John Askey believes six more wins should be enough to put Port Vale into the play-off places. He’s probably right, the trouble is working out how likely they are to do it.
The good news is Vale managed to get a point away from home without playing anywhere near their best, but this was a reminder they will have to fight for every point over the final 11 games of the season.
They dropped out of the play-off spots on goal difference only, but are only two points off fifth so remain well positioned for a late run.
Vale historian Phil Sherwin points out that, if Askey’s side can do it, then this will be the first time the club has ever made a late surge into the play-offs. On the two previous occasions they made it, in 1989, and 1993, that was after just being pipped to automatic promotion, on both occasions from what is now League One.
The closest comparison we have to this season is 2003/04 when Vale, again in League One, went briefly into the play-off places at the end of February, remained one place outside for the whole of April and finished agonisingly short when a last-day win at Rushden and Diamonds was rendered pointless because Vale’s two nearest rivals, Swindon and Hartlepool, drew with each other to go into the play-offs at their expense.
Let’s hope this season doesn’t end in that sort of drama, or at least not that sort of disappointment.
The season will have been a success whatever happens from here, but having got themselves into a position to challenge, Askey and his players are determined to make it.
This felt like a point gained in that cause rather than two dropped because, despite having twice taken the lead, they had to withstand a 25-minute onslaught from the Saddlers which forced the equaliser at 2-2 and could easily have taken the game away from Vale.
There had been little sign of that in the first half when Leon Legge headed home Tom Conlon’s 12th-minute cross at the back post. Elijah Adebayo levelled three minutes later, scoring from the rebound when Scott Brown failed to hold on to Rory Holden’s low shot.
But a fourth straight win certainly seemed a possibility when Scott Burgess’s low strike took a deflection from Dan Scarr past keeper Jack Rose to restore Vale’s lead seven minutes before the break.
But Walsall, who came from 2-0 down at the break to win 3-2 at home to Northampton last week, tore into Vale in the second half and levelled when Odebayo found Josh Gordon to drill the ball past Brown.
They should have taken the lead when Adebayo was free at the back post and he must have been as surprised as the rest of us when his shot was somehow kept out by Brown who had come flying across his line.
Vale actually rallied in the final 15 minutes, helped by the introduction of David Amoo and Tom Pope, but also by their 2,300 travelling supporters who raised the volume to urge and encourage their team back into the game.
David Worrall almost nicked the win but was denied by Rose, whose save with his legs was excellent but still a distant second for save of the game behind Brown’s stunner to deny Adebayo.
Askey said: “I thought we were reasonably comfortable in the first half. Scott’s disappointed with the first goal. It changed things, gave them a lift when, had it stayed 1-0 for a little bit longer, we might have taken control of the game.”
Brown, however, certainly made amends. Askey added: “That is the what I said to him after. That is a sign of a good keeper – one who makes a mistake but doesn’t let it bother them.
“He has got us the point in the end. Scott has been fantastic for us so you can never criticise him. All keepers make mistakes, it is how you react after.”
We’ll also see how the Vale react to a below par performance.
The manager added: “We have been on a good run and we didn’t play as well as we have been doing. But that’s taking nothing away from Walsall who I think played well at times.
“We’ll know at the end of the season whether it is a good point, or not so good, but it keeps us moving in the right direction. I always think a point away from home is a decent score.
“We now have more home games than away games and with our home form, it gives us an advantage. If we can win all our home games we know we will be in and around it.”