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Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The Inside Line: Port Vale v Bristol City (16/09/2014)

Unbeaten in months, scoring goals, top of the league…who are this team they call the City?!

An excellent and hugely encouraging start to the season faces a testing five days with two away games, the first one of which comes tonight at Vale Park. 

Last time we came here we were at the opposite end of the table and struggling for points, but it was here, a couple of weeks further into last season which potentially proved a key moment, as Aden Flint’s back-pass in the 94th minute let in Lee Hughes to equalise and deny us our first win of a difficult season which had just started showing signs of promise in performances.  The team’s confidence took a visible knock after that moment and led to the palpable nervousness amongst players and fans as we approached the end of games for the months that followed – often causing the loss of further potential points.

This time around we travel up in very different spirits, with a different manager and a large number of different players.  Flint himself is a man transformed and goals are coming from all angles. Fans are talking of promotion, not transition and we venture north as worthy favourites – even if that is a bit of a scarily confident proposition!

Stu Radnedge caught up with Dave Johnson, who works in the media team at Vale Park, for this extensive review of Vale’s season so far.

“We go into Tuesday evening’s encounter with the league leaders a little nervous, given our recent results, though the performances haven’t quite been as bad as the results may suggest and there is still a feeling that Micky Adams has the ability, not to mention the players, who can turn things around soon - whether that recovery starts when the Robins are in town remains to be seen.

Everybody who is particularly fond of Port Vale has been through some harrowing times in the not too distant past, and also some uplifting times to add to that, it has to be said. The club went into into administration and the doom and gloom merchants had a field day. This was soon followed by a change of ownership and there was renewed optimism.

What followed was quite remarkable by Vale standards with Micky Adams guiding the team to promotion on extremely limited resources and then with the bookies predicting Vale to drop straight back into League Two, against all the odds Vale finished a more than respectable ninth last season.

Back to normal then when everybody was left sweating about the future of the Vale boss when his offer of a new contract several months previously seemed to have been withdrawn – or was it? After months of uncertainty he finally penned a new deal and then began to look to recruit after several key players had moved on to pastures new and with a large number of players out of contract, the uncertainty returned.

Micky worked hard on what was a small budget when compared to several other League One clubs and managed to make some impressive signings. Surely the bookies had got it wrong when they had Vale amongst the favourites for the drop once again?

An opening day draw at home to Walsall was inconclusive, but then Vale gave the whole of Burslem and the surrounding area a lift with a terrific and convincing display against one of the teams widely tipped for a quick return to the Championship. Vale went to Doncaster with even the most optimistic of Vale supporters hoping Vale could avoid a heavy defeat.

What came next shocked everybody as Vale gave what was an almost perfect performance as Doncaster were made to look average as Vale stormed into a 3-0 half time lead, with everything clicking into place on the field of play. Yes, the home side pulled one back in the second half, but the result never came into question.

A disappointing performance at Oldham three days later was surely the result of tired legs and every Vale fan was against full of optimism, with many of them daring to suggest Vale were real play-off contenders. That seems to have changes once again now after a string of disappointing results.

Whisper it quietly, but there are a small number of the fans who are starting to blame everything on the manager, suggesting he isn’t up to the job! A ridiculous claim I ever there was one. Well known for his motivational skills and his insistence on hard work on the training ground, if anybody is capable of turning things around, he is the man who can.

Five defeats on the bounce are bound to affect confidence and see the doubters start to make themselves heard, but let us look at the five games in question, starting with the home defeat to Notts County – a game in which the visitors took the lead thanks to a first half deflection and were then battered in the second half when even County fans thought Vale were unfortunate not to score four or five. Another goal followed for the visitors, when Sam Johnson was beaten by a wicked deflection and Although Vale lost the game, nobody was too concerned.

A home defeat to Cardiff City in the Capital One Cup followed just three days later, but Vale had made several changes and the result was kind of accepted as the important thing was to get back on track in the league. Vale soon had that opportunity, again with a home game, this time against a newly promoted Chesterfield side fielding a handful of former Vale players.

The performance just wasn’t up to scratch to be honest and the Spireites deserved the three points, leaving Micky Adams and Vale supporters scratching their head, wondering just what had gone so wrong within the space of eight days. Three home fixtures – three defeats, and the prospect of an away trip to then league leaders Peterborough United was to follow.  Vale quietened the home crowd at London Road with a spirited display and again spirits were lifted with Vale on top during the first half an hour of the game, but defensive mistakes again proved costly. Two “worldies” and a headed goal when the marking was nowhere to be seen dampened spirits and although new loan signing Jordan Slew pulled a goal back and went close to a second, Vale returned home empty handed.

Still, with a local derby against near-neighbours Crewe Alexandra to come, everything would turn out fine and Vale would once again come good, after all, Crewe were rooted to the foot of the table without a single point and were there for the taking. Vale had already sold all of their allocation of tickets and the away fans filled one side and one end of the ground as they anticipated three points and a comfortable victory.

It took just six minutes for the home side to take the lead and when they grabbed a second goal in the 29th minute, Vale supporters sat there in shock and disbelief. The unthinkable was happening and if the gates had been opened, there could well have been more than a few who would have thrown themselves in front of a train at the nearby train station.

Jordan Slew managed to pull a goal back before half time, following up after his spot kick was saved and Vale looked a different outfit in the second half, but they couldn’t but an equaliser and everybody went home unhappy to say the least. You can bet there were a few dogs kicked on Saturday night and a large number of domestic disputes were started way before Match of the Day came on the box that night. There is unlikely to be a population explosion on Stoke on Trent in nine months’ time!

So what next? An in-form Bristol City come to Vale Park in confident mood, and rightly so. Many had tipped the Robins to be amongst the front runners last season and were more than surprised when that didn’t materialise. Unfortunately, from a Vale point of view of course, Steve Cotterill’s side arrive unbeaten in seven League One games so far and Vale have now lost five on the bounce. This game is only going to go one way . . . .  or is it?”

My extreme thanks to Stu and Dave for this cracking read, let’s hope the two teams respective form carries on for at least one more match and we can return down the M5 with all three points.


The Exiled Robin

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