Vital reader Burslem Boy takes a look back at Vale’s dramatic penalty shoot out win at Walsall…
There is only one place to start, with the last kick of the match, when debutant Sam Johnson showed his outfield players how to take a penalty. This brought to a triumphant end one of the most remarkable debuts in Vale history, probably the most remarkable since Ralph Hunt`s hat-trick against Shrewsbury Town in his home debut in December 1961. It also ended one of the most inept penalty shootouts in football history, 22 penalties taken, eleven of them missed. At least three of the Walsall players could credit Johnson with outstanding saves, but our cat could have saved the penalties taken by Shuker, Burge and Taylor. And as for Louis Dodds`s ‘effort`, that belongs in a category all its own.
As I get older the scale of my footballing ambitions contracts, but I still harbour a hope that one day I will see the Vale win at Walsall. My record is so lamentable that whenever we play there I actually consider not going in case simply by turning up I encourage the inevitable outcome, but then if we do beat the Saddlers one day I damn well want to see it. I`m not sure I count last night as a win or not. After all, the game did end in a draw, but it was – penalties apart – a rousing performance, especially in the second half, when we really ought to have put the game to bed. Dodds had enough chances in injury time alone to win two matches.
The game was a microcosm of Vale`s season. At times we looked fast and powerful, threatening a goal with every attack; at other times we looked woeful, with powder-puff tackling, a lack of legs in midfield, slow central defenders continually embarrassed on the turn by mobile attackers (like Grigg) and unable to bring the ball out from the back, no left back, forever giving the ball away under no pressure.
Walsall are a small, neat passing team, but nearly all Vale`s problems were self-inflicted. Shuker had a nightmare game. Taylor was a liability in the first half, but improved in the second. Duffy was at fault with both goals. But there were also outstanding performances. As well as his heroics in the shootout, Johnson had a fine game. His handling was authoritative. He made several brilliant saves in the second half, especially the one from a free kick. Burge has been given a number of chances to establish himself recently without taking them, but yesterday hopefully he came of age. He was Vale`s best outfield player, despite operating in a midfield that was overrun at times. He has an excellent left foot (except when taking penalties) and scored a good goal. He is also capable of running at defenders from midfield, something we have lacked for a long time. Pope was absolutely splendid in the second half, a constant thorn in Walsall`s side. He held the ball up well, brought other players into the game and, of course, scored. Williamson also played well in the second half and developed a good understanding with Pope. He continually got in good positions, but he lacks the confidence to go for the opposition`s jugular. Lloyd was impressive when he came on. He is slight, but he has a great first touch and an educated left foot and he can find a pass. He doesn`t have burning pace, but he was too quick for the podgy Taundry (mind you I`d be too quick for him, too, and I`m 63). Lloyd also took one of the few convincing penalties we managed. He`s a talent.
There is a sound military maxim that says ‘always reinforce success`. The troops we have at our disposal have done a great job so far, but they need reinforcement. This will only happen when we get a new (hopefully decent and sensible) owner. Speed the day.