Vital reader Burslem Boy looks back at Vale’s defeat to Wolves…
Even after two days` quiet reflection I am still unsure which aspect of Saturday`s dismal events upset me the most. Was it the defeat? Was it vile and absurd abuse directed at Tom Pope? Was it the post-match violence (none of which I witnessed)? Was it Micky Adams` rallying call to Vale fans – ‘we are in a fight to stay in this division` – which should sell a few more season tickets? Mr Adams signs off his column in the programme with the words ‘Keep the faith`. Perhaps he should take his own advice. One thing is clear, however, the heady days of April seem a long way off. We are already falling out among ourselves and wrecking our own town and there are only five games gone!
The game itself seems to have divided Vale fans. Some thought it was a battling performance in which we had no luck whatsoever. Others thought Wolves were the worst team we have played at home this season and that a 3-1 defeat was therefore abject. We certainly had no luck. Jones`s early injury substitution meant that the back four had to be re-organised, with Yates going to left back and Duffy coming on at right back and, later, Dickinson moving to left back, Duffy to the centre of the defence and Yates reverting to right back. Wolves began brightly, but offered little real threat except when the mildly irritating Griffiths dropped into the ‘hole` and ran at us, a bit of an omen for the second half. (I am a fair-minded man, so it would only be right to congratulate Mr Griffiths on having gone several weeks without being arrested. I love a reformed sinner.) No one would ever accuse the referee, Graham Scott, of being a homer. My favourite moment of the afternoon was when the wretched Stearman complained long and bitterly to the referee that Pope had pushed him before scoring Vale`s goal. This was a bit like Al Capone complaining that someone had tried to sell him bootlegged whisky. The treatment of Pope by referees this season has been so consistent that I am beginning to wonder whether he was the subject of one of their periodic get-togethers. ‘This Pope bloke scored lots of goals last season. He must have been getting away with murder. Let`s sort him out.` Of course, Pope could help himself by moving off his marker occasionally instead of standing there waiting to be mugged. It was a game in which the first goal was always going to be crucial. This came from another sloppy defensive error. To be fair, Vale rallied and had their best period of the game, before Wolves scored the second on the break. All three Wolves goals came from exploiting the space down Vale`s left flank. This does not strike me as a coincidence.
I heard someone say the other day that Vale`s problem was ‘neither the manager nor Pope can hack it at this level`. I am not convinced that the superior quality of League 1 is the fundamental problem. Since going top of League 2 by beating Gillingham away on 12 January, the Vale have played 24 league games, including five this season in League 1, and won only eight. During that period Tom Pope has scored only eight times, and three of them in one game. Our problems pre-date this season. Mr Adams has two character traits that worry me. He is emotional under pressure and he is stubborn. The evidence that Pope and Hughes are not a good combination seems overwhelming to me. (This is not a criticism of Hughes. I agree with the views that Mr Adams expressed about Hughes`s conduct since coming to the Vale.) Pope`s period of success came with Louis Dodds operating behind him and providing a link with the midfield. Pushing two strikers up against the opposition centre halves plays into their hands. Wolves looked distinctly uncomfortable once they had to confront Williamson`s pace and Dodds` trickery. Pope also looked more threatening. The downside was that playing three up front exposed acres of space down the Vale left that Wolves exploited.
I have never had a problem with Wolves. In fact, I rather like them as a club. Quite how they got into this mess I have no idea. When most clubs fall from grace it is because of off the field problems, but Wolves are spending zillions on a new stand and have parachute payments coming out of their ears. They have just spent £700,000 on Kevin McDonald. Even so, I have a feeling that their ‘we are a big club, we shouldn`t be in this division, get out of our way` attitude will becoming a tad trying. Kenny Jackett was a good appointment. He has set about rebuilding Wolves in an impressive fashion, getting rid of or isolating the Premier League Champagne Charlies and bringing in hungry young players. It is surely only a matter of time before Wolves are back where they belong, trapped in a cycle of Premier League mediocrity and relegation to the Championship. Enjoy.