Port Vale will be cheered on by more than 2,000 travelling fans at Walsall this afternoon as they try to edge a little closer to a play-off place. Casting an eye on issues on and off the pitch are Eddie Jackson, from Oakhill, Wayne Windsor, from Porthill, and Dan Beech from Burslem.
WHAT’S YOUR TEAM?
Eddie Jackson : “After the brilliant performance last week, I am sorely tempted to say ‘same again’ even though Gibbons and Pope are available again.
“John Askey has tended to select again players who have come in and done well. This policy has served him well, most notably in the form of the now-revered Shaun Brisley.
“The availability of Gibbons and Pope following their return from suspension would mean a very strong-looking bench so they could still play a part at Walsall.
“My team would be Brown, Smith, Legge, Brisley, Montano, Burgess, Joyce, Conlon, Worrall, Cullen, Browne.”
Wayne Windsor : “My team is Brown, Gibbons Legge, Brisley, Montano, Joyce, Burgess, Conlon, Worrall, Cullen, Browne.
“It would be a hard decision to drop Smudger from the starting line up following last week’s brilliant team performance, but I just think having Gibbo back with Wozza on the right is the more natural pairing. You can’t drop Brisley on his last two or three performances with Leggey so unfortunately for Nathan it’s a place on the bench.
“What a strong looking bench it could be with the likes of Clark and Taylor to come back in as well.
“The goalscoring Cullen keeps his place as does the excellent Browne who is like a box of tricks when he has the ball at his feet.”
Dan Beech: “Brown, Legge, Montano, Smith, Brisley, Worrall, Browne, Joyce, Conlon, Burgess and Cullen.”
WHAT’S YOUR PREDICTION?
Eddie Jackson: “Despite some improved results against them in recent years, the fact is Walsall remain a bogey side for the Vale.
“In case anyone thinks this is no longer the case they should take their minds back to December when Walsall became the first and so far only side to win a League match against the Vale at home. It was a horrible chance-free game but Walsall caught Vale sleeping after the interval and won with the only goal of the game.
“Walsall had a fine win at home last week against Northampton but have lost eight at home so perhaps our momentum might carry us through. Nevertheless, I’ll go with a 1-1 draw.”
Wayne Windsor: “I’m going for a hard fought 2-1 win to give us four wins in five games. Walsall had a creditable 3-2 comeback win last Saturday, but our last two away performances, apart from the last 10 minutes at Forest Green, have been resilient and hard fought.
“I expect the same at Walsall but with our fine form and confidence we will hopefully bring home the three points.”
Dan Beech : “Vale to get their revenge for the only home defeat earlier in the season. I am going for 1–0 victory to the Vale.”
ANY OTHER BUSINESS?
Eddie Jackson : “Vale are surprising many fans with their recent fine form against top sides. Before the Exeter home game I struggled to identify any of the following six games in which I felt confident of a win.
“As it has turned out, Vale have had a fine record in those six games, it being W4 D1 L1 with impressive victories over Exeter, Northampton, Forest Green and Colchester. This has propelled Vale into the play-off positions.
“What does the past tell us about our chances of reaching the play-offs and succeeding in them? In the past twenty years the average number of points achieved by the team finishing in the final play-off spot has been 71.
“That achieved by the side finishing in eighth spot and thus just outside the play-offs has been 69. These figures do actually mask some anomalies. In 2014 the team finishing eighth gained only 62 points so any side managing 63 points would have been in the play-offs. By way of contrast, in 2004 the team finishing just outside the play-offs in eighth spot gained a bumper 74 points, finishing behind the seventh side on goal difference.
“Each season varies but this does suggest that if Vale gained 73 points they would probably end up in a play-off position.
“How did Vale do in the final twelve games in the two seasons in which they finished in the play-offs? In season 1988/89 with twelve games left Vale lay 2nd on 60 points and in the final twelve games gained a further eighteen points and finished 3rd, beneath promoted Sheffield United on goal difference. Vale duly beat Preston and Bristol Rovers to gain promotion.
“In 1992/93 with twelve games left Vale had 53 points and lay 2nd. The final twelve games produced a record of W8 D2 L2 to end on 79 points and 3rd place again, one point behind promoted Bolton. Vale beat Stockport but then lost at Wembley to West Brom.
“It looks as though Vale stand a decent chance of reaching the play-offs but after that it is anybody’s guess as to their fate. Let’s hope for the best today and from then on.”
Wayne Windsor: “We’ll have more than 2,000 fans at Walsall having been given extra tickets after selling out the initial 1,450.
“There is definitely a feel good factor back at the club with the off field foundation work thriving in the local community, the free shirt swap that is still running and now the team doing the badge proud.
“Regarding the latter I feel this is down to the manager building an excellent team spirit, as was shown last Saturday. If a defender was beaten or was out of position there was often a midfielder or even a forward covering waiting to be the next man.
“It was a pleasure to watch the boys fighting for each other and never giving up on anything. This has to be the influence of Mr Askey and the coaches working on this in training, day after day, week after week. Now dare I say we are putting together a decent run at the right time of the season!
“There are twelve games to go, just the twelve cup finals for us supporters to travel up and down the country in numbers. Hopefully, to help the lads stay in the play-offs or even push for the top three. Who knows? One thing is for certain, neither the players nor the fans will ever give up. Maybe, just maybe, we won’t need a hotel stop in London come the middle of May as we might still be recovering from a party weekend in Plymouth!”
Dan Beech: “The whole squad has stepped up this season and Vale have showed their strength in depth.
“A lot of eyebrows were raised when we only made one loan signing (as well as re-signing Jake Taylor) but it has proved a masterstroke.
“The team spirit is evident, last seen in the last promotion season, and the brand of football on show is really pleasing to watch.
“Whatever happens in the remainder of the season, it has certainly been a successful one on and off the pitch and has laid great foundations for the future.
“It is nice to be looking up the table and not down for the first time in a long time.”