Vale fans shouldn’t count chickens, but…

The fact that Micky Adams was able to throw Lee Hughes straight into the team against Gillingham was priceless.
It was the transfer window equivalent of sticking two fingers up to that nice Martin Allen and saying: ‘See him? He’s ours’.
Game in hand or no game in hand, it represented a stealing of the initiative in the title/promotion race by a club that six months ago didn’t have two ha’pennies to rub together.
As it transpired Hughes’ debut was a decent one and we got what we expected: Plenty of attitude and, crucially, the nous of a 36-year-old who’s played and scored at every level.
I felt for Ben Williamson and Louis Dodds but Hughes’ inclusion in the starting eleven made absolute sense.
For me, the likes of Dodds and Williamson have a great future ahead of them and will doubtless play a role between now and the end of the season.
As Mark Grew pointed out earlier this week ‘it’s horses for courses’ from now on and the addition of experienced players has given Micky Adams the options to adopt that frame of mind.
We may bring in one or two more players by the end of the month but I think the squad Vale has now is strong enough to win automatic promotion.
The acquisition of Darren Purse brings vital steel and leadership to the centre of a defence which is missing John McCombe which may allow the gaffer to give Joe Davis one or two starts.
No-one is daft enough to start counting chickens but the Gillingham win was massive in that it gave us a vital cushion over the teams in third place and below.
There are 19 games remaining and if Vale can win nine of them (eminently achievable given the firepower we now have) and draw a few we should go up automatically.
It’s five in five now for the Pontiff who looks a good bet to reach Andy Jones’s total of 37 goals in a season if he stays fit and suspension free.
Finally, a word for someone who is a bit of an unsung hero as we all continue to eulogise, quite rightly, about the strike force.
For me, Micky’s most important summer signing was Chris Neal: The best ’keeper I’ve seen at Vale Park for many years.
It is my fervent hope that, in close liaison with the gaffer, the new owners are offering longer deals to the likes of Neal, Pope, Vincent, Myrie-Williams, Dodds and Williamson.
Without getting carried away, we are now finally building for the future and it’s a great position to be in.

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