Let’s be positive and keep faith with a team forged out of adversity

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.

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Vale fans have every right to an opinion when going gets tough

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.

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

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.

The clock is ticking on countdown to a new era at Vale Park

It is hard to be too critical of Sam Morsy, whose moment of madness cost us three points in mid-week.
As a young lad who has come through the ranks, he has established himself as the new enforcer following Anthony Griffith’s departure.
In that role he will always run the risk of picking up bookings and suspensions as so much of his game is physical and relies on his ability to time tackles and break-up play.
As Sam Morsy gains experience his mistakes will reduce and he won’t experience a rush of blood to the head quite so often.
Hopefully, he learned a valuable lesson on Tuesday night against Rochdale – a team, it has to be said, that won’t win any prizes for sportsmanship this season.
Morsy’s ban serves to underline just how thin our squad is and how injuries and suspensions could play a major role in our ability to sustain a promotion push.
The addition of former Shrewsbury midfielder Sean McAllister to the squad is a timely boost but the truth is we will all breathe a lot easier when the transfer embargo is listed.
Everything is now finely-balanced and, given a fair wind, Port Vale’s fortunes could improve dramatically in the next 10 days.
As I write this the Football League have everything they need to approve the takeover of Port Vale by Paul Wildes and Norman Smurthwaite.
As usual we are playing a waiting game – but at least this time we know it’s not the preferred bidders who are holding things up.
In the wake of shenanigans at other clubs in recent years and the Keith Ryder debacle, you can understand why the Football League is taking its time to make sure the new men are fit and proper owners.
Fingers crossed its lawyers do the paperwork in time for the unveiling of the Sproson statue next Saturday – which will make the home game against York a double celebration.
Make no mistake, the preferred bidders are already in-situ – making changes and making plans and listening very carefully to what supporters have to say.
Eagle-eyed fans only have to look for the infamous broken clock in the Lorne Street, which has suddenly vanished, to know that times they are a-changing at Vale Park.

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