Problems mount for Port Vale after another late defeat



Port Vale find themselves stumbling into Tuesday’s game at Stevenage, desperately trying not to fall flat on their faces.

Just over a week ago they seemed to be climbing into a top four position, leading 2-0 at home to Tranmere – but blew that after Luke Joyce was sent off, and lost 4-3, didn’t seem to have recovered from that with a poor 1-0 midweek defeat at home to Scunthorpe, then lost their footing again at Newport on Saturday just as they had almost regained their balance. 

They are working hard, it’s difficult to see how they could have worked harder at Rodney Parade and, having had Leon Legge sent off after 58 minutes, would have taken great belief and satisfaction from holding on for a goalless draw at the home of the league leaders.

They were within a minute of doing it before Matty Dolan’s corner ricocheted to substitute Kevin Ellison who showed, at 41, he’s lost none of his instincts in front of goal as he smashed the ball into the roof of the net.

Game over, no time to recover, Vale had conceded in the 96th-minute for the second weekend in a row.

That has to take a toll on their collective confidence. Vale weren’t perfect before the Tranmere game, they had just been knocked out of the FA Cup by King’s Lynn, but they were on a run of three successive league wins and seemed to be gathering some momentum.

They only drop a place to ninth, but expectation is so much higher after finishing eighth last season.  The Stevenage game is an opportunity against a side who are second bottom with just one win, but will still be a test of what may be fragile confidence, as well as an injury-hit squad.

Tom Pope is out, having missed the Newport game because he is isolating, and David Amoo may also be absent,  having not travelled to Newport because of a hamstring concern. But Vale’s biggest problems are in midfield as Luke Joyce will be serving the last of his three-game ban, Danny Whitehead is out with a foot injury and Tom Conlon also looks likely to be ruled out having hobbled off at half time with an Achilles problem.

The solution for the second half on Saturday was to move Dave Worrall from wide on the left into an attacking role in the midfield three. He did well in both positions but the ‘attacking’ part of the job was mostly theoretical after Legge’s second yellow card left Vale to play 32 minutes, plus stoppages, with ten men, a period that increasingly became attack against defence.

There was no disputing either of Legge’s yellow cards, having been late to the ball for his first, on four minutes, and his decisive second. Newport had been threatening anyway in the opening stages of the second half although Vale had pretty much held their own before the break.

The home side had enjoyed the better of the chances, including two smart saves from saves from Scott Brown to deny Liam Shephard, but Conlon had tested keeper Nick Townsend from long range and Mark Cullen fired too close to the keeper from ten yards as well as mistiming a near post header from an excellent Worrall cross.

But after Legge’s dismissal it was just a question of whether Vale would be able to hold out.  Newport’s attacks became ever more ferocious until Ellison’s strike with just seconds left – the fourth time in six home games they have won the match with a goal in the 88th minute or later.

Their manager Michael Flynn said: “The pleasing thing is that we are creating chances, which we weren’t doing that so much last year.

“We are creating chance after chance and it took until the 96th minute to get the winner.

“I don’t care if we score the winner in the first minute or the last, it’s three points and we thoroughly deserved it. We had over 60 per cent possession and 24 shots but we just didn’t test the keeper enough.”

For Vale, they could only reflect on, once again, not quite holding on having had to play for a long spell with ten men. Vale were better with a man down at Newport than they had been against Tranmere but what would have been a morale-boosting draw against the odds turned in the instant of Ellison’s goal to a demoralising defeat and inevitable questioning of performances.

Asked about criticism, Askey said: “All we can do is concern ourselves with ourselves. As long as we are trying our best, which we are doing, myself included, then that is all you can do.

“We are still in a reasonable position. We have to turn the corner again now. Keep fighting. I am sure we will with the players we have got, then hopefully come Christmas and January we are in a position where we are pushing again.”





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