The wheels on the Port Vale wagon are in danger of well and truly falling off and it is caretaker manager Michael Brown who is now having to shoulder the responsibility of securing the club’s survival in League One.
And let’s make no mistake, the 40-year-old now has one hell of a job on his hands if he is to steer the club to safety in his first managerial role.
A difficult current state of affairs
Brown stepped into the breach following the resignation of Portuguese coach Bruno Ribiero on Boxing Day, inheriting a team that was entrenched in a winless run and was sliding the wrong way down the table. To make matters worse he has been forced to endure a tortuous January transfer window that has seen Port Vale stripped of some of their prized assets by rival clubs and being replaced by inexperienced youngsters on short-term loan deals.
Top goal scorer Alex Jones elected to join Bradford City when his loan deal expired whilst Jak Alnwick and Anthony Grant, arguably two of the club’s most influential players, departed on deadline day to Glasgow Rangers and Peterborough respectively. In essence the club sold the spine of the team with the only minor positive being that central defenders Remie Streete and Nathan Smith were not tempted away by any rival teams.
However, despite the considerable financial income generated by the player sales Brown has struggled to fill the obvious gaps that were left in his playing squad.
When the transfer window slammed shut at 11:00pm on deadline day Vale had secured the signings of Scott Tanser, Danny Pugh and Chris Eagles on free transfers plus five promising youngsters from Championship and Scottish Premier League clubs. Callum Guy (from Derby County), Tyler Walker (Nottingham Forest), Leo Fasan (Glasgow Celtic), Olamide Shodipo and Alex Prohouly (both from Queens Park Rangers) all arrived on loan until the end of the season.
The end result is that Vale are now left with a first-time manager leading a struggling squad of inexperienced young players.
Brown almost certainly would have wanted to have brought in players who have proven themselves in the Football League during the January window but has been left having to place much of his faith promising youngsters.
The challenge ahead and what is required
The Valiants now sit in 19th place in League One, just four points above the relegation zone, and have won just two of their last sixteen league fixtures. A season that started so promisingly could now realistically end in a drop into the fourth tier of English football and supporters now have to hope that Brown can turn the tide at Vale Park.
Quite where the blame should lie for the current state of events at Vale Park is irrelevant – there will be plenty of time for reviews and finger pointing when the summer arrives. Instead, Port Vale requires the support of their fan-base now more than ever before if the club is to avoid slipping into League Two. Supporters now have to unite behind Brown and give the new cohort of young players the backing that they need so that they can take to the pitch with confidence.
Things may not be perfect, but all is not lost.
If Brown can steer Vale to safety then the team will have the opportunity to undergo an extensive rebuilding project during the summer. From there, The Valiants will require stability, consistency and patience if the club is to grow into a genuine contender for promotion before the turn of the decade. A long term plan will be required in order to create a bright future, but first the club must overcome the immediate threat of relegation that it faces.
And that will require the caretaker manager and his new-look squad of youngsters being backed to the hilt by the Port Vale faithful.
Featured Image: All Rights Reserved Leam David (Leam David)
Three reasons for Port Vale supporters to be optimistic for the New Year
The last decade has been a turbulent time for Port Vale supporters with the club going into administration, securing promotion to League One and suffering relegation back to the fourth tier of English football.
The club made a poor start to the new campaign under the stewardship of Michael Brown and it was little surprise to see the former Sheffield United midfield dismissed in late-September with the Valiants sitting 22nd in the table and facing the very real prospect of dropping out of the Football League.
However, with a new manager in place and results steadily improving there is now hope that Port Vale’s worst days are behind them and that the club can begin building for the future.
Here The Boot Room identifies three reasons why Port Vale supporters should be optimistic for the New Year.
The Neil Aspin effect
When Neil Aspin walked into Vale Park for his first day as manager on October 4th 2017 he would have found a club that was in turmoil, spiralling towards a second successive relegation and had a fan base that had become completely dismayed and frustrated by what they were seeing both on and off the pitch. However, the arrival of the 52-year-old, already recognised as a Port Vale legend having made over 300 appearances for the Valiants between 1989 and 1999, has stimulated a dramatic upturn in the club’s fortunes.
