Port Vale had a star striker injured and another in the dog-house when Huddersfield Town reported to Vale Park on March 23, 1993.
The Vale were going full tilt for promotion from what is now League One – but were having to do so without Martin Foyle, the class act centre forward whose post-war record of 108 goals in a Vale shirt has only been surpassed this season by Tom Pope.
Foyle was sidelined by a knee problem so John Rudge searched for strikers – and found a quality one when he swooped for Bernie Slaven from Middlesbrough.
If fact, 32-year-old Slaven had turned down other approaches to instead sign for the Vale.
As he explained to The Sentinel at the time: “Over the past six or seven weeks I spoke to about 15 clubs and a couple of big clubs at that.
“I looked at Port Vale’s position in the league. Obviously, I inquired about their football because I think I am a footballer not a physical player and I knew the playing surface would suit me, being a big park.
“I also knew a couple of the lads in Dean Glover and Paul Kerr, which is a big help when it comes to settling in, and John Rudge had been phoning me for six weeks, so persistence paid off in a way.”
However, Slaven blotted his copybook when he was sent off on his Vale debut, a 1-0 win at Leyton Orient, on March 20. So, a three-game ban was pending, although he was able to play against Huddersfield three days later.
Slaven added: “My record says I have never been in trouble before. It was totally my fault; the guy tried to do me and I retaliated which is down to my stupidity, but I don’t think it will happen again.”
Rudge remarked that Slaven had ‘aggravated the very problem he was brought in to solve’ by leaving the club light of strikers.
However, Vale were four points clear of Stockport in the second promotion position, behind leaders Stoke. Having beaten Orient thanks to Ray Walker’s goal, they could go into the Huddersfield game with confidence.
Huddersfield were fifth from bottom, but had won their last four games, and certainly gave the Vale a run for their money.
However, that 1992/93 Vale side had quality throughout – and an in-form midfielder won the game with the only goal, on 31 minutes.
When Chris Sulley whipped in a free kick towards the near post, Robin van der Laan was first to the ball to beat the keeper with an aggressive header.
Slaven and John Jeffers threatened a second but the Vale had to withstand a late rally from the visitors. However, Paul Musselwhite excelled to ensure one goal was enough to win it.
In fact, that was a fourth clean sheet in five games for the Vale, which was testament to Musselwhite who had been drafted in during the summer of 1992 after Mark Grew was released.
Rudge had been interested in Marlon Beresford at Sheffield Wednesday, but he eventually moved to Burnley for £90,000 while The Sentinel reported Mussewhite’s move from Scunthorpe was a bargain £5,000, rising to £17,500 on appearances.
Other players gaining recognition that week included Ian Taylor, Ray Walker and Peter Swan who were named in the League One team of the season by fellow pros in the PFA.
Walker and Swan were established players but Taylor’s recognition was just reward for the terrific impact he had made in his first season in league football, having been signed from Moor Green by Rudgie for just £15,000.
Taylor would be sold to Sheffield Wednesday for £1m two years later and go on to spend nine years at Aston Villa where he is still a club ambassador. Vale just missed out on promotion in 1992/93 but Taylor would help them do it automatically the following season.
So, he had a super career and has to be rated as one of Rudgie’s best ever signings.
Mind you, the Sentinel clippings of late March 1993 reported not everything was going his way.
“The PFA function will be a nice occasion for ‘rookie’ Taylor, who has variously been described as the find of the season.
“However, the rangy midfielder, who is currently having a stint up front, was not a happy man to discover his car had been stolen while he was helping Vale beat Exeter in the Autoglass Trophy. It has yet to be traced.”
PORT VALE 1 (van der Laan, 31)
March 23, 1993.
Port Vale: Musselwhite, Kent, Sulley, Walker, Billing, Glover, Slaven, van der Laan, Kerr, Jeffers, Taylor.
Subs not used: Houchen Porter.
Huddersfield: Clarke, Parsley, Charlton, Robinson, Smith, Jackson, Barnett, O’Regan, Onuora, Starbuck, Dunn (Stuart, 77). Not used: Mitchell.