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.

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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.

There’s no need for panic. We’re second for a reason

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It’s squeaky bum time, then. Three defeats in a week has left some people wondering whether or not we have misread the omens.

Fans are asking where the free-flowing football has gone.

Supporters want to know what has happened to the team that put 11 goals past promotion rivals in two games.

Have we been found out? Are we perhaps not as good as we think we are?

Is this where the wheels come off?

Despite the recent poor run of results I’m still optimistic.

We’re second for a reason and there’s absolutely no need to panic at this stage.

I’m not denying that there are issues, however.

It worries me that our defence is so slow. It concerns me that if teams double up on our wingers then we don’t seem to have a Plan B going forward.

Clearly some players are below par at the moment and, for whatever reason, their confidence has dipped.

The reaction of a section of the home crowd to last Saturday’s dismal performance against Chesterfield was perfectly understandable.

Vale fans will take defeat if the team give it their all and look like they want to win the game.

Away against Sheffield United in the FA Cup no-one could fault the endeavour shown.

But against both Bradford in the JPT and, more disappointingly, the Spireites in the league we were second best.

They were the better-organised teams who, crucially, looked like they wanted the win more.

It is for Micky Adams to decide whether or not the players who are under-performing require the carrot or the stick.

There are some – like Tom Pope and Chris Neal – whose inclusion on the team sheet is a no-brainer.

But how many others, at present, can claim they deserve a guaranteed start?

We’ve not seen much of Calvin Andrew yet but I would prefer to see Louis Dodds reinstated into the attack alongside the Pontiff.

Although he hasn’t scored many goals this season, Dodds’s link-up play and tracking back is crucial, for me.

We’ll miss Jennison Myrie-Williams tomorrow but should still have enough quality and attacking options to get a result against Cheltenham.

The away trip to Rotherham will provide a stern test but the home games against Wimbledon and Dagenham and Redbridge are eminently winnable.

You see, it’s not all doom and gloom. Last week I told Popey he’d score 35 goals this season and I’m sticking with that prediction.

It’s a time for cool heads, a little faith and some encouragement for the lads as the tough December fixture list continues.

Read my Port Vale articles in The Sentinel every Friday during the season

It’s all systems go at a re-energised Vale Park


It’s been another extremely positive week for Port Vale fans and it genuinely feels like a huge black cloud has been lifted.

A terrific, hard-fought win away at Aldershot has maintained the distance between us and the chasing pack and closed the gap on league leaders Gillingham to just two points.

Heading in to the festive period Vale are perfectly placed to maintain a promotion push.

What’s more, Micky Adams now has options in midfield and upfront – with Ryan Burge, Kingsley James and Ben Williamson emerging as the latest players to shine in a squad that plays for each other.

The addition of Liam Chilvers and then Calvin Andrew to the squad weren’t perhaps what some supporters were hoping for.

However, it is clear from the names being bandied about and the ambition being shown that we are now a club which has the financial clout to bring in new faces.

We are no longer, as Norman Smurthwaite has said several times, in a ‘distressed state’. In other words, we don’t need to flog our best players to pay next month’s wage bill.

As well as new players we now have a chief scout in the experienced George Foster which make Vale something of a rarity at League Two level.

This is a significant development in that it will give us better knowledge of opposition teams and help Micky Adams and his team identify potential recruits.

Off the park things are happening quickly too: Those awful toilets in the Railway Paddock will soon be sorted; the catering situation is being reviewed and fans will be able to buy mini season tickets valid from January.

Interestingly, the new regime is also starting to right a few wrongs – such as ensuring those Vale fans who paid for bricks with names on for the Lorne Street’s ‘wall of fame’ are finally getting what they paid for.

This is all about making Port Vale the customer-focused business it has to be to attract more bums on seats.

There is, of course, still much work to be done but it seems everyone is pulling in the same direction now – the staff, the supporters and the new owners.

Having ‘Papa Smurf’, as he has affectionately become known, at Vale Park five days a week can only be a good thing.

He’s not come out of retirement to waste money and I know supporters will be pleasantly surprised by some of the announcements which will be coming out of a re-energised Vale Park in the coming weeks.

Read my Port Vale articles every Friday during the season in The Sentinel