Port Vale head to promotion rivals Cheltenham, the first of ten remaining games for John Askey’s side to try to secure a play-off place. Over to our fans’ panel of Supporters Club chairman Mark Porter, from Kidsgrove, Mark Walton, from London, and Andrew Blakemore, from Denford….
WHAT’S YOUR TEAM?
Mark Porter : “I would bring Mitch Clark and Tom Pope in for Mark Cullen and Cristian Montano. Popey scored a hat-trick the last time he was at Cheltenham so he’s in my team. But both Mark Cullen and Monty would be unlucky to miss out.”
Mark Walton: “I’d bring in Clark for Montano and ask Pope to repeat his heroics from November’s cup game. And look to Taylor off the bench if we need a goal. Brown, Gibbons, Legge, Smith, Clark, Joyce, Conlon, Burgess, Amoo, Pope, Worrall.
Andrew Blakemore : “If Mark Cullen and Cristian Montano miss out, then Tom Pope and Mitchell Clark are the two choices for me to take their places. I would probably opt for Pope to start, given how Cheltenham couldn’t cope with him in the FA Cup tie. My XI: Brown, Gibbons, Clark, Smith, Legge, Joyce, Burgess, Amoo, Conlon, Worrall, Pope.
WHAT’S YOUR PREDICTION?
Mark Porter : “Heart or head? My heart says 3-1 to the Vale again, my head says a 2-1 defeat. I’ll compromise and go for the Vale to just edge it! Cheltenham are on a great run but that has to end sometime.
Mark Walton: “Whatever the score, there will be some severe weather. These days we need a meteorologist not a manager to take the team talk.”
Andrew Blakemore: “Cheltenham have only lost two games at home in the league all season, but we did win in the FA Cup in November. I’ll go for a 1-1 draw, with Tom Pope heading home.
ANY OTHER BUSINESS
Mark Porter : “Thanks to everyone who has contributed to the fund-raising for the Lorne Street concourse. The response has been unbelievable, with more than £7,000 raised and 200 people donating in less than a week since we launched the gofundme page.
“I am really pleased and feel that we will get, if not all the money needed to finish the concourse, at least a large proportion of it. As well as the fund-raising page we will also have a bucket collection for the home game against Crawley.
“Work first started on that stand 22 years ago, before some fans were born.
“I just think it’s important to get it finished to close that chapter and look forward to a new one.
“A finished stand will be a great asset for the club. Also, as someone who grew up watching games on the Lorne Street, it would mean a lot to see it finished.
“That was back in the early 1980s when by big hero was Bob Newton but I also loved watching Phil Sproson, Jimmy Greenhoff, Mark and Neville Chamberlain, Ernie Moss, Barry Siddall, Paul Maguire, Paul Bowles, Mark Bright, Gerry Keenan, Russell Bromage, Robbie Earle, Andy Shankland and many more.
“Like many Vale fans, I even went to watch Mark Chamberlain make his debut for Stoke after they bought him from us. As I remember it was against Arsenal and he tore Kenny Sansom apart.
“As lad, I was a paperboy for Roy Sproson, whose shop was on Buxton Street on Sneyd Green. He used to tell us all the stories of the Vale but I never realised until later on what a legend he is.
“Looking back, I was delivering papers for a man who 837 games for Vale has a statue outside the ground!
“As I got older I moved from the Lorne Street to the paddock, but that was where I started my journey with Port Vale.”
Mark Walton: “What a wonderfully unexpected season this is turning out to be. We were meant to be snuggling up to 15th place, safe in the warm bath of mid-table mediocrity, free from both hopes of promotion and fears of the drop.
“Instead, on the 17th highest budget in the league, we find ourselves with a more than realistic chance of making the play-offs.
“Hope is fatal for the football fan of course. But it hit me last weekend, even as I walked away from Vale Park unsure which stung more – the biting wind or Scunthorpe’s late equaliser, that I was actually enjoying this campaign.
“There’s no mystery about why I’m feeling so much better: we don’t lose many games.
“Living where I do I can’t get to every match but I’ve still managed 29 so far and seen us lose… three: at Newport (a typical Vale away defeat where we didn’t really do enough), Macclesfield (as bad as we’ve been this season), and City (no surprise there).
“Contrast that with the last two seasons where I saw roughly 65 games combined and 30 of them were defeats. A near-50 per cent loss rate doesn’t put a spring in your step heading down Hamil Road.
“But this term we’ve suffered just 11 losses in all competitions and only two of our rivals have fewer league defeats, remarkable really when you consider how bad we were for three years.
“Getting beat under Askey isn’t our problem – holding on to leads is.
“So far we’ve dropped a crazy 27 points from a winning position (have we ever had a worse record? One for Phil Sherwin) while gaining 12 when we’ve been behind, a net deficit of 15. Half of those points would have put us in contention for automatic promotion.
“Last Saturday’s match was the season in microcosm: we play well and take the lead but don’t get a second that would finish off a deeply ordinary Scunny, concede a soft leveller, then go ahead again only to let in an even softer equaliser.
“Why was that? Fingers have been pointed at Brown and Legge for the second goal and Askey for not making substitutions earlier. Did the players literally freeze in the second half? God knows it was cold enough. Do we lack that killer instinct? Only four of our 14 league wins have been by two or more clear goals, and one of those was against 10 men. We certainly lack a prolific striker but then goals have been shared throughout the side.
“Solving this and finishing teams off will be key to ending up in the top seven. I think we’ll do it, especially if we get a point today. We’re strong at home and, Cheltenham and Plymouth apart, none of the remaining away games should hold too many fears.
“For those who remember 1993, it raises the spectre of losing in a play-off final as we did that year against West Brom. But we got the job done properly the following season and I’d rather have the disappointment of losing in the play-offs than the relief of avoiding non-league.
“Knowing the Vale’s luck, though, we’ll get to the final and it’ll take place at an empty Wembley thanks to coronavirus!”
Andrew Blakemore: “Ten games to go and we sit in the play-offs. At the beginning of the season a 14th placed finish would have been a big achievement considering the last few seasons. To think this time last season, we had our season-changing victory against Mansfield that saw us win four games out of six to cement our place in League Two for another season.
“On average in the last five seasons you would need 72 points to make the play-offs, so we only need 16 points, which is more than achievable given our form and the games remaining.
“It’s back in our hands again from the four teams that could finish sixth or seventh. But you wouldn’t put it past Vale being in and out of the play-offs each week, the way recent weeks have been going. “It’s going to be hard work these next seven weeks ahead, we have some crucial matches coming up. “But Colchester, Bradford and Northampton all have to play each other, whereas we only have to face Bradford.
“Win your home games, draw your away games and we can cement that play-off spot.”