Crawley – Home, 13/09/20
Obviously a lot has happened, a lot has changed, since I last wrote one of these. The small things, the idiosyncrasies of each of our lives, have been flipped, a tumult of confusion and the structured pillars of our identities left in tatters. The world is in a confusing, dark place, and on Saturday we sat down to something vaguely reassuring that reminds me that, hopefully, things will be back to what we know soon.
A Port Vale win at home, with Mark Cullen scoring, is reassuring. It’s expected. The same squad is here, with a few titivations here and then; some depth in this area, some pace elsewhere. Bar that, we’re as we were; Smith and Legge impenetrable, Joyce unruffled, Conlon a Duracell, Brown comforting, and Cullen efficient.
Crawley were absolute dog. Let’s not hide from it. We did our part, keeping the ball reasonably well and defending the central areas excellently, but with the departure of Palmer and Lubala, they seriously have scant to offer up top. This was easy. We had them penned from 5 minutes in and bar the odd counter and comfortable efforts at Brown, we looked sound. A pre-season quality to it.
Rodney’s turn, run, and cutback was a delight and testament to the clever recruitment this summer; he obviously needs a lot of day-to-day work on his first touch and close control, but the tactic was clear from minute one; overload on the right, then quickly shift to the left. Isolate Rodney with the fullback, preferably with space ahead of him so he can pick up steam, and get Cullen in the box. It worked a treat; credit to the coaches for a well-oiled plan.
Mark Cullen has an excellent record for us, and is just one of those irritatingly decent forwards with no attributes bar a nose for sniffing out pockets of space in the box, a knack for knowing where the ball is going to drop, an instinct for which way the keeper is going to commit. He’s not a 46 game, plug and play striker, but he’s a very valuable footballer on the basis that he scores goals.
There isn’t much to comment on here. We were good, they were bad. We played 433 with periods of a high press, the attack was largely predicated on wing play, the triumvirate of Joyce, Legge, and Smith are as steady as it gets.
In a time when little is certain, Port Vale comfortably dispatching a home win is comfortable and cozy. UTV
Northampton – Away, 08/02/20
The signature ‘big test’. Will take a draw. Tough place to go.
Our lads went to Sixfields, a place that the Cobblers’ have not witnessed defeat since early October, to play a side who have not been beaten since we all nailed turkey sandwiches the day after Christmas.
The best home side in the league, the form side of the league. And we’ve shithoused a lovely win.
We’ll be honest; in terms of attacking output, we were second best. Northampton played a very direct and physical style, which I commend as they know their strengths and utilise them effectively. He’s Magic Y’Know had to step up in the 2nd half to make a string of good, though not outstanding, saves; they were stops you’d expect of a goalkeeper of Brown’s calibre, but still commendable nontheless.
Despite this, in the opening gusts of Storm Ciara, the Cheeky Whites dealt well with the aerial bombardment that the Cobblers deployed; the image of Charlie Goode trotting over to the touchline, regardless of distance to the goal, to lob a further futile throw in straight onto the head of Legge/Brizzle, is permanently seared into my retinas.
I personally was perplexed by their decision to start a ginger bad Jack Grealish up top, who was clearly out of his depth, with a proven bagsman like Andy Williams on the bench. Vadaine Oliver has a big leap but literally nothing else. Mark Marshall huffed and puffed with no final ball, and Nicky Adams was fairly anonymous. Chris Lines was benched. Keith Curle’s team played Keith Curle football.
Brown and the back 4 were a credit to Vale; expertly organised, disciplined, and error-free. In particular, Shaun Lethal Brizzle has proven that he is a decent League 2 centre half, excellent in the air. Should we lose either first-choice centre half in the summer, I would have no issues with Brisley playing a larger role.
Mitch Clarke continues to impress, and its a crying shame he’s been playing against teenagers in friendlies for the past 6 months. Conlon continues his good run of form, covering the metaphorical ‘every blade of grass’ in an all-action display that demonstrated his qualities; tidy distribution, excellent work-rate, up for a battle, and capable of a bit of class. His assist, on his obstensibly weaker right foot, was perfectly placed and Wee Davie couldn’t miss. Some excellent scenes in the away end, which was a nice pay off for some of the most forgettable football fans had ever seen, especially the young lad with a A4 sheet saying ‘Super Vale Away’ who managed to lead the charge to the celebrations.
Bar the onslaught at the start of the second half, and a late launching of the kitchen sink, Vale rarely looked ruffled. Askey timed the substitution of Pope for Bennett perfectly; just as they were beginning to grow frustrated with our sturdy resistance, Pope gave us a nice focal point and allowed Monty, Worrall, and Burgess to push higher up to create some chances.
In a game in which we missed 4 of our best players (Smith, Amoo, Taylor, and Oyeleke), we beat, with a bit of luck, one of the most effective teams in the league. We’ve now beaten every team above us bar Colchester, who we’ve drawn with.
