Port Vale hero Phil Sproson says home form will be the key to Port Vale competing for promotion this season.
The former defender, who played 500 games for the Vale and was part of promotion-winning squads in 1982/83, 1985/86 and 1988/89, was hugely encouraged by Saturday’s first home win of the season as Darrell Clarke’s new-look side beat Harrogate 2-0.
That lifted Vale to seventh ahead of Saturday’s game at Scunthorpe.
Sproson, who was summarising on the Harrogate game for BBC Radio Stoke, says Vale are potentially a top-seven side, but not without consistent home form.
He said: “Vale have invested heavily on players, with a big budget, and you could expect them to be around the top six. But certainly the way they are playing at the moment is encouraging.
“The only thing is – and the players know this as much as I do – they have to be consistent at home.
“You are going to lose at home but the three promotion sides I played in rarely lost at home, or took the lead and lost it.
“To get in the top seven, they have to put a run together and make people think, ‘It’s Vale away on Saturday, we’re not going to get much there.’
“At worst, if you don’t play well, you don’t get beaten.”
Vale beat Harrogate thanks to quality goals from Dave Worrall and James Wilson, both of whom impressed Sproson.
First to Worrall, the winger who has regularly been used as a right-wing back by Clarke in a 3-5-2 system.
He put Vale in front on 27 minutes with a superb first-time strike, rifling the ball into the top corner from around 25 yards.
Sproson said: “As soon as he shaped up, I thought ‘goal!’
“It absolutely flew in. I saw the ball come out and immediately looked at Dave and you could see he fancied it straight away.
“It was perfection how he shaped his body and got his head over it. It was pure quality technique. “As soon as it left his boot he must have known it was going in, it was super strike.”
The goal apart, having seen Worrall’s performance on Saturday, Sproson believes the 31 year old is still an attacking threat from wing back.
He said: “I think that’s his role because he does give you the energy going forward. He makes those great little runs into the box where defenders nowadays can’t tackle because they will give a penalty away.
“His work ethic is tremendous. For a lad who has played a lot of games, he still has the desire to play at that level. I think advanced right-wing back is his best role.”
Sproson also praised James Wilson who netted his first goal of the season when he put Vale 2-0 up on 47 minutes, turning his man in the area before driving the ball low across the keeper from 15 yards.
He said: “I was really pleased for Wilson because he has come in for criticism in certain quarters and he hasn’t done himself justice. But he knew exactly what he was doing for the goal. He made the space himself and controlled it and then whipped it in the bottom corner.
“It was a really nice goal, a really good finish and the start of something for him.”
Wilson was recalled to the side on Saturday to partner Jamie Proctor, replacing Devante Rodney who was starting a three-game ban.
Sproson added: “I was asked during the commentary about what I think of the front two.
“Jamie Proctor is more of a stand up target man and Wilson, although not blessed with great pace, does work good angles for himself and make decent runs.
“It just hadn’t worked for him but you can’t fault his work ethic because he does put a shift in.
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“Before Saturday, nothing had come off for him. He was trying but nothing had come his way. But he really made that goal himself. He made the angle, knew exactly what he was doing and took it really well.
“To me they are a little bit similar. Proctor is more of a robust target man, but they haven’t got the pace or bustling power of Devante Rodney who is different from the other two.”