It’s early days and there’s absolutely no need to panic. Enjoy the ride…

A frustrated Tom Pope.

A frustrated Tom Pope.

I hope no-one’s panicking just yet. I’m certainly not.

Although we’ve yet to record our first win of this campaign, it’s still very early days.

Granted, we’ve scored only one goal and have only one point out of a possible six in the league.

We’ve also crashed out of a potentially money-spinning cup competition.

However, to play devil’s advocate, I’d say we earned a good point on the first day of season against a decent Brentford side and, although we didn’t play particularly well, were rather unlucky against Walsall when the officials rather let us down.

In contrast, against Colchester we were clearly second best and created very little in the way of chances.

In fact, the only danger was to our own supporters – and Doreen Robbins’s plaster cast is testament to this.

The gaffer simply chose the wrong formation, and perhaps picked a couple of players he shouldn’t have, and has admitted as much.

After all, you can’t really blame the forwards for not scoring if they’re not getting any service from a sluggish midfield.

What we’re experiencing now is perhaps something of a reality check and, frankly, I’d rather we have it now than at Christmas.

We’ve stepped up a league, the opponents are better and they move the ball around more quickly.

It will take time for Micky Adams’s teams to adjust, to get used to their positions, and learn to play off lads who signed over the summer.

Being positive, the back four (and I think it should be a four) and the ‘keeper look solid.

Chris Neal and Adam Yates are playing well, in particular, and Robertson, Dickinson and Lines already look good signings.

I’d like to see Doddsy in the team, personally – playing behind the Pontiff. But perhaps that’s just me.

Let’s not lose perspective here. Ambition and aspiration is fine but it must be tempered with honest expectation.

I’d love us to repeat last season’s promotion heroics but I’m not going to kick the cat, so to speak, if we don’t.

Vale Park is looking terrific and will continue to improve. Meanwhile gates are bigger because the clubs we are up against – some of whom have infinitely bigger playing budgets – have larger followings.

It’s an exciting time to be a Vale fan and I, for one, am enjoying the stability and putting my trust in the new owner and Micky’s squad to continue to do us proud.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.