In my view, there is absolutely no reason why we can’t make the top 7. I’ve yet to see a team, bar Swindon (who we comfortably bested at the Park), who are clearly better than us. This team keeps getting victories in important games, keeps beating the fancied opposition, and has an excellent team spirit. The coaching and preparation is clearly top-drawer, and with injured players close to return, we can all look forward to an exciting climax to the season. Askey, usually elusive, evasive, and adept at saying absolutely nothing, even eluded to growing excitement at the club. Things are coming together at exactly the right time.
A good following of 461 compounds the 5,000+ we’ve been getting at home on a consistent basis. This club is on the up. In a week in which we tied down the best attacker in the league for 2 years, started sensible preparations for the squad next season, and beat the best home side in the division at their identikit, soulless, bland ‘stadium’ (more of an annex to the Steakhouse on the top of the hill. Food, Fire, Friends) I think more than a few Vale fans have started to dream.
I can’t see myself making Nailsworth Rovers away on Tuesday, so commendations to Eddie, Jean, and the 198 other folks who make the sojourn to the Cotswolds in midweek. Anything other than a defeat there, against a team who are in abject disarray at home, sets up a tantalising home clash with Colchester at the Wembley of the North.
I still don’t think we’re going to make it, but the belief and buzz is building bombastically in Burslem. Its given us a bit of excitement at a time of year in which we’ve become accustomed to apathy or/and anger. I’m loving this journey under John, Dave, Carol, and Kevin.
UTV, UTCCW x
Salford – Home, 01/02/2020
Forgive the absence. Hectic month etc.
The Whites welcomed The Class of 92 x Singaporean Billionaire’s Football Manager Experiment this Saturday gone. Salford were boosted after the signings of genuine League 1 calibre players in Bruno Andrade, Michael O’Connor, Tom Elliot, Ashley Hunter, and Ash Eastham.
Vale, missing Taylor and Smith, and with Oyeleke still a week away, were left with the patched up 11 featuring Shaun ‘Grizzly’ Brisley at centre half, Richie Bennett leading the line, and the returning marauder Mitch Clarke, fresh from the sacking of his agent and a realisation that a football player should aim to play football at some point.
This isn’t a match to write much about; Vale controlled possession in the first half without having any obvious clear-cut chances, whilst Salford ran the second, boosted by the arrival of the rampaging Elliot as the game drifted. Vale never really coped with his all-action display and his powerful header (not a foul, in one’s view) capped off a transformative substitute performance.
There were numerous positives for Vale; Brisley continues to seem serviceable, if a tad ropey with his feet (I believe he battled through injury for the last 15 or so); Burgess continues to improve, now having the confidence to dictate games with his excellent technical ability and superb stamina; Conlon continues his renaissance which makes the midfield selection, with Manny and Taylor mere games away, all the more tantalising.
1 loss in 16 is a remarkable turnaround in home form, and we’re still right on the cusp of the playoffs (with Bradford sacking their manager and turning to *checks notes* Lee Novak to save their flagging season). Smith, Taylor, and Oyeleke would walk into 90% of the teams and this level, and their re-integration into proceedings could set up the end of the season to be quite a ride.
Question marks linger over the front line; it appears each forward is capable of one good game, and then a stinker. None of them possess the attributes to be the sole bagsman for us; all having undeniable qualities, but limited in them, and reliant on others to score.
In my view, the team looks best with Bennett up top, even if he isn’t the best of the forwards. The simple fact that he’s quicker than the other two seals it for me. Pope and Cullen are as immobile as you get in professional football, and this system dictates mobility up front.
Maybe Jordan Archer can come back in and make a claim; but with 0 in 2 for Stockport, and getting subbed at the weekend defeat to Hartlepool, it would appear he’s still some way off being a starting EFL striker.
Plenty of things to consider; the tough run does not relent in the coming weeks. Northampton and Forest Green beckon. Get Smudge, Manny, and Jakey back amongst things, and pray that Richie’s xG regress to the mean, and we’ll have an outside chance.
Man City – Away, 04/01/2020
I could sit here and type out a nice standard match report; brave Valiants outclassed by City.
Instead, I’m going to hone in on about a minute of football, which, for me, heralds a true new dawn for this beleagured, at times shambolic, football club.
Our boy Tom Pope; perpetually daft on Twitter, one of the most moaning, mardarse, and petulant footballers I have seen live, slower than my Nan who has a double hip replacement. He’s up there with the largest legends in this club’s history. Without question.
Vale played out from the back in a manner in which Pep has been drilling his £50m assets every day for the past 3 seasons. Goalkeeper to striker. Back to front. Zip-zap, bish-bash, wallop. Valiants erupt.
Dave and Bernie Silva, Kun Aguero, Jonny Stones; bystanders, as a lad from Trentham pings it to a lad who can’t tackle who whips it in to a lad who can’t run. Stones, a double Premier League champion, decides marking the space is the best course of action. Pope stays on the defender’s blindside and then nips in front to expertly glance the header past the clutching grasp of a double Copa America champion and Champions League winner.
