Tom Pope on Port Vale – Nathan Smith and our strongest squad since League One


So Nathan Smith is a full back now?

You’d have thought so by the way he played against Colchester last week. I’m not at all surprised he did well there because he’s first and foremost a good footballer and a solid defender.

But I have to admit he got forward more than I thought he would.

To start with I thought this challenge is perfect for him because he was up against Frank Nouble, a big, strong lad, someone he could get hold of and be aggressive with.

In fact, it seemed like Nouble thought, ‘I’m not staying here!’ Colchester’s wingers swapped over after 15 or 20 minutes so Smudge was up against Courtney Senior. He’s really quick, can go both ways and has caused mayhem against us in the past…..but he didn’t get a look in!

Smudge is a phenomenal defender but at full back your distribution has to be good as well, which his was.

Vale’s Leon Legge and Nathan Smith after the win at Northampton

That part of his game has improved but there are reasons we haven’t seen it so much.

After all, before this campaign he was in struggling teams for three years, going back to his debut season when we got relegated from League One.

So, when your team mates are making mistakes and the team is conceding goals, then as a young defender you aren’t going to take chances, you are going to clear the ball as quickly as you can.

Another thing to remember is he’s always played on the left of the two centre halves, going back from when he was in the team with Remie Streete. So, when he was bringing the ball out a lot of the time he was having to clear with his left foot. His right’s not great so he’s got no chance with his left!

Just kidding Smudge.

His performance means we have great competition at right back with James Gibbons available again now. But it’s not just there, we’ve got competition all over the pitch.

At the start of the season, people were saying we need more players in this and that position, but look at it now. We’ve had Manny Oyeleke on the bench, we could have Jake Taylor back in the squad this weekend and David Amoo is also back fit.

I haven’t seen a squad as strong as this in the two or three years since I have been back at the club.

That really is motivation for all the players who come in because everyone knows, if they have an off day or go out of the team, then there is someone ready to take their place. So, everyone lifts their game.

I came into the team and scored two at Forest Green, but got suspended and Mark Cullen came in and got two against Colchester.

After losing his place through injury, Nathan Smith had to wait on the bench for three games because Shaun Brisley has been doing so well. No problem, he just comes in and plays like that at right back.

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