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Three reasons for Port Vale supporters to be optimistic for the New Year

Martyn Cooke



Port Vale

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.

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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.

Martyn is currently a PTA and Research Assistant in the Department of Exercise Science at the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). In addition to his teaching role he is also undertaking a PhD in Sports History that is exploring the origins and development of football in Staffordshire. Prior to working at MMU, Martyn spent a decade operating in the sport and leisure industry in a variety of roles including as a Sports Development Officers, PE Teacher, Football Coach and Operation Manager.

Port Vale

Port Vale round-up: Postponement hands advantage to relegation rivals; new signing confirmed; Smurthwaite speaks out.

Martyn Cooke



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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Port Vale round-up: Eagles overcomes personal tragedy; Kiko confident of survival; former striker not set to feature

Martyn Cooke



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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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Port Vale round-up: Brown says “it’s not rocket science”; Captain speaks out; loan round-up

Martyn Cooke



Port Vale caretaker manager Michael Brown has admitted that the club’s current struggles in League One are “not rocket science”.

The 40-year-old has been in temporary charge of The Valiants since the departure of Bruno Ribiero in December and has been handed the challenge of steering the club away from the relegation zone.

Brown admitted that the summer recruitment policy has been one of the main reasons behind the poor results this campaign. In pre-season, Ribiero invested heavily in signing young players from the continent with a focus on quantity rather than quality. With so many new faces, many of whom had never experienced the rigours of English football before, Brown told the Stoke Sentinel that the club’s current predicament comes as little surprise to him:

“We had 15 players who had never played in the league before. So, we know what we were heading towards and we knew we had a difficult window. We lost two of our best players. It’s not rocket science is it?”

The January transfer window saw the high-profile departures of Alex Jones, Anthony Grant and Jak Alnwick with Vale having to bring in inexperienced young players on loan in order to act as short-term replacements. However, Brown believes that his youthful side will turn the corner and that patience is needed. He has also highlighted the example set by academy graduate Nathan Smith, who has been one of the club’s most consistent performers this season despite having only made his Football League debut at the start of the campaign.

“It is very difficult, a lot of these boys have not played football. That is what we have got and we have to teach them and show them the ropes and try to guide them as best we can”

“He [Smith] was great again. He cramped up, he hadn’t trained in the week but he was still looking over and saying ‘I’m ok, I am there to stay, leave me where I am’. That is the desire we need.”

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Port Vale captain Ben Purkiss has spoken out in support of caretaker manager Michael Brown and made it clear that he believes that the club’s current problems were due to the previous managerial regime.

The Valiants currently sit in 19th place in League One, just four points above the relegation zone, and have won just two of their previous sixteen league fixtures. The threat of dropping into the fourth tier of English football is suddenly a very realistic possibility but Purkiss believes that Brown and his staff are working hard to correct issues that they inherited from the previous manager, Bruno Ribeiro.

The Portuguese coach resigned on Boxing Day following a poor run of results and Purkiss told the Stoke Sentinel that the team were ill-prepared for the season under the previous regime.

“It has been really difficult for the coaches coming in to drag us from where we were. People in comfort zones, people not fit enough. I felt pre-season was poor. I didn’t think the lads were conditioned at all to approach the games and I think that has probably been reflected in performances”.

Brown has won just one of his five league games since stepping in as caretaker manager and has been forced to endure a challenging transfer window that saw a number of Vale’s most influential players depart from the club. However, Purkiss revealed that the new manager is working hard to correct the club’s current problems.

“Everyone knows the situation … trust me the work people have put in over the past three or four weeks. We have been reaping the rewards from that in terms of the performances and the energy on the pitch”.

Despite the current run of poor form and the home defeat against Peterborough at the weekend, there is a feeling amongst the supporters and those within the club that Brown is doing the best that he can considering the situation he inherited.

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Joe Slinn is the latest Port Vale academy graduate to sign a professional contract with The Valiants as the club continue their recent record of bringing young players through the youth ranks and into the first team picture.

The goalkeeper has signed an eighteen-month contract with an option for a further year.

Slinn follows in the footsteps of the likes of Nathan Smith and Dan Turner in progressing through the Vale academy system to sign professional terms with the club, although he is not expected to be in immediate contention for a first team place. He is also one in a growing list of young goalkeeping talent that The Valiants have produced in the last decade with Chris Martin, Joe Anyon, Sam Johnson, Ryan Boot and Harry Pickering all progressing through the youth ranks within the last ten years.

It is further evidence that Port Vale’s academy is flourishing under the stewardship of Sevvy Aslam and the development of home-grown talent is thought to be a high priority for chairman Norman Smurthwaite.

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On-loan Port Vale goalkeeper Sam Johnson was named as man of the match for his outstanding performance for Halifax Town over the weekend. The 24-year-old saved a penalty and kept a clean sheet as his side beat Altrincham 1-0.

Ryan Lloyd did not feature for Chester this weekend after being omitted from the matchday squad due to illness. The 22-year-old Vale loanee has been a consistent performer for the National League side this campaign.

Billy Reeves made his debut for Stafford Rangers after joining on loan for the remainder of the season. The young Valiant was a second-half substitute but could not prevent his side losing 2-1 against Buxton.

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Other news:

  • Port Vale chairman Norman Smurthwaite is continuing the club’s search for a new striker – via Twitter. The Valiants’ supremo sent a public message to former United States international Freddy Adu asking the free agent if he would like to “fancy coming over to the UK and play in LG1”. (Stoke Sentinel).
  • Port Vale’s fixture with Shrewsbury Town has been moved to Friday 17th March (7:45 pm kick off). (Club Website).
  • Port Vale have revealed that they are extending the deadline for their season-ticket instalment scheme. Supporters now have until the end of February to secure their 2017/18 season ticket if they wish to pay through monthly instalments. (Stoke Sentinel).

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