HOW DO YOU RATE THE VALE’S SEASON SO FAR?
IAN WOODWARD: “It’s certainly surpassed my expectations as I had us down to finish just below halfway. The Vale now look like a team, the football’s certainly better, the players look a lot fitter, there’s clearly a good spirit within the camp and we’ve become a difficult side to beat.
“Manager, John Askey seems to have the ability to get the best out of these players and one or two, whom I didn’t particularly rate a few months back, have now shown what they can do and proved a few of us doubters wrong.
“We were on a good run, had a bit of momentum and looked likely to finish in that top seven before the season was brought to this premature halt.”
MARK WALTON: “Well, it had been very enjoyable and was shaping up to a great climax – until it was all brought to a juddering halt by the current crisis. “The last time I wrote for this column was ahead of the Cheltenham game. That’s just three weeks ago but already feels like a different world.”
PHIL SHERWIN: “Excellent, a play-off push wasn’t expected by anybody.”
PAUL DIXON: “Vale now have an identity under John Askey which was sadly lacking under previous regimes. The word I would choose for Vale’s season so far is “ impressive”.
ANDREW BLAKEMORE : “Above and beyond anything I would have expected given the last few seasons we have endured. It is a real testament to everyone who has contributed at the club that we find ourselves just outside of the play-offs at present.”
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE MOMENT OF THE SEASON SO FAR?
IAN WOODWARD: “The midweek 3-1 home win over Exeter City back in January. The visitors looked a cut above the Vale in the first half, playing some neat accomplished football and looking like a side destined for League One. With us trailing 1-0 at the break, there was an expectation of more of the same to follow until that remarkable turnaround which ended Exeter’s long unbeaten run. It was just a pity it was witnessed by our lowest gate of the season.”
MARK WALTON: “It’s nearly impossible to look beyond Pope’s header at the Etihad. A genuinely great move against a world-class side and a meaningful moment within the context of the game, not just a last-minute consolation.
“I’d also mention Bennett’s second goal which confirmed the remarkable turnaround victory over Exeter that had seemed a long way off after a dire first half, and Worrall’s header to beat Northampton in a rearguard action on their patch.
“This Vale side can win in all manner of ways. My real favourite moment, however, is still to come: when we hear the whistle for the start of the next match at Vale Park.”
PHIL SHERWIN: “Tom Pope scoring at the Etihad to make it 1-1. I know we lost in the end but it wouldn’t have meant as much to score when 4-0 down or something, when we scored to make it 1-1 it made for the best five minutes of the season until Man City scored again!”
PAUL DIXON: “It has to be Tom Pope’s equaliser at the Etihad. The header was superb but the build-up play was absolutely brilliant. To see the City fans looking up to see arms legs and bodies flying everywhere was a picture. A true “ limbs” moment.”
ANDREW BLAKEMORE: “It has to be Tom Pope’s goal at the Etihad. As soon as that ball went into the box there was only one result. The scenes in the away end were unreal, watching it back still gets the hairs standing on end. For that moment, Port Vale, and all we had gone through in recent times, found ourselves level with the best club in English football.”
AND THE WORST TEAM PERFORMANCE?
IAN WOODWARD: “That 2-1 defeat at Macclesfield back in October. Truly awful and perhaps the less said the better.”
MARK WALTON: “I was spared the hidings at Grimsby and Swindon so it has to be Macclesfield away. Vale did what they’ve done so many, many times over the years and let down a big, expectant following. And that after taking the lead. Nice pubs in Macc though.”
PHIL SHERWIN : “Probably the 1-0 home defeat by Walsall when we didn’t have a shot at goal.”
PAUL DIXON: “It has to be Grimsby as we got a thumping in which most players were well below the mark they’d set themselves. It was just a performance where nothing went right. It happens though in football. A truly bad day at the office.”
ANDREW BLAKEMORE: “Easily the away trip to Salford in the Leasing.com Trophy. Following the performance against Manchester City a few days prior, it was a really disappointing display that night. I felt, had we bettered Salford at the Peninsula Stadium, we would have then gone on to beat Newport and found ourselves at Wembley.”
WHO HAS BEEN THE VALE’S BEST PERFORMER SO FAR?
IAN WOODWARD: “There are four candidates in my book, Luke Joyce, David Worrall, Nathan Smith and Leon Legge and I could make a good case for each of them. But Luke Joyce gets my vote, a player whose contribution and work rate is often overlooked or simply taken for granted. We desperately missed him against Walsall back in December – he was serving a one match ban – which coincidentally is our solitary league home defeat.”
MARK WALTON: “Non-stop Dave Worrall will probably win player of the season – if we have one – but I’m sticking with Luke Joyce.
“Askey making him the sole sitting midfielder was key to us staying up last season and this term his experience, positional play and consistency have freed up younger players like Burgess, Taylor and Conlon to do their thing further up the pitch.
“It can’t be a coincidence that the one league game he missed was our only home defeat so far. And I’m just a sucker for a classy, if unshowy, central midfielder.”
PHIL SHERWIN: “A hard one. Over the whole truncated season I would say Nathan Smith. Jake Taylor did well until he got injured and many others have had their moments but Smithy has been the most consistent with Leon Legge close behind.”
PAUL DIXON: “So many players have stepped up and performed consistently well. For me though, it has to be David Worrall.
“His energy is infectious and he has quality to go with it. A mention too for James Gibbons who must be up for young player of the season.”
ANDREW BLAKEMORE: “There are lots of contenders this season. It would have been Jake Taylor until he picked up his injury, Scott Burgess has really impressed also, but for me, it must be David Worrall. He is always consistent, he has a ridiculously high work rate and is too good for this level. It was superb news that we tied him down to a longer deal.”
WHICH OPPOSITION TEAM HAS IMPRESSED YOU THE MOST?
IAN WOODWARD: “I only go to the odd away game so I’m basing my assessment on what I’ve seen at Vale Park. There’s very little to choose between many sides in this league but Exeter City were certainly very good in that opening forty five minutes!”
MARK WALTON: “City aside, I’ll go for Exeter, even though we beat them. In the first half at Vale Park at the end of January they were definitely worth more than their one-goal lead which made our comeback all the more impressive. They’re perennial promotion chasers in this league and the sort of side we need to emulate in future if we don’t go up this season.”
PHIL SHERWIN: “Man City weren’t bad! As for the league teams, not a lot really, we have beaten nearly all of them. Exeter probably looked the best in the first half of the game at Vale Park, but after the break we made them look hopeless!”
PAUL DIXON: “I’m going for Forest Green. The way they play is high risk with playing out from the back but it’s quite easy on the eye.”
ANDREW BLAKEMORE: “I’ll go with a team that I was surprised had impressed me – Macclesfield. They deserved that point at Vale Park on New Year’s Day, they had an impressive midfield and wing, with some players I wouldn’t have minded seeing in a Vale shirt.”
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