Last year’s turmoil
For most, the start of the season is one for optimism, whether you spent last season fighting relegation or battling at the top, chances are you start this season believing that this could be your year. But what of those teams that have had turmoil over the summer? As Stoke City prepare to line up in the Europa League qualifiers, their neighbours Port Vale find themselves in turmoil. This time last year, we had that optimism that is synonymous with the start of the season. Micky Adams had taken the pre-season to bring in players that he wanted and give them the pre-season that he demanded, and our form at the end of the previous season caused great hope, but then it all fell apart in the most spectacular of ways. Sheffield United came calling, and PVFC’s great hope was gone, almost as soon as he had arrived. The rest of that season read more like a soap opera than a football club. Jim Gannon’s appointment, “Busgate”, a massive drop off in form and the fans discontent growing to new levels. The fans lack of confidence in the board was shown when they called an EGM with motions to remove every one of the board members and push through a vote of no confidence. Surely, given the weight of discontent, Port Vale would have new owners…
This year’s turmoil
Fast forward to the present day. The board, with a vote of no confidence in tow, still contains three of that previous board, and one Micky Adams. The messiah returned, and now has the ‘safest job in football’. The fans continue to protest, the board continue to ignore them, and the optimism that normally fills the start of a season has been replaced with fear. We now have not one, but two local millionaires wanting to invest in our club, yet the board continue to cling on to power, losing money every year. While Crawley may be celebrating their first game in the football league on 6th August, Port Vale fans will be starting this season as they ended last, a protest march through the town, and a continual call for fans to ‘Starve ‘Em Out’, a protest aimed at cash starving the board out. Risky? Yes, but many believe it is the only alternative remaining in a bid to reclaim the club from those who once professed to only being interested in a fan run club. Thankfully, as it always does, the new season allows those who want to the chance to forget about any off-field problems, and for those 90 minutes, concentrate on the twenty-two guys on the pitch. So, on the field, is there any chance that we can somehow make it out of the bottom tier of English football?
At the start of last season, our squad was based on quality, not quantity. Starting with seventeen players with league experience, and three graduates from the youth team, any injury and we would be in trouble. This year, two players have departed to pastures new, and have been replaced by six incoming players. Micky raided former club Sheffield United for Kingsley James and Phil Roe, took a defender from last season worst defence in League One in Clayton McDonald, and picked up a couple of talents from the Glenn Hoddle Academy. With many on short term contracts or loans, there is the worry that if the new signings play well, they will leave in January for nothing, but if they are awful, they will be let go anyway. We could be back to a paper thin squad by Christmas, and that is a worry for most fans.
Surprisingly, given the fact that we haven’t paid a fee for a player since Luke Rodgers in 2007, Port Vale actually have two of the better goalkeepers in the league, with Stuart Tomlinson and Chris Martin both fighting for the number 1 shirt. Martin is arguably the better shot stopper, but Tomlinson commands his area in a more confident way than Chris. I would normally insert a Coldplay related joke about Chris, but I will not be reverting to cheap puns, mainly because at this moment in time I can’t think of one.
As previously mentioned, we have retained the core of last season’s defence. Adam Yates, John McCombe, Gareth Owen and Lee Collins form the main back four, with McDonald and Roe coming in. A lot will be expected of this defence, especially given the form that they showed last season before Micky left. It would be sensible to make the argument that our chances of doing anything this season will balance on how the defence can recover from the back end of last season.
Key man: Lee Collins. Ended last season out of form, but when playing well is one of the best defenders in League 2.
For me, midfielders are there to do one of three things. Break up play, create chances or score goals. This season, we have a mix of these players, but all of whom have been inconsistent for us in the past. Gary Roberts is a prime example of this. A former England U16, U17, U18 and U19 captain, his off-field demons stopped him reaching his full potential. On his day, a key player, on an off day, he may as well not be on the pitch! Add that to our new international in Anthony Griffith and we seem to lack a goalscorer in the middle. Still, hopefully one can step up to the plate!
Key man: Gary Roberts. Has the ability to play in at least League 1, but is the temperament there?
It is looking likely that we will be going into the season with three recognised strikers, Marc and Justin Richards, and Ben Williamson. Talk is that Tom Pope will be joining, but at the moment, we can’t afford to match Mansfield’s offer (a sad indictment of how far we have sunk). Oh for the days when we had Tony Naylor up front.
Key man: Ben Williamson. Marc will score goals, but needs a partner who can finish. If Ben can do this, we may have a chance.
Overall, I can’t help but think that our squad is lacking a touch of quality. Looking at teams who go up, they generally have that one player who can change a match. While we have that on odd occasions, we don’t have the consistency to challenge. The question is, will hard graft get us there, or will we languish in mid table again? My prediction? Eleventh.
Written by Steve Donaldson, We Are Going Up’s Port Vale Blogger
Steve tweets at @the_vogster