Now’s the time for continuity and stability at Vale Park

Paul Wildes and Norman Smurthwaite.

Paul Wildes and Norman Smurthwaite.


Stability. That’s what I want now. I’d give anything for a lengthy period of stability and continuity.

What has been achieved at Port Vale in the last 12 months is nothing short of exceptional.

The new owners, Micky Adams, his playing staff and the club’s long-suffering supporters deserve huge credit.

This remarkable promotion, which will be confirmed tomorrow, has given us all a huge lift and everyone connected with the club is understandably buzzing.

The announcement of season ticket prices has seen queues forming once again at Vale Park as we all look forward to an exciting summer.

We’ll all have opinions on who should stay and who should go, in terms of the playing staff, but first and foremost I’d like to pay tribute to everyone who has played a part in our success this season.

That includes the talented Ryan Burge, who has moved on to pastures new, Clayton McDonald, Gaz Owen and every player whose contribution has helped us secure a League One position.

When the Vale do line up for the first game of the new season at a higher level I’d like to think the squad won’t look vastly different to the one which took us up.

Yes, in my opinion, we need two quick centre halves and a playmaker – among other signings.

However, I would certainly hope the likes of Tom Pope, Jennison Myrie-Williams, Ashley Vincent, Louis Dodds, Chris Neal, Dan Jones, Adam Yates, Lee Hughes, Ben Williamson and Doug Loft will remain at Vale Park – and not leave, be released or snapped up by other clubs.

I think a healthy amount of continuity within the dressing room will be important because it means that same spirit which saw us over the line can be nurtured further by Micky Adams.

When you look at the most successful clubs in the sport, stability and continuity is at the heart of everything.

Continuity of leadership. Stability of ownership. Continuity in terms of the coaching staff. Stability in terms of the spine of the team.

I’ve been hugely impressed with the way the new owners have gone about their business thus far.

They seem to have a winning formula and I hope their unique partnership – which has won over fans on a number of levels – can continue for many years to come.

No-one knows what next season will bring but at least we won’t be worrying about not having a football club to support.

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.

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.

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.

We’re the best around. Now let’s finish this… #pvfc

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So we are still blessed. The Sneyd Green Pontiff didn’t leave Boslem during the transfer window for fifty quid and a dozen oatcakes.
How about that? ‘Vale hang on to key players shock’.
As Norman Smurthwaite asked back in November: ‘Port Vale isn’t in a distressed state so why would we sell our best assets?’
It didn’t stop the rumour mill, of course, but we are lucky that Tom Pope himself is hell-bent on being the man to fire his home-town club to promotion.
The fact that he remains a Vale player until the end of the season at least is absolutely massive.
Yes, I’d feel better if he was contracted until the end of next season – as the Chairman indicated some time ago – but I guess we have to trust that this will come to pass.
I understand why contract talks are on hold for the rest of the squad – as whether or not we are in League One will obviously have a bearing on things.
My only hope is that the likes of Myrie-Williams, Vincent, Dodds, Williamson, Burge and Loft are all still playing alongside Tom Pope at Vale Park come August.
As it is, smart business during January has seen the new owners give Micky Adams the backing to build a squad which is very capable of seeing us over the line.
Since the televised game away at Wimbledon, where Popey’s superb equaliser salvaged a point for us, results have gone for Vale.
We now have a really good cushion between us and the teams in fourth spot and below as well as games in hand over some of them.
Two eminently-winnable home games in quick succession give us the chance to put even more daylight between us and the chasing pack.
I’ll be honest – I’m not fussed if we finish first or third so long as we go straight up and I suspect most Vale fans aren’t either.
So long as we avoid the lottery of the play-offs I’ll be happy. Winning the title would simply be the icing on the cake.
The manager is understandably playing down expectations and taking each game as it comes.
But he will know that every three points ratchets up that expectation because it takes us one step closer to the promotion dream.
I believe in Micky Adams and this squad. We shouldn’t be afraid of any team in this league. We can beat anyone.
Now let’s go and finish this.

New signings are spot on as Vale plan for promotion and stability

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The very fact that we have brought in three new signings – one of whom is a former fans’ favourite that the Football League wouldn’t let us sign earlier in the year – shows just how far the club has come in the last 12 months.
That the new owners are working with Micky Adams to possibly bring in even more players to strengthen the squad for the promotion push speaks volumes.
There’s obviously a real desire to push on and take advantage of the magnificent position the lads and the coaching staff have put the team in – in spite of the odds being stacked against them.
Automatic promotion really is in Vale’s hands now. Win nine of the remaining 20 games and draw a few and we’ll go straight up as one of the top three teams.
That is eminently achievable with the squad we have and the firepower Vale’s frontline now packs.
There have been a few gripes from some fans about the fact that Darren Purse is no spring chicken and that Lee Hughes isn’t on everyone’s Christmas card list.
Both are, by their nature, relatively short-term signings to bring invaluable experience to the squad as we face what will inevitably be a tense run-in and they make absolute sense to me.
Frankly, I don’t care if the goal that clinches our promotion to League One goes in off Hughes’s backside.
If the gaffer thinks that players like Hughes and Purse will add a bit of steel and nous to the team to see us over the line then I’m all for it.
I won’t forget the lads whose goals put us second in the league: Jennison Myrie-Williams, Ashley Vincent, Louis Dodds, Ben Williamson and, of course, local hero Tom Pope.
They, along with Chris Neal, Doug Loft, Ryan Burge and Sam Morsy will have to continue to perform at their best to finish the job they started in May.
I would like to think that they, and the likes of Joe Davis, are the future and that they are all in Micky Adams’s plans for next season as he keeps one eye on creating a squad which can compete at a higher level.
Paul Wildes said this week that he would like to work with Micky Adams for the next five to 10 years.
What I take from that statement is that he understands the value of both the manager we have and the value of stability and continuity. He’s spot on.

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