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.

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.

Time to deliver as tricky Christmas period looms for Vale

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Right. I’ll cancel that charabanc for Wembley then, shall I?

Let’s put it this way: I’m hoping we won’t need one for any play-off action come May as we are perfectly positioned to get promoted automatically.

The FA Cup was a potential revenue raiser and the Johnstone Paints Trophy could have given us all a great day out.

But am I really that disappointed that we crashed out of both competitions this week?

In all honesty, no.

Am I disappointed with aspects of the performances – particularly the second half against Bradford? Yes.

Am I disappointed by the match officials? Endlessly.

But let’s try to take the positives from this week because they are there.

We’ve demonstrated we can compete against the likes of high-flying Sheffield United in the league above.

Once again Vale’s travelling support excelled themselves and deserve huge credit.

Micky Adams has now given game time to some fringe players and has virtually a full strength squad to pick from.

The Sneyd Green Pontiff is back from his one-match suspension along with the impressive Ryan Burge and Kingsley James who I would hope would go straight back into tomorrow’s starting line-up.

In recent years we’ve been poor over the Christmas period and we’ve certainly got some tricky games to contend with over the next four weeks.

However, we are well capable of beating anyone in this league and so remaining within the top three spots is certainly achievable.

If we do that then I think we have an easier run in to the end of the season than some of our rivals and that is when, hopefully, our quality and goal-threat will tell.

My only real concerns are the fact that our centre halves are being shown up to be slow and that we don’t appear to have a plan B when teams double-up on Ashley Vincent and Jennison Myrie-Williams.

We have to some how find a way of exploiting the time and space this creates for our centre midfielders.

Yes, the squad may be strengthened in January but, for me, the most important thing is that Tom Pope remains at the club – along with Doug Loft, our wingers and ’keeper Chris Neal who has been excellent.

Tom Pope could get 35 goals this season and this team should go straight up.

There are no cup distractions. Off-the-field woes are a thing of the past. It’s time to deliver.

Read my Port Vale articles every Friday in The Sentinel

It’s all systems go at a re-energised Vale Park


It’s been another extremely positive week for Port Vale fans and it genuinely feels like a huge black cloud has been lifted.

A terrific, hard-fought win away at Aldershot has maintained the distance between us and the chasing pack and closed the gap on league leaders Gillingham to just two points.

Heading in to the festive period Vale are perfectly placed to maintain a promotion push.

What’s more, Micky Adams now has options in midfield and upfront – with Ryan Burge, Kingsley James and Ben Williamson emerging as the latest players to shine in a squad that plays for each other.

The addition of Liam Chilvers and then Calvin Andrew to the squad weren’t perhaps what some supporters were hoping for.

However, it is clear from the names being bandied about and the ambition being shown that we are now a club which has the financial clout to bring in new faces.

We are no longer, as Norman Smurthwaite has said several times, in a ‘distressed state’. In other words, we don’t need to flog our best players to pay next month’s wage bill.

As well as new players we now have a chief scout in the experienced George Foster which make Vale something of a rarity at League Two level.

This is a significant development in that it will give us better knowledge of opposition teams and help Micky Adams and his team identify potential recruits.

Off the park things are happening quickly too: Those awful toilets in the Railway Paddock will soon be sorted; the catering situation is being reviewed and fans will be able to buy mini season tickets valid from January.

Interestingly, the new regime is also starting to right a few wrongs – such as ensuring those Vale fans who paid for bricks with names on for the Lorne Street’s ‘wall of fame’ are finally getting what they paid for.

This is all about making Port Vale the customer-focused business it has to be to attract more bums on seats.

There is, of course, still much work to be done but it seems everyone is pulling in the same direction now – the staff, the supporters and the new owners.

Having ‘Papa Smurf’, as he has affectionately become known, at Vale Park five days a week can only be a good thing.

He’s not come out of retirement to waste money and I know supporters will be pleasantly surprised by some of the announcements which will be coming out of a re-energised Vale Park in the coming weeks.

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