Deflated but determined to continue, John Askey had his say immediately after this shocker of a performance at Mansfield.
While reporters tried to keep the snow off their equipment, Askey was clearly trying to keep his composure, analyse the game and field questions about his own position.
He said comment and speculation about his future was inevitable, but in a BBC Radio Stoke interview made a cryptic reference.
Asked if he still felt he had more to give and could get through this situation, he said: “Yes, I think if it’s a level playing field, I’ve proved in the past I can. But it’s not a level playing field at the moment. I have seen a lot of strange happenings going on but as long as I am manager I will give it everything I have got. If one or two are not fighting then I can assure you I am.”
Whatever the strange happenings are, there were enough obvious ones at Mansfield as the team turned in arguably the worst performance of his 23-month reign.
Outplayed from the start, a goal down inside 50 seconds and 2-0 down by the break, Askey hoped to change things by bringing on Dave Worrall, Cristian Montano and Tom Pope for the second half. Worrall and Montano are just making their way back from injury so weren’t fit enough to start, but hopes they could help swing the game back to Vale were ended two minutes into the second half when Leon Legge mistimed a tackle on the edge of his own area, giving referee Ben Toner no choice but to brandish a second yellow card.
In fairness to Legge, Vale had been left horribly exposed after losing the ball in midfield, but there were no mitigating circumstances for his first-half booking, earned after jumping into a challenge on the half-way line.
Askey had no complaints about the dismissal, saying: “No, none at all. I thought the first one was reckless, stupid really, there was no need to make the challenge and in the end it ended up costing us.
“It was debatable whether to take him off at half time and put Zak (Mills) on, but within a few minutes he had got himself sent off.
“But again we had good possession of the ball and have contrived to somehow give it away.”
While Legge’s exit killed any hopes of a comeback, it’s a stretch to say Vale could have rescued this game with 11 men. Mansfield had dominated the first half as Vale showed none of the resilience they had managed in Tuesday’s goalless draw at Bradford.
They never recovered from a dreadful opening when Scott Brown tipped Harry Charsley’s shot on to the post but Ollie Clarke was allowed to run unchecked onto the rebound and squeezed a shot between the keeper and his near post.
The Stags’ second goal, secured on 32 minutes when Jordan Bowery swept home George Maris’s low cross, was the least they deserved from a first half in which they dealt with a tricky pitch much better than Vale did.
Heavy snow in the second half made the conditions more difficult, although by that point Vale’s best hope of escaping defeat was to have the game called off. The referee had to pause the game so the groundstaff could clear the lines, but Mansfield were happy enough on the surface, overpowering Vale’s ten men to score twice in the final 20 minutes.
Bowery scored from the spot on 77 minutes, after Scott Burgess brought down Harry Charsley, then completed his hat-trick on 82, racing into the left of the area before drilling the ball across Brown and in off the far post.
Vale were spared further misery when Mansfield substitute Tyrese Sinclair, son of Vale head of youth development Frank, put an 87th-penalty wide after Nathan Smith had brought him down.
But there was misery enough as Vale dropped to within five points of the relegation zone on a run of six points from 12 games.
Vale will be better with the return of Montano and Worrall, as well as James Gibbons, who is back in training after hamstring surgery, and Tom Conlon, who has been isolating after a positive Covid-19 test.
Next up is the home game with second-from-bottom Grimsby on Saturday. File under ‘relegation battle’ – something Vale hoped they had left behind when Askey guided the club to safety after his appointment for the final three months of 2018/19 then led the team to eighth last season.
The manager added: “The first thing is, we have a lot of players who are available to us in that game. That could make all the difference because we have seen, when they are all available, then they are more than capable and there is no reason why we can’t get results. Obviously it has to change really quickly.”