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

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.

Midfield key to Vale getting back to winning ways

It’s been a week of mixed fortunes and mixed performances.
In truth, we’d have probably taken four points from two games which included a difficult away trip to Bradford.
But to steal three points off the in-form Bantams only to then turn in our worst showing of the season at home to struggling Dagenham certainly wasn’t what most of us expected.
First came the relief of a precious clean sheet and a hard-fought victory in which Chris Neal once again showed himself to be the best ’keeper we’ve had since Mark Goodlad.
Meanwhile, goal number nine for the Pontiff underlined just how far Sneyd Green’s finest has come since the departure of Messrs Richards and Rigg.
On Tuesday night I honestly expected us to put three or four past the Daggers and couldn’t see anything other than our wingers running them ragged.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Aside from a purple patch which lasted for about 10 minutes before the half time interval, Vale were pretty awful.
So bad, in fact, that we made the visitors – who had initially seemed incapable of tying their own bootlaces – look vaguely OK by the final whistle.
Granted, their keeper played extremely well in the first period and kept them in it with a string of fine saves.
However, aside from the notable exceptions of Tom Pope, Jennison Myrie-Williams and John McCombe, I thought the whole Vale side was poor throughout – including the usually impeccable Doug Loft.
Chris Neal can surely be forgiven his almighty clanger, in view of his good form up ‘til that moment.
However, there really is no excuse for the way in which we lost our shape and the ability to string two passes together as they game wore on.
We’re still second but it does concern me that we haven’t been firing on all cylinders in the last three games.
Gone is the free-flowing football that saw us batter promotion hopefuls Rotherham and Fleetwood.
Where we seem to be losing the battle is in the centre of midfield and I was surprised to see Sam Morsy and Ryan Burge both start on Tuesday night.
For my money, our best pairing in the middle is Doug Loft and Chris Shuker – with Rob Taylor at left back.
In many ways the draw against Dagenham probably did more to damage morale in the camp than the defeat against Gillingham.
Perhaps the lads were feeling the after-effects of Saturday’s Alamo at Valley Parade.
Either way, hopefully Sir Micky of Burslem will have sorted their heads out by tomorrow and normal service can be resumed.

No panic, but lessons to be learned from home defeat

Well, if you’re going to get beat it’s best to get beat by the team at the top rather than the bottom of the division.

There’s no shame in losing to a Gillingham side which has promotion written all over it.

The truth is Vale were out-fought and, crucially, out-thought by the visitors and the ever-popular Martin Allen.

What a shame we gave our worst performance of the season in front of a home gate of almost 7,000.

Thankfully, we already had enough points on the board and our goal difference was so good that we stayed second in the table – despite the result.

The most important thing for me is how the team bounces back from its first poor showing of the season.

I actually have every confidence that we will go to Bradford tomorrow and get a result.

But I wonder what we learned from the defeat?

Hopefully, the coaching staff realised that we don’t have the quickest defence – something which was laid bare by the visitors’ pacy attack.

I’m loathed to criticise our back four who, up to last Saturday, had done a decent enough job.

But one clean sheet this season simply isn’t good enough – even if some of the goals have been conceded after a game has effectively been won.

We clearly struggle against teams who do their homework and realise that our centre halves, in particular, ain’t fleet-footed.

I also wonder what our Plan B is when defences double up on our flying wingers and cut off the service to the Pontiff.

But, for me, our Achilles heel is in the centre of midfield where the pairing of Shuker and Morsy sometimes looks lightweight and overwhelmed.

This season’s square peg in a round hole is Mr Versatile himself, Doug Loft, who is doing a perfectly good job at left back.

The trouble is that we really miss him in the middle – for his work-rate, his tackling, his energy and his passing (not to mention the goals he might score).

I’m a firm believer in playing people in their best positions.

Take Louis Dodds, for example, who is reaping the rewards of a run in the team in his favoured spot.

If it was me, I’d stick Lofty back midfield and play Rob Taylor at left back.

Whatever the gaffer decides to do it is important that we keep last weekend’s result in perspective.

It has been a very good start to the season and I can say with some confidence we won’t come up against a better team than Gillingham in this league.

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