John Askey thanked Port Vale’s owners for standing by him as the worst run of his tenure ended with the most remarkable result.
The manager might take issue with a description of this one, ‘coming out of the blue’ because, throughout Vale’s five-game losing run, he’s been saying performances have been better than the outcome.
But even so, the Vale didn’t just win. They scored six goals away in the league for the first time in 33 years, they ended Bolton’s five-game winning run and, in the process, became the first team to stick six past Wanderers on home turf since they moved to their new stadium in 1997.
In short, the manager should have been able to enjoy his evening for the first time since results went wrong at alarming speed.
After all, 93 minutes into their home game with Tranmere on November 14, Vale were 3-2 up and chasing a fourth straight league win. Three minutes later they had lost that 4-3, and within 14 days they had also been beaten by Scunthorpe, Newport, Stevenage and Leyton Orient.
The manager had remained composed in his post-match interviews in that spell, but after winning this one, gave an insight into how he had really been feeling.
He said: “It has been like falling off a cliff face really. We have had a lot of highs since we have come in and then for it to happen like it did, it knocks you for six.
“It has been awful. I enjoy the job, I enjoy being at the Vale and it is something I don’t want to give up. But we all know, if you don’t get results, it can happen.
“I am just thankful to the players and everybody who has supported me, especially the owners who have been fantastic. I am just really pleased I live to fight another day.”
Askey confirmed the owners had spoken to him as results had unravelled.
He said: “Yes, they are really supportive and that’s what you need. You couldn’t ask for better owners than we have got and that is why you want them to be successful.
“You want the club to be successful. It has a really good feel about it which they have created and I just want some success for everybody now.”
To continue the manager’s falling-off-a-cliff analogy, hopefully he’s not just snagged on a bending branch, like Wile. E. Coyote.
It’s hard to believe that is the case because this win shouldn’t be seen as an exception to the rule over the last month – more a reminder of the progress the Vale have made under Askey since he was appointed in February 2019, coming into a club who were in a relegation fight for the third successive season.
Expectations have understandably risen at a club that finished eighth last season and has been transformed off the pitch under Carol and Kevin Shanahan.
This result moved Vale up three places to 11th, three points off the top seven which has to be the target.
It’s a realistic one if Vale can take confidence from the football they played here, overpowering Bolton from the moment Manny Oyeleke timed his run to side-foot home Cristian Montano’s super low cross, on six minutes.
Leon Legge met Dave Worrall’s cross with a well-placed downward header to double the lead, on nine minutes, but Bolton recovered to score two minutes later when Gethin Jones, who was a threat on the left throughout the first half, rifled a low shot into the corner from 16 yards.
Worrall and Cristian Montano had first-half chances, but so did Bolton so the game’s most important goal was Vale’s third, three minutes before the break, when Tom Conlon smashed a penalty into the top corner after Devante Rodney had won the ball then been bundled over by Ricardo Santos.
Even so, at half time, Bolton wouldn’t have felt they were out of an incredibly open game. They may have had to revise that opinion inside a minute of the restart when Rodney’s terrific through ball found Montano in the left of the area and the winger dinked the ball over keeper Matt Gilks and inside the far post.
The next 20 minutes were somewhere between sensational and surreal as Worrall surged into the right of the area to beat Gilks at his near post for Vale’s fifth, on fifty minutes, then crossed for Nathan Smith to head home at the back post for number six, on 62.
In the build up to the game, Bolton striker Eoin Doyle had described Vale as a team who would ‘get amongst you and rough you up’, conjuring an image of street-brawlers. But this was more like a Hollywood sword fight, Vale disarming the opponent with rapier thrusts then cutting their belt with a flourish to send their trousers tumbling to their ankles.
Bolton, however, restored some pride in the final half hour, Doyle scoring with an excellent 20-yard finish on 66 minutes before Lloyd Isgrove made it 6-3, on 78, volleying home at the back post after Scott Brown failed to hold on to a shot.
If, at this point, you were thinking Vale could still blow it from here, you weren’t alone.
As pleased as he was with the win, Askey said his team’s defending has to improve.
Asked if he was worried when Bolton pulled a goal back at 2-1, he replied: “I was worried at 6-3 with two minutes to go.”
Such are the stresses of management, although switching off at 6-1 up does not constitute a crisis. It’s fair to say John Askey has come through worse.