Previews

Leyton Orient Home, 27/11/20

How the world has changed since I last preview a Port Vale match.

The Cheeky Whites head into this match in the stickiest position since one Norman Smurthwaite wailed down the Praise and Grumble airwaves that he was letting the club fold. Obviously, the grievances today are off a much less severe nature than the final days of Norm, but nonetheless this game has a bit of weight to it.

We’ve analysed the mistakes, stagnation, and issues persistent in our squad (see my most recent ‘Long Read’); let us lend an anxious eye to what comes next.

Orient have surreptitiously ascended the table, a low-profile effort in 2019/20 giving way to a quietly effective side that, at surface level, appears to have dramatically improved.

Recent victories against Bradford and Harrogate have seen the O’s climb to 8th, above us, an indication of the turmoil we have suffered from in the last fortnight or so.

They seem tactically flexible, with variants of 433, 4231, and 3421 being employed. This will keep Vale guessing, with certain players such as James Brophy being utilised both as a left wing back and on the left of a front three.

Their win against Bradford appears slightly fortutious, and whilst they deserved to beat Harrogate, three goals is an over-performance when compared to the quality of shots created.

Courtesy of experimental361.com

How do they play?

The key takeaway from Orient is that they’re outperforming xG at both ends; in nets, Lawrence Vigouroux profiles as a top 3 ‘keeper at this level, and at the other end, Danny Johnson continues to put away chances at a remarkable rate, yielding 9 goals in 14. Whilst possibly the sign of a top finisher, it is more likely that Johnson will slightly regress in his scoring rate over the coming months.

In terms of setting up Johnson, James Brophy jumps out as the side’s main creator, setting up plentiful chances from the left and three of his four assists coming from the left hand side of the penalty box;

James Brophy key pass locations, 20/21, courtesy of @footballfactman

Dependent on whether Brophy plays on the left of a front three, or at left wing back, careful attention will need to be paid to ensure he does not penetrate the channel between Clark and his centre half, or chances will fall. Direct and quick, he is beating his man at an excellent rate, so Clark will need to be in good form to stifle their main creative threat. Orient are keen to build up down the right until they hit the final third, at which point they switch to Brophy.

They seem keen to play on the counter-attack; 2 of Johnson’s goals against Harrogate come in transition, and he set up a further golden opportunity that was squandered. Vale must be careful of losing possession in their own half, and against long balls over the top; Stevenage’s forward duo caused havoc with the sort of direct running that Johnson exhibits.

When in possession, Ousseynou Cisse dictates things from his deeper midfield role, often keeping things simple and recycling possession. Vale are adept at pressing at the first level so this shouldn’t be too big of an issue to deal with.

Dan Happe at centre half has received attention due to his youth; a menace in the air but susceptible to being positionally erratic and can be beaten on the ground. Vale have been prone to ‘cross and God Willing’ football recently, which wouldn’t be advisable tomorrow.

Weaknesses

Orient are fairly poor at defending set pieces, which lends itself well to Vale’s relative strength in the same area. The return of Leon Legge could present more chances for Vale to strike in dead-ball situations in the absence of any creative ingenuity from open play.

Orient also really struggle to protect the space in front of their centre halves; what, from an attacking perspective, we’d deem the number 10 role (or for the esoteric amongst you, the Dodds role). Askey’s 433 has led to a stifling of chance creation from the centre and, although McKirdy struggled in the number 10 role on Tuesday, it may still be in our interests to operate someone as the advanced midfielder (probably Oyeleke).

Conclusions

Whilst Orient have sneakily ascended the table, I’m not sure if (yet) they’re there entirely on merit. A great goalkeeper and a hot streak of scoring form from Johnson, ably assisted by the direct creativity of Brophy, has secured them valuable wins.

Despite this, there remains flaws to their team. They’re not far off being a good side, and have some excellent young assets that still have some development to go.

To end this wretched run, Vale need to;

  1. Guard against the counter, specifically paying attention to Johnson and balls over the top
  2. Stifle James Brophy; do not forget him and surrender space when they build down the right, and be wary of runs into the channel
  3. Prevent Cisse from having too much time on the ball
  4. Be effective from set pieces
  5. Utilise someone in the number 1o role
  6. Don’t lump it; Happe will lap it up. Get it on the ground and run at him.

Prediction: Orient 1-1 Vale

Northampton Town Away, 08/02/2020

The cliched ‘good test, this’.

