Vale fans shouldn’t count chickens, but…

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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.

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Shore up the defence and just feed the Pope

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We will win tomorrow. We will beat Plymouth and put on the kind of attacking display that was sorely lacking on New Year’s Day.
That’s what needs to happen after a thoroughly underwhelming performance in front of a bumper crowd on Tuesday.
The defeat at home to Fleetwood was a genuine wake up call. Another example of a team coming and ‘doing a job on us’.
It was actually a strange game because, despite playing poorly for much of the 90 minutes, we could easily have won it.
Tom Pope, Louis Dodds and Jennison Myrie-Williams would all have scored on another day.
Yes, the referee was terrible during the first half when he allowed the visiting defenders to climb all over the Pontiff.
But it was actually the injury to John McCombe which really cost us as his replacement Clayton McDonald gave away to soft free kicks which led to Fleetwood’s goals.
All in all it was an unsatisfactory day’s work and too many players went missing or looked disinterested.
Thankfully many of the other results went for us and we only really lost ground on Gillingham who we have yet to play at their place.
Tomorrow is an opportunity to get things back on track – depending very much on the team that Micky Adams picks and the strategy he employs.
No disrespect to the lad, but I’d be grateful if someone could explain to me why Calvin Andrew started on the wing.
I can understand Ashley Vincent being on the bench as he was perhaps not quite match fit after going down with a virus after Christmas.
But surely in Ben Williamson and Kingsley James, both of who have impressed recently, we have other decent options in midfield.
It was really good to see Vincent back in the team because he has the pace and trickery to torment defences and we’ve missed him in recent weeks.
What Tuesday’s game did again was to expose the chronic lack of pace in the centre of our defence.
If any team turns up with quick wingers or a nippy striker we look vulnerable.
I expect to see some activity in the transfer market in the coming days to shore up that leaky defence – especially now that the rock that is McCombe has been sidelined.
We may even see a couple of midfielders and an additional striker as the new owners do what the last ones couldn’t by supporting the manager in the transfer window.
For me, however, it’s not about the signings – it’s all about Tom Pope. Keep him fit and fed and his 30-plus goals will take us up.

Plenty of reasons to be optimistic as Roy’s big day looms


Today preferred bidders Paul Wildes and Norman Smurthwaite will be being put through their paces by the Football League.
From the noises we are hearing this should just be a formality but it’s anyone’s guess how soon after this process the deal will finally be approved.
Hopefully it will happen within a few days because the one fear that’s been nagging at many of us during a terrific start to the season has now materialised.
A few injuries and the suspension of key players has exposed just how thin Vale’s squad is and the lifting of the transfer embargo/limit of 20 registered players can’t come soon enough.
There’s no need to panic just yet, however, as players like Doug Loft are close to a return and, as much as the manager may feel the need to dip into the transfer market to bring in one or two new faces, there’s a lot to be said for the spirit of a tight-knit squad.
It’s very sad when anyone suffers a bad injury, as happened to Northampton’s Alex Nicholls last Saturday.
While wishing the striker a speedy recovery I’d like to echo Micky Adams’s sentiments and say there’s never been any malice in John McCombe’s play and clearly what happened was an unfortunate accident.
Boom is a firm but fair player who has formed a decent partnership at the heart of the defence and we’re going to miss him while he serves his suspension.
We are indeed down to the bare bones now in terms of defensive options but the core of the team remains and there’s no reason why we can’t win our FA Cup tie and get three points against Rochdale on Tuesday night.
I don’t know what I was more surprised about last weekend. The fact that we got beat or the fact we didn’t score.
Thankfully we had put enough daylight between us and the chasing pack that even after a draw and a loss we’re still sitting second with a two point cushion and a goal difference of plus 17.
We’re in a fantastic position: Thirty points on the board at the end of October is a heck of a start and gives us a great platform for the rest of the season.
Once the takeover is approved then Micky Adams’s hand can only be strengthened and I’m certain we will be in the mix come the final reckoning in May.
What’s more, very soon the current crop of players will have their very own club talisman watching over them every time they arrive at the ground on a match day.
At 1.30pm on November 17 Roy Sproson’s statue will finally be unveiled after 11 long years of fund-raising and campaigning by too many people to mention.
It is the never-say-die spirit of this project, and indeed the club’s greatest servant himself, that they should seek to emulate as they push for promotion.
The Sproson statue day is important on so many levels and symbolically draws a line in the sand after a terrible few years for Port Vale.
As we all look to the future, the completion of the Sproson statue project will underline the fact we are a club with a proud heritage. One that was worth fighting for.

A change is better than a rest for our lads

One of the things I admire most about Micky Adams is his willingness to make changes when things aren’t going our way.
Of course, he threw down a marker by famously putting the entire squad on the transfer list when we were badly beaten by Notts County.
Some people considered that little more than a publicity stunt but the gaffer’s gamble soon paid dividends and results picked up.
The indifferent start we’ve made to this campaign has been largely down to poor defensive form.
A back line which had built up a reputation for being miserly suddenly started giving goals away and lads who were outstanding at times last season started to look distinctly average.
That’s when Micky rang the changes and brought in a couple of old heads to shore up the defence.
Once again he proved there are no sacred cows – dropping the likes of Sir Stanley Matthews Vale Player of the Year Adam Yates and crowd favourite John McCombe.
If nothing else this reinforces the approach that no player and no position is 100 per cent secure and this Vale squad responds to this kind of stick.
It seems like there’s nothing like a little competition for places or a stint in the reserves to make our under-performing players sharpen up their acts.
We are now six points off the top and handily placed for a tilt at promotion.
What’s more, there’s a feeling about the place that we have no-one to fear in this division – mainly because we work damned hard and are scoring a lot more goals these days.
The work ethic of the likes of Tom Pope and the Duracell battery that is Griff is the hallmark of this Micky Adams team.
The fact we have started to score goals from all over the park rather than relying on Marc Richards is starting to give me confidence that we will finish in the top seven this year – even if we don’t gain automatic promotion.
How nice it is too that hostilities have temporarily ceased and a few more fans are now turning up for home games.
This week, members of the committee of the official Supporters’ Club even met with Chief Executive Perry Deakin and potential director Peter Miller to discuss – among other things – the offer of having a supporter-elected director on the board.
This organisation can give us all a voice and I would urge every single Vale fan to join by going to http://www.portvalesupportersclub.org and filling in the online application form – especially as it won’t cost you a penny.