Vital reader Burslem Boy provides us with his final thoughts of the season…
Well, that`s that for another season, one of the more extraordinary in Vale`s chequered history. Even setting aside events off the field it was a difficult season to make sense of.
Was the team actually any good? Restoration of the 10 points deducted for going into administration gives a finishing place of ninth. Of the teams that finished above us according to this corrected placing, we beat only one, Gillingham at home. Against the teams that were promoted or made the play-offs we did not record a single victory, losing both home and away to Swindon Town, Shrewsbury Town, Southend United and Cheltenham Town. (All subsequent comparisons will be with the promoted/play-off teams.) The only away point recorded was against Crewe Alexandra. This is compelling support for Mr Adams`s recently expressed opinion that the teams that finished above us did so because they were better than us. Even when Vale won by a comfortable score – Accrington Stanley, Northampton Town and Aldershot Town at home, for example – the performances were not entirely convincing. Perhaps Barnet away and Bristol Rovers away came closest to being truly authoritative. But there were also abysmal performances -Morecambe at home, Cheltenham Town away, Southend United away (and Grimsby Town away in the FA Cup).
We lost a stonking eight home games, at least three of which defeats – Barnet, Dagenham & Redbridge, Wimbledon – were pretty inexcusable. Despite some poor runs (not a single goal scored in November), goal scoring was not really a problem. At home, we scored more goals than Shrewsbury Town, Southend United, Torquay United and Cheltenham Town and as many as Crewe Alexandra. Away, we scored more than Swindon Town, Shrewsbury Town, Crawley Town, Torquay United and Crewe Alexandra.
The goals against column, however, looks very different. Only Crewe Alexandra conceded more goals at home than us; all the promoted/play-off teams conceded fewer goals than us away from home, with the exception of Cheltenham Town, who conceded the same number (34). These stats are very un-Micky Adams like. During his first-coming the Vale had a mean defence. This season we have been a soft touch. A large number of the goals we conceded came from (sometimes avoidable) set-pieces and from headers. Defending is not the responsibility of defenders alone, but these figures should give pause for thought about the heart of the defence and the goalkeeper. Few players enhanced their reputations, perhaps only Griffith, Loft and Richards. Some of the Vale Twitterati seem to have a problem with Griffith, regarding him as a very limited player, while yearning for Gary Roberts. This is deluded. Griffith is mobile, his distribution has improved enormously and – as against Oxford United on Saturday – he imposes himself on the opposition. If, as is rumoured, he is about to go, we will find it hard to replace him. Loft has been outstanding as an improvised full back, but the fact that he has had to play there shows how weak we are in those positions. Richards has an excellent goal scoring record and has demonstrated real leadership since the-you-know-what hit the fan in February. McCombe showed a welcome return to form in recent weeks, but overall was not the commanding figure that we recall from previous seasons. Louis Dodds and Rob Taylor failed to lose the mantle of ‘enigmatic` and largely continue to flatter to deceive, a category in which they were joined by Ben Williamson. Sam Morsy did not train on. Let`s hope that Joe Davis turns out to be as good as he looks.