Aspin has helped to unify the supporters and galvanise the current group of players, guiding the team from 22nd place in League Two up to 19th. He has gone back to basics and suddenly Port Vale are no longer so easy to beat with results and performances drastically improving. A return of 16 points from a possible 27 accurately demonstrates the progress that the team has made under Aspin’s management.
There is still plenty of work to do, with the Valiants only one point clear of the relegation zone, but Aspin’s arrival has stimulated a revival at Vale Park that has supporters looking forward to the future.
The January transfer window
The dramatic upturn in results at Vale Park following the arrival of Neil Aspin is even more remarkable considering the squad that he inherited.
There has been an astonishing turnover of players at Port Vale over the previous two seasons following Bruno Ribiero’s failed ‘foreign revolution’ transfer policy and Michael Brown’s amateurish attempt to correct the mistakes of his predecessor.
Aspin inherited a squad of 33 players that was unbalanced, heavily reliant on loan transfers and characterised by a lack of quality throughout. The fact that he has facilitated a revival at the club is tantamount to his managerial expertise.
However, the January transfer window will provide Aspin with the perfect opportunity to begin to mould the current Port Vale squad into what he wants it to be. Expect the 52-year-old to trim down the size of the squad, remove any deadwood and begin to bring in the players that will genuinely provide supporters with some hope for the future.
The club’s transfer policy in recent years has been a scatter-gun approach with little thinking or long-term planning behind decisions, but under Aspin there is a sense of trust that he will take a much more thoughtful and purposeful approach to the January window.
The major positive for supporters is that League Two does not consist of teams that are blessed with an abundance of top-quality talent. A handful of good signings in January and a little bit of momentum on the pitch could easily provide the stimulus for the club to climb into the relative safety of mid-table and, maybe, even higher.
The return of The Pope
One of the few meaningful pieces of transfer business that Michael Brown agreed in the summer was negotiating the return of striker Tom Pope to Vale Park. The 32-year-old striker had been a key part of The Valiant’s promotion campaign in 2013, where he scored 33 goals and was named as the League Two Player of the Year, and his departure in the summer of 2015 arguably marked the beginning of the club’s gradual decline.
Pope’s homecoming failed to spark an immediate revival in Port Vale’s fortunes. Under Brown, the team looked disjointed, defensively fragile and impotent in front of goal, to such an extent that the striker scored just one goal between the start of the season and the late-September. However, the arrival of Neil Aspin has galvanised the club and Pope has quickly rediscovered his prolific instinct in front of goal following the managerial change.
He has scored nine goals in thirteen appearances for the Valiants since Aspin’s appointment and appears to be full of confidence, energy and enthusiasm. In League Two, Pope possesses all of the attributes to be one of the most dangerous strikers in the division and his return to goal scoring form will bode well for the club’s immediate future. Goals are the most valuable commodity in football, something that the 32-year-old will provide Port Vale as long as he receives the right kind of service.
Port Vale round-up: Postponement hands advantage to relegation rivals; new signing confirmed; Smurthwaite speaks out.
Port Vale dropped further into the League One relegation zone after seeing their mid-week fixture against Rochdale postponed.
The Valiants would have been hopeful of securing a result at Spotland with their hosts on a seven-game winless run but were forced to sit out the fixture after the match officials called the game off due to a water-logged pitch. This gave their relegation rivals the opportunity to gain an advantage with Swindon Town, Bury and Oldham Athletic all capatalising by securing victories in their mid-week contests to leave Michael Brown’s side five points from safety.
However, Port Vale do have three games in hand on many of the teams in the bottom half of the table, although supporters would much prefer to have the points on the board.
Port Vale have announced the signing of 24-year-old goalkeeper Deniz Mehmet on a short term deal via the official club website.
The former Turkish youth international has been without a club since January after leaving Scottish second-tier side Falkirk by mutual consent due to a lack of game time. The 6ft 3in goalkeeper made only five appearances for The Bairns in twelve months at the club, the last of which was in October 2016.
