asked of us.

“As an example, the wage bill for players and player support has gone up by 40 per cent in the time we’ve been here. That’s a significant investment to try to help the manager.

“Paul and I, and our staff, are working hard – perhaps doing the not-so-glamorous things which make the business sustainable because we want to build Port Vale up and go higher.

“There are lots of positives, lots of things we are working on which the supporters aren’t aware of just yet, but which will help the club down the line and improve the experience for fans.

“However, we understand fully that all that matters in the end to our customers is what happens out on the pitch on a Saturday or a Tuesday evening.

“I don’t believe that our early season form was a fluke. The fans know what our lads are capable of. We’ve seen the best of them and we’ll see it again soon – I’ve no doubt about that.”

For all the latest Port Vale news, views and pictures pick up a copy of The Sentinel. The Weekend Sentinel on Saturday includes The Green ‘Un sports paper with extensive Vale coverage.

Let’s be positive and keep faith with a team forged out of adversity

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It would be the easiest thing in the world right now to be negative; To condemn the manager and the players for the recent poor run of form.

But, for me, the glass is still half full and I don’t see any value at this juncture in laying in to a team that still sits second in the table with a goal difference of plus 29.

As anyone who follows Vale knows we never do things the easy way and I suspect supporters will have to grit their teeth and cross their fingers until the final game of the season.

Love hurts, as Roy Orbison was oft heard to say, but Vale fans will doubtless keep the faith with this team forged out of adversity.

I never thought we’d win the league but I do think we will still secure automatic promotion with five wins and a couple of draws from the remaining games.

Tuesday night’s goalless draw against Bradford – a team that are no slouches, by the way (as their cup runs proved) – at least stopped the rot.

On another day the Pontiff would have had a hat-trick and I expect normal service to be resumed soon and a visiting team to Vale Park to be on the end of a good hiding.

Remember that the teams in the chasing pack can’t win every game and have to play each other in the coming weeks.

The players need to forget all about the Cheltenhams, Rotherhams, Burtons and Exeters, stop looking over their shoulders and concentrate on what they did so well earlier in the season.

Even without skipper Doug Loft, whose tackle on Tuesday night was no less rash than the one which earned Sam Morsy a red card earlier in the season, we are hardly short of options in midfield.

For me, both Morsy and Ryan Burge warrant a starting place in order to help us win the crucial midfield battles – as does the excellent Louis Dodds who, in my opinion, is the best man to play off Tom Pope.

If the gaffer doesn’t believe Ashley Vincent is doing the business then can I be cheeky and suggest he gives Ben Williamson a start in his place?

Williamson’s goals return compared to that of, say, Calvin Andrew is far superior and his pace always causes teams problems.

I guess my point is that the manager has choices – thanks to the support of the new owners in the transfer market.

Now he just has to make the right ones.

For all the latest Port Vale news, views and pictures pick up a copy of The Sentinel. The Weekend Sentinel on Saturday includes The Green ‘Un sports paper with extensive Vale coverage.

Vale fans have every right to an opinion when going gets tough

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The reaction following Tuesday night’s defeat at home to Exeter was entirely understandable.

Supporters are angry, frustrated and genuinely concerned that a team that looked odds-on for automatic promotion six weeks ago has lost its way.

What was a terrific run of form in January suddenly feels like a long time ago and we are stuttering rather than strutting towards the end of the season.

What seemed like a fairly simple equation in terms of points required for going straight up now seems probable rather than a nailed on certainty.

The goals have dried up. Confidence players like our wingers simply aren’t producing the form they did earlier in the season.

It has also been plain in recent games that the opposition has flooded the midfield and we’ve been overrun.

These are the facts. This isn’t an over-reaction. I’m not being disloyal to the team or the coaching staff.

What’s more, fans have every right to criticise and question when things go wrong – just as they lavished praise on the team and the manager earlier in the season.

I still think we will finish in the top three and I’m not pushing the panic button just yet.

But, by the same token, it is time we recognised who and what’s at fault here.

This, I guess, is where we all become amateur football managers so forgive my clumsy attempt, as follows.

Yes, some players are under-performing, but isn’t the simple truth that we got our tactics wrong on Tuesday night?

Playing what is effectively a 4 – 2 – 4 formation against a team which sets up 4 – 5 – 1 is asking for trouble in my book.

Ryan Burge and Doug Loft, as good as they are, need back up when a team swamps the middle of the park.

Sam Morsy or Chris Shuker could easily have bolstered the midfield against Exeter – leaving the Pontiff as the loan target man.

I wouldn’t dispense with our wingers, irrespective of their indifferent form of late, because both are capable of producing moments of creative magic.

However, I would always favour either Ben Williamson or Louis Dodds playing alongside (or just behind) Tom Pope, rather than Calvin Andrew – even if he did score the winner against Torquay.

As Mark Grew said a month ago it is a case of horses for courses now. Or at least it should be.

Six wins and two draws are all we need so let’s keep the faith.