Port Vale slipped to 21st after Tuesday’s 1-0 defeat at Salford – and are away to leaders Cheltenham this weekend.
Over to our fans’ panel of Ian Woodward, Chris Bentley and Andrew Blakemore.
WHAT’S YOUR TEAM?
Ian Woodward: “Brown, Mills, Legge, Smith, Crookes, Joyce, Conlon, Burgess, Taylor, Rodney, Guthrie.
Chris Bentley : “I think Darrell Clarke has seen most of his squad in action now but who he selects is anyone’s guess.
I’ll go: Brown; Mills, Smith, Legge, Crookes; Hurst, Conlon, Joyce, Taylor; Rodney, Guthrie.
Andrew Blakemore : “This is anyone’s guess. With the injuries to Cristian Montano and James Gibbons on Tuesday, it may be that Darrell Clarke opts for Zak Mills and Alex Hurst as the respective wing-backs, as I cannot see him wanting to change formation from a back five against a team top of the league.”
WHAT’S YOUR PREDICTION?
Ian Woodward : “An awful lot has happened since our last visit to Cheltenham exactly twelve months ago to the day. As we well know, that game ended goalless, saw us drop to eighth in the table and ultimately miss out on the play-offs before the season was suspended due to the ongoing pandemic a few days later. What a contrast to where we find ourselves today. We now glance nervously over our shoulders and pray that the likes of Southend, Barrow and Grimsby can be kept at bay, whilst the hosts currently occupy top spot.
“I’d certainly take another 0-0 and that probably seems our best hope given the fact that we’ve tightened up at the back but struggle to find the net. I fear it’ll be more disappointment though and predict a 2-0 defeat.”
Chris Bentley: “Sorry to be pessimistic but I can’t see any goals for the Vale and at least a couple for Cheltenham so a 2 0 defeat.”
Andrew Blakemore : “As much as we have only narrowly lost our last two league matches, we just do not look like scoring, as we come up against a team with the second-best defensive record in League Two. So, with that, I’m going with 2-0 Cheltenham, as more pressure is put on this Vale team.”
ANY OTHER BUSINESS?
Ian Woodward : “I certainly don’t envy manager Darrell Clarke at the moment and think some of the criticism aimed in his direction has been rather unfair and unjust. Whilst some may question his team selection and tactics, there’s no doubt in my mind that he’s been dealt a pretty poor hand.
“I would guess there’d be more than a few Vale fans who would choose James Gibbons, Cristian Montano, Manny Oyeleke , David Worrall, David Amoo and Tom Pope in their best starting eleven, yet all are currently out injured with some having already missed large chunks of the season. We can only speculate whether some of those injuries are as a result of this congested season but other clubs are experiencing similar problems none more so than Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool.
“Without those six, a squad of our size should be ample enough to cope but whilst some players have underperformed, others have been a downright disappointment which points the blame towards our recruitment last summer and more recently in January transfer window, when we still hadn’t appointed a manager. I’d be interested to know who was responsible for making that clutch of signings and it’s certainly a question for the Supporters’ Club virtual meeting next week.
“So I feel Darrell Clarke’s left with no option but to hope some of our injured players are back soon and in the meantime somehow cobble enough points together to keep us above the relegation trapdoor. As fans we can only watch our screens and keep our fingers well and truly crossed.”
Chris Bentley: “I’m struggling to find the positives at the moment. Most teams get a new manager bounce, we haven’t had that.
It’s virtually a year to the day since fans last saw the Vale play in person – ironically at Cheltenham.
“A question that’s bugging me is how are teams at this level surviving? It has been a year without fans in the ground for most clubs and many of them get a fraction of our fans and season ticket holders.
“Last April clubs voted to end the season because they couldn’t afford to carry on and yet here we are 12 months later and they’re all still playing and doing a lot better than us.
“We are told that Vale have lost over £1 million through lost revenue this last year with no fans so don’t other clubs suffer too? I know some money was handed down through the leagues a few months ago but surely nowhere near enough to plug the losses.
“We’re grateful to the owners for keeping us afloat during these tough times but something doesn’t add up to me with other clubs. So are they taking out loans, living on borrowed money to keep them going which will eventually catch up with them in the seasons ahead? Or have all these League Two clubs suddenly discovered rich owners that we don’t know about with bottomless pockets? “Given our position right now, one or two going bump might just help us.”
Andrew Blakemore: “The average points tally needed to survive in League 2 is 45. So, we need 11 points to ensure safety. We have 14 matches to do this. It’s really beginning to have the feel of the 2017/2018 season all over again. We may well need another home match like the Chesterfield one, that was our first three points in 14 matches. Goal difference maybe the saving grace if Barrow move out of the bottom two, given Southend and Grimsby’s goal difference.
“We need to start getting points on the board at home, and from the next three matches at home, two at least (Oldham and Newport) are a great opportunity to gain much needed victories, given their current run of form. Bolton on the other hand, may well be a different story.
“Hopefully we can at least get four points, hopefully six or more, but if we do not, the Colchester away match in two weeks could well be massive. It doesn’t matter how we win matches we just have to win, it can be 1-0, 3-2, 6-3, as long as we get the results.”