Mehmet was born in Kent and but has spent time at various clubs as a youth team player in both England and Turkey whilst he has also represented the Turkish under-19 team twice. He becomes the second goalkeeper to sign for Port Vale since the departure of first-choice ‘keeper Jak Alnwick, who moved to Glasgow Rangers for £250,000 in January, and will be competing with Glasgow Celtic loanee Leo Fasan for a place in The Valiants’ starting eleven.
Port Vale coach Mick Ede believes that some of the current first team squad should be performing much better if they want to break into Michael Brown’s first team.
Ede was speaking after The Valiants’ fielded a strong team in their mid-week reserve team fixture against Bradford City but produced a poor performance in a two-goal defeat. First team players Scott Tanser, Paulo Tavares, Axel Prohouly, Seb Amoros, Sam Kelly, Dan Turner and Olomide Shodipo were all selected in the starting line-up whilst Quentin Pereira and Gezim Shalaj came off the bench during the second half. However, it is unlikely that many of the senior players involved in the contest will be knocking on the manager’s door demanding to be selected in the first team after a poor showing.
Ede told the Stoke Sentinel that the overall performance levels were simply not good enough at a time when players should be trying to force their way into Michael Brown’s plans.
“We fielded a team there which we thought should have gone on and won the game. We weren’t good enough. The last words we said before the game were “with how it is in the first team, you have to be looking to try and force your way in”. But after that performance I don’t think that many of them can be knocking on the gaffer’s door and saying “I should be playing on Saturday”. We looked a poor outfit.”
Deniz Mehmet featured in the reserve team fixture on the same day that he signed a contract with The Valiants whilst former Coventry midfielder Ivor Lawton, who is currently without a club, also made an appearance.
Port Vale chairman Norman Smurthwaite has told supporters that he remains committed to “leaving the club in a better place than when he started” and insists that he will only sell if the right buyer comes forward.
Smurthwaite took the unorthodox approach of communicating via the unofficial Port Vale supporters’ website onevalefan and posted a variety of replies on an open forum thread discussing the club’s finances.
The chairman defended his tenure at Vale Park but did admit that he had made mistakes. He insisted that he was determined to correct any errors that he had made, would now take a backseat from the day to day running of the club and revealed that he would only sell if a buyer with genuine financial backing came forward. Joint club secretary / chief executive Colin Garlick is handling the club’s affairs and Smurthwaite reiterated his belief that “with a fair wind and lady luck things will improve”.
However, he faced significant criticism from many supporters with some insisting that he should step down or sell the club at the nearest possible opportunity. Smurthwaite was accused of alienating fans, wasting money on players and for the club not taking a more active role in the local community. There were also concerns aired that the club had been separated from the ground and that £3,700,000 was owed to the chairman through the money he had invested via director’s loans.
Smurthwaite purchased Port Vale in November 2012 and has overseen promotion from League Two and four consecutive seasons in League One. However, the club currently sit in the relegation zone and have not won a game since the turn of the year.
Vale Park is set to host international football later this year when England Women continue their preparations for the UEFA Women’s Euro 2017 finals.
The Lionesses will travel to The Potteries and use the home of Port Vale when they face Italy on Friday 7th April 2017.
Full details are available via The FA official website.
Featured Image: All Rights Reserved Ben Stanley-Clarke (Ben Stanley-Clarke)
Port Vale round-up: Eagles overcomes personal tragedy; Kiko confident of survival; former striker not set to feature
Chris Eagles has revealed that he is happy to back playing football again after overcoming a personal tragedy and is confident that Port Vale have the quality within the current squad to climb out of the relegation zone.
The 31-year-old began his career at Manchester United and has previously played in the Premier League with Burnley and Bolton Wanderers. However, after he and his partner lost his son during childbirth in 2015 the midfielder elected to take some time out of the game. He told the Stoke Sentinel:
“I lost my son and we had stillbirth. It was a difficult time. I wanted time out”.
Last season Eagles joined Bury but failed to cement his place in the starting eleven and proceeded to play for Accrington Stanley earlier this campaign before joining Port Vale in January. Michael Brown handed the experienced wide-man his first start last weekend and Eagles explained to the Stoke Sentinel that he was happy to be back playing again.
