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.