Date: 8th May 2013 at 4:43pm
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Burslem Boy takes a look back at Vale’s promotion winning campaign…

The only point from which to assess the season 2012-13 is this time last year when the very survival of the club seemed in doubt. To go from this uncertainty to promotion and to have played some of the outstanding football that we did is a triumph for all concerned. Any other response seems rather nitpicking. Nevertheless, sometimes it is useful to pick a few nits.

Tale of the Table

The only league table that counts is the final one. This offers some interesting insights into the season. Vale finished top scorers and by a big margin. The next best, Rotherham United, scored thirteen goals fewer. Vale were top scorers at home (with 50 goals) and joint top scorers away (with 37 goals, equalled by Southend United). Vale scored three goals or more on fourteen occasions. With this weight of scoring, Vale`s home record, with only ten wins, the lowest of any club in the top seven, is surprising as well as disappointing.

Vale scored thirteen fewer goals away from home and won one more game. Burton Albion, who scored 49 goals at home and conceded 23, almost identical to Vale`s 50 scored and 26 conceded, nevertheless won seven more games! Rudge`s Law, that in order to win promotion you need to keep twenty clean sheets, was defied. Vale kept only thirteen and won only two games 1-0, both away (Bradford City and Torquay United). We did not keep a single clean sheet in the last six games. Only Gillingham, with their excellent defence, came close to Vale`s goal difference (+27 compared to Vale`s +35), but Vale had a GD advantage of +20 over Rotherham United, +29 over Burton Albion, +28 over Cheltenham Town, +26 over Northampton Town, and +24 over Bradford City.

In the twelve games we played against teams in the top seven we lost only two (Gillingham at home and Northampton Town away), won six and drew four. This was a very marked improvement on our record against teams who finished in the top seven in the 2011-12 season. It seems rather surprising that we managed to finish below Rotherham United, who lost a stonking fifteen games, and finished only two points in front of Burton Albion, who scored sixteen fewer goals than the Vale and conceded thirteen more, winning only 5 games away from home, scoring a measly 22 goals and conceding 42, which is normally a recipe for relegation!

Under New Ownership

Mr Smurthwaite`s brand of flamboyant populism has clearly struck a chord with many Vale fans, but Mr Wildes` cerebral and considered approach to life is much more to my taste. He has not put a foot wrong since he took over. I treasure his recent reply to Laura-May Macmullen`s question ‘have you found the job difficult?` Suppressing a smile almost before it got started, fearing I suspect that it might turn into a smirk, Mr Wildes replied ‘No. We didn`t have very big boots to fill`. This magisterial dismissal of the previous regime at Vale Park should be carved on all their tombstones. I never wanted a sugar daddy who would chuck money at the club to take over. I never agreed with the Jeremiahs who asserted that the Vale could never be made profitable off the pitch. Mr Wildes has brought intelligence, imagination and business acumen to the club. His impact is apparent wherever you look and he`s only just started. The true test will come, however, when things go less well on the pitch and the Twitterati start calling him names containing a small number of letters and urging him ‘to get his cheque book out`. We should cherish this man. We will never do any better.

The Manager

I should begin with an admission. I have never really warmed to Micky Adams. He is very thin-skinned and prone to regard any criticism, however mild and politely expressed, as treasonable. Some things, however, are clear and clearly to his credit. During his first coming he inherited a really awful Vale team and throughout both tenures he has managed the club in circumstances of adversity, often of great adversity. Despite these difficulties, under his management the Vale have always been competitive.

A number of clubs with bigger and more talented squads than Vale`s finished below us this season. Players, with one or two notable exceptions, seem to like playing for him. Team spirit has been excellent. He has high professional standards. He did a remarkable job in the last close season in strengthening the team while the club was still in administration. He gets players fit. But there have been times when I began to worry whether he ‘did tactics`, especially during that period of poor performances and bad results between the draw with Barnet and the defeat to Bristol Rovers. More than once, Mr Adams counselled ‘panicking fans` that ‘the Vale are not Barcelona, we are not going to win every game`, but this statement often conflicted with the apparent lack of attention paid to the formation and tactics of the opposition. I never felt he did anything to arrest the drift other than to carry on doing the same things – well, at least until the hapless experiment with playing three at the back in the first half away to Bristol Rovers. It`s just that we eventually came up against a team playing even worse than we were – York City.

The Vale won 21 games, but only nine of them in the second half of the season. This almost cost us dearly. Managers can never rest on their laurels. Success brings fresh challenges. Mr Adams has expressed concern about our defensive frailties and I suspect he has a good idea of where we need to strengthen the team.

It is always a start to know what the problem is, but it is another matter to fix it. He did terrifically well in the last close season. He needs to repeat his success this time round.

The Team

The team played some exhilarating football. We looked unplayable at times. I shall treasure the 7-1 demolition of Burton Albion, which took place on my birthday. But then again there was Fleetwood Town (h), Morecambe (h), Exeter City (h), Southend United (h), Bristol Rovers (a) and Aldershot Town (h). In these games we looked bereft of ideas, lethargic, played in straight lines and generally just lumped the ball forward. It was like watching two different teams.

The Vale`s best form and best football was played with two wide men and a man (usually Dodds) behind Pope. The team was never quite the same after Vincent lost form and then fitness. The team never looked balanced. This was undoubtedly Tom Pope`s season, but he scored only ten of his thirty-one goals after the turn of the year, three of them in one game. The jury is probably still out on whether this was because of the signing of Lee Hughes, whose form, goal scoring record and attitude was thoroughly impressive, but on reflection I think it was because we were no longer getting so many crosses into the box. Hughes will score goals in any team, playing any system. He will probably still be scoring goals when he`s fifty. But Pope needs the right service. The challenge for next season is to find a system that will provide Pope with the ammunition while offering defensive stability.

A final word for Jennison Myrie-Williams. He was virtually ever present. He got kicked from pillar to post. His choice of final ball was often bizarre, but no other player so consistently kept the opposition on the back foot. Let`s hope he has finally found his home and that he spends some time over the summer analysing videos of his game!

Onward and upward!