“This year I believe I am happy. The fans have been brilliant and the club so far, from what I have seen, has been really good. Having a manager that believes in you … there is nothing better. If you have a boss that has faith and confidence in you then you are going to be happy. That is how I feel.”
Vale secured a point against Bristol Rovers at the weekend but dropped into the relegation zone for the first time this campaign, but Eagles believes that The Valiants have enough quality to secure safety.
“I am very confident that there is no chance we will go down. That is just my opinion. It has not even crossed my mind to be honest. The players that are here, they have played at a higher level – Danny [Pugh] has played higher and JT [Jerome Thomas] has.”
The experienced midfielder admitted that the rough-and-tumble nature of lower league football had taken some time to get used to, but that he was enjoying his football once again.
“The higher up you go, you can get on the ball, turn, run with it and create. But here it is very physical. People are right up your back as soon as you get the ball. It is just something that I have to learn, but I am loving every minute of it here.”
Bradford City manager Stuart McCall has revealed that former Port Vale striker Alex Jones will not feature against his old club when the two sides clash on Saturday.
The 22-year-old scored 10 goals in 21 appearances for The Valiants earlier in the season after joining on loan from Championship strugglers Birmingham City in the summer. However, when his initial loan deal expired in January Jones opted to sign for Bradford City rather than remain in North Staffordshire leaving Vale without a prolific goalscorer in their ranks – the striker is still technically their top scorer this season.
Jones has struggled with injuries since joining The Bantams, making just four appearances, and McCall told the Bradford Telegraph that the 22-year-old will not feature in this weekend’s fixture.
“Saturday will be too soon for Alex. Doing a bit of running with the physio is very different to joining with the rest – but the signs look promising at the moment. Hopefully Alex is on the med and will be available again before too long.”
Vale supporters will breathe a sigh of relief that their former star striker will not have the opportunity to come back and haunt them this weekend.
Portuguese defender Kiko insists that the current Port Vale squad need to “work hard” and play a “passing game” if they are to haul themselves away from the relegation zone.
The left-back was recalled to starting line-up at the weekend and played a pivotal role in The Valiants taking the lead after his cross was turned unwittingly into the back of the Bristol Rovers net by Bob Harris for an own goal. However, the visitors responded through Billy Bodin to secure a point and the result leaves Vale in the bottom four for the first time this campaign.
However, Kiko explained to the Port Vale official website that there were plenty of positives to take away from the contest.
“I think that the team had a good game and every player worked hard, but unfortunately they managed to get an equaliser. But if we keep working as hard as we did today then the victory will come. We need to work hard and play our passing game.”
The 24-year-old has found first team action hard to come by so far this campaign and his selection in the starting eleven last weekend was his first since mid-December. Kiko now has his eye set on keeping his place when The Valiants host Bradford City on Saturday.
“Whether it is me or Kjell or Tanser playing left back, we are all good players, so we will see. I will work for a starting position against Bradford next week.”
Port Vale Chairman Norman Smurthwaite has commented for the first time on crowd disturbances that took place in the away end during Saturday’s fixture against Bristol Rovers.
Clashes between stewards and visiting supporters erupting late in the second half inside the stadium whilst violence continued outside the ground after the final whistle. 30 Bristol Rovers supporters were ejected from Vale Park whilst there were also a number of arrests, including a steward who was detained on suspicion of assault. The weekend’s events have been widely reported across the mainstream media and Rovers chairman Steve Hamer described the treatment of away fans as a “disgrace” and has called for a full investigation.
Smurthwaite has released a short statement via Port Vale’s official website offering reassurances that the club is working behind the scenes to analyse and dissect the crowd disturbances.
“I would like to reassure everyone that myself, CBI (our security partners) and Staffordshire Police are currently investigating the disorder. The safety of all supporters and staff remains of paramount importance to us.”
It remains unclear as to the reason(s) behind Saturday’s events. Rovers supporters have complained of a lack of seating and heavy-handed policing whilst there have also been reports of a steward being racially abused. It is hoped that the on-going investigations will provide a clearer picture in the near future.
Featured Image: All Rights Reserved Ben Stanley-Clarke (Ben Stanley- Clarke)
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