Northampton arrive in excellent form; an indifferent start under Keith Curle has been usurped by a run of good form, predicated on effective tactics utilising key players such as Charlie Goode in defence and Nicky Adams as a creator.

The Vale arrive in reasonable form; drawing with Salford, beating Exeter, spanked by Swindon. This is merely another step in this horrendous run we’re in the midst of, one which will define if we are genuine contenders in this tinpot league, of merely a team better than average.

The Cobblers line up in a 3412 system; classic Curle. Chris Lines in the middle and Mark Marshall on the right performed well for the Valiants in League 1; a Cobblers fan informed me that Lines was often bypassed by the more direct style of his team, and whilst Marshall is lively, his final ball is letting me down.

More astute Valiants will remember the havoc that our 433 caused Exeter’s 352 in the second half of our home game against them; Amoo and Worrall able to exploit the space behind the wingbacks on the counter attack. Richie Bennett got a double that night; will he keep his starting place?

We are in the rare position of having nearly all of our best players available; Taylor, Oyeleke, and Smith are all nearly ready. If we can add that trio into the starting 11 in the next week, we’d have the squad (bar the forward line) to compete with anyone in this division.

1-1 is my call. Solid and effective. UTV

Man City Away, 04/01/2020

I almost considered not bothering.

How on earth do you sit down, and with any rational sanity, attempt to ‘preview’ Port Vale, the Cheeky Whites, John Askey’s Black and White Army, a team incapable of holding out a 2-0 win because Nicky Maynard had entered the fray, going to the current holders of the Treble?

Man City have, in this fan’s view, the best manager in world football, and some of the finest players on these shores.

Of course, Vale have done it before; Spurs, Arsenal, Liverpool, Everton have all seen the Whites do battle with the big boys of the game and come away unscathed, or victorious.

Football is different now. Whilst there was clearly good and bad teams in yesteryear, there was a greater degree of parity; tactics and formations were more standardised, players largely ate and drank the same, and the only discernible disparity between Division 1 Team and Division 3 Team would be the quality in the players’ boots.

Now, Vale and City almost play different sports. City have 3 Assistant Managers, an ‘ice chamber’ for muscle recovery, myriad analysts and sport scientists tasked with extracting every last ounce of performance out of the talented, fragile assets they put on the pitch every weekened. City have commandeered and regenerated an area of Manchester to form the campus of their entire club; Senior, Womens, and Youth.

Vale have the Bycars pitches.

Due to this, it is nearly impossible to forecast anything but a heavy defeat on Saturday. Even if City made 11 changes, you could see world class internationals like Kyle Walker, Sergio Aguero, and Raheem Sterling lining up against a club who nearly went bust in May. And that’s if they make 11 changes from their victory over Carlo Ancelotti-led Everton.

Despite this, the Vale are taking THE largest ever away attendance to the Etihad, north of 8,000 fans in the away end (or ‘tiers’). It is as convenient a Premier League club from Burslem as physically possible, now our pals from down the road have well and truly f***** their moment in the sun.

Its a cliched trope, but all we can pray is that the 11 men Askey picks on Saturday have the game of their lives and run themselves into the ground.

If we see that, I imagine the 8k Valiants will be more than proud and appreciative, regardless of scoreline.

The income from this game guarantees the club’s long-term future and enables the owners to invest in an already tidy squad, or look elsewhere to build this club up into the place we want to be.

I would like 1 goal; one solitary, scrappy, shithoused supreme special, preferably whilst the scores are close; Pope ideally, if not him, then Smith or Gibbons.

I want the primal ecstacsy of celebrating that goal, of tumbling down Etihad stairs, of grown men hurdling rows of seats, and yer Grandad chucking limbs like he isn’t fresh from a hip replacement. Kevin Shanahan throwing pints in front of a literal Head of State. Sir John Rudge flexing on Txiki Begiristain.

I want around 30 seconds of dreams and hope, of Pep furiously consulting his 7th assistant, checking the clipboard to see why they hadn’t prepared for a 34 year old forward bullying Nicolas Otamendi in an aerial duel. Kevin de Bruyne warming up, concerned he may actually have to take to the field and shackle Scott Burgess. Sterling growing frustrated by the continued besting by Montano, begging Mahrez to switch wings.

Then Aguero can nail 8 past us. Don’t care.

Just want that one goal please lads. See you all in Manny.