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.

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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 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.

Happy New Year to all Vale fans. We’ve earned it

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I will admit to spending the last 10 minutes of the Rotherham game pacing up and down fearing that we were going to let another two points slip.

But when the final whistle blew it really was the perfect Christmas present from an honest set of lads to Vale fans everywhere.

The easier of the three games over the festive period – Wimbledon at home – was a washout.

But Micky Adams’ charges battled hard for a point at rivals Cheltenham and then went and completed the double over the Millers at their place on Boxing Day.

The win leaves us in a great position – just two points off the top spot and with a game in hand over the teams lying third and fourth.

The restoration of Louis Dodds to the starting line-up alongside the Pontiff, a combination which served us so well at the start of the season, is certainly paying dividends.

Both strikers scored and it was great to learn that the Doug Loft had been reinstated to the midfield which is clearly where he is most influential.

That we are in such a superb position going into the New Year is testament to the players and coaching staff who weren’t given much of a prayer by the bookies in April.

This time last year things were so very different.

Fans were still reeling from revelations about nil paid shares and the remortgaging of Vale Park from under their noses.

A vast majority of supporters felt completely disenfranchised by the self-serving individual running the club.

The future looked bleak. Vale were struggling to pay bills and administration seemed an inevitability.

Those who campaigned for change may indeed have taken a gamble with Port Vale’s future.

But, for me, it was far less a gamble than leaving the club in the hands of those who quite clearly didn’t have Vale’s best interests at heart.

The Port Vale of 2013 will live or die by decisions made by businessmen like Norman Smurthwaite who genuinely believe they can make the club profitable and therefore successful.

The club’s debt has been cleared, we paid the 10-point penalty for going bump, and the Vale is now in a far healthier position than it has been for many years.

This is a time of hope and optimism where we can devote our time to discussing the merits of players and formations rather than discredited directors.

A Happy New Year to all Port Vale fans and employees. We’ve earned it.

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

Three points there for the taking against struggling Dons

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It’s crunch-time then. A must-win game in the eyes of most of us at home tomorrow against struggling Wimbledon.

We’ll be told no games are easy and that the Dons are ‘scrapping for their lives’ near the foot of the table.

Spin it anyway you want to: It’s three points for the taking in my eyes – especially has Micky Adams has a pretty much full-strength squad to choose from.

Our form over the last five or six weeks certainly hasn’t matched the blistering start we made to the start of the season.

Injuries and suspensions have played their part, for sure, but it is also fair to say that a few key players have been somewhat below par.

They include wingers Ashley Vincent and Jennison Myrie-Williams who will doubtless be champing at the bit to feed the Pope and get back on the score sheet tomorrow.

Over the course of a season very few players are able to maintain the same levels of enthusiasm and performance. (The Sneyd Green Pontiff being the obvious exception to that rule at the moment).

Hopefully the gaffer will simply point at the league table before kick off and show anyone who may be feeling a little low on confidence our goal difference of plus 21.

I was delighted to see Louis Dodds back in the team last weekend – especially when he repaid the manager’s faith with a goal which earned us a terrific point away at Cheltenham.

If you go back to the start of the season it was the partnership of Pope and Dodds, supported by the rampant wingers, which got us off to a flyer and it is good to see us returning to that formula.

The centre of the park remains a concern to me, however, because I feel we miss Doug Loft’s energy and all-round play when he is stuck as make-shift left back.

Wherever Lofty plays, however, we’ve surely got enough quality and creativity to turn over tomorrow’s visitors.

As an aside, there’s been much speculation over whether or not John Rudge may return to Vale Park in some capacity once his contract expires at Stoke City in June.

Very sensibly, Rudgie refused to be drawn on such questions when he rang me earlier this week.

I reckon whatever the future holds for the great man, his legacy as a true great of Potteries football is secured and I’m sure there will always be a warm welcome for him in Burslem.

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

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