It’s those moments. Those moments when you’re driving back from some dive at the arse end of this country, having feebly crumbled to a loss, pissing down with rain and having spent 8 hours of your day, which make you organise the next away day. The gamble you take; giving up your Saturdays for your next hit. Your next high.
When Big Popey, 34 years of age, visibly decrepit, nods one home against the Treble Holders, managed by possibly the greatest manager of all time, with an 18 fielded worth approximately the GDP of a developing nation, it makes our struggles worth the while.
Its a sentimental post this; Vale nearly went bump in May. Big Norm told me as much; I’ll put you in admin, and as sole creditor, reject any sale till you fold. Directly said it. We were literally days from ceasing to exist. Bury levels. Eddie and Jean stood outside the ground giving interviews to Sky Sports. The big lad who knows all the players and stands at the front of away games, bringing the nation to tears with an impassioned plea to save his club. “Rip PVFC” trending on Twitter, retweeted by a lad from Corrie and Paul Merson.
Alas; Carol and Kevin rode in, blew the kids’ inheritance, and gave us a moment I, and others, aren’t forgetting.
In my preview I begged for one goal, preferably when the scores are close; to give me that primal joy, that bouncing and pushing and squealing, heart pounding when the chaos subsides, looking at your fellow Vale fans with a grin and mouthing “f*** me”.
Hugging the strange bloke next to you, pushing your Mum over the seats in front, taking your Vale shirt off and flinging it to to the ground in aggressive ectacsy. Looking your Dad in the eyes, the bloke you’ve been to Torquay and Carlisle with, fought for months to keep this club alive, and realising, for those 30 seconds, it was all worth it.
I’m not arsed about VAR, or the Stones controversy, or Aguero, or Foden, or Pep.
I’m arsed about Tom Pope, Sneyd Green anti-hero, bulging the Etihad net to become Vale’s record post-war top scorer, to bring a club recently off life support level against a team financially supported by a nation state.
Not really a match report this; just a testimony to those 30 seconds. It was at times a training ground exercise, and there was never a point where Valiants thought we’d win.
But for a precious minute, the Cheeky Whites looked like Pep’s Barca, our boy broke the records, and me and my Dad could share a moment that makes supporting this shit little club completely worthwile.
Up the Vale. See you at Salford/Stevenage/Morecambe.
Macclesfield Town – Home, 01/01/2020
The inaugural match report of this blog could have been used on myriad occassions so far this season; Vale don’t play poorly, but contrive to drop points at home to a side nearer the relegation zone than mid-table.
The only change seemed an eminently sensible one; Bennett in for Pope. Whilst Pope has impressed with some excellent target man link-up play in his run of starts, goals have not flowed, and with the run of games in succession it seemed wise to give him a rest. This was a big opportunity for Bennett, who had failed to build on a very good start to his Vale career.
I’ll speak more on Bennett in an opinion piece but for the those of a statistics inclination out there, Bennett is by far our best forward for having shots from good quality areas; he just doesn’t convert them very well:
Bar that, we lined up with the same personnel and system that had seen us so confidently and assuredly sweep aside league-leading and free-scoring Swindon Town 3 days prior.
Alas, as Vale have proven time and time again in the 19/20 season, they struggled against a team that they would look to be beating. In fairness to the Silkmen, they performed very decently; Arthur Gnahoua was a consistent menace with excellent dribbling and distribution, whilst Joe Ironside put in a very tidy performance which was capped with an excellent swivel and finish for Macc’s second. For a club in apparent crisis and players who have had inconsistent remunerations for their service, they looked a team who could easily match a Vale side who are looking at the top 7.
In terms of the Vale performance, it lacked the cohesive press and tidy passing that typifies all of the good performances this season. Whilst Burgess continues to improve and looks to influence more games, Taylor struggled and was withdrawn. Montano secured his second successive Man of the Match award with a buccaneering left back display, effectively dragging Vale back into the contest with a superb surge to create the equaliser for Amoo. For all of Montano’s flaws, he is a superb outlet from full back, and on his day can put in an exceptional performance.
The question lingers; how can a side look so impressive against Swindon, and so decidely average, at times poor, against a team scrambling around the trap door of the EFL?
Its a huge question for Askey and Kevan to ponder; do we lack the ability to break team down? Is there a complacency issue? Is our style of play more suited towards games with vast swathes of open space?
The hopeful return of Manny Oyeleke may solve some of these issues, but considering Manny’s injury record, it would be foolish to pin all hopes on a successful recovery.
A respectable Christmas return yields 6 points from 12; Mansfield and Macclesfield feel like points dropped, however. We are still in touching distance of the playoffs but have been entrenched in 10th for a considerable period now, which, considering the squad’s inconsistencies, is probably about right.
See you all at the Etihad. Limbs for a corner.