Defence the foundation for revived Vale

Defence the foundation for revived Vale

Rob Page’s revival has been helped by improved defensive displays and it’s solidity at the back that is key for the Valiants.

While Port Vale were tipped by many Betfair fans to be involved in a relegation battle this season, the club have so far exceeded expectations after an impressive start to the year that sees them comfortably mid-table. A fantastic ninth place finish in their first season back in League One was seen by some as something of a fluke, but Rob Page has stepped up into the manager’s role this year and gone about ensuring the Valiants further cement their position back in English football’s third tier.

A leaky defence cost the club dearly last season and was seen as the main reasons Port Vale missed out on securing a play-off spot…

A leaky defence cost the club dearly last season and was seen as the main reasons Port Vale missed out on securing a play-off spot, and Page appears to have made a real effort to tighten things up at the back since taking over. While the clean-sheets might not have come in as many numbers as Page would have wanted, there is little doubt the defence looks a lot more solid this year than they did last season. The form of goalkeeper Chris Neal has been instrumental to a lot of Port Vale’s success at the back, and the 29-year old’s performances certainly haven’t gone unnoticed by his team-mates.

Louis Dodds spoke after Vale’s 2-1 victory over Colchester to claim Neal was the best keeper the midfielder has played with during his six years with the club. While Neal looked solid throughout, he showed his importance to Port Vale with a fantastic penalty save that ensured the club picked up an important three points. Dodds, who has seen the likes of Joe Anyon, Chris Martin and Stuart Tomlinson during his time at Port Vale, made it clear he feels Neal is the best he has played with since arriving at the club from Leicester in 2008.

Vale will feel they have a number-one capable of playing a big role in a real push for the play-offs in the second-half of the season…

Neal, who was signed by Port Vale from Shrewsbury in 2012, has been a virtual ever-present in the side during their time back in League One, and his performances have resulted in a number of Championship clubs sitting up and taking notice. As long as they can hang-on to the keeper, Vale will feel they have a number-one capable of playing a big role in a real push for the play-offs in the second-half of the season. But Neal hasn’t been the only reason behind Port Vale’s improved defence, and Ryan McGivern’s form has now led to him being named in Northern Ireland’s squad for their upcoming European Championships qualifying clash against Romania.

While the selection means McGivern will now miss Vale’s League One home game against Rochdale, Port Vale should have the defender back in contention for their FA Cup first round tie against MK Dons the following week. But Carl Dickinson back available after serving his one-match suspension, Vale will hope that they have enough cover at left-back to make sure they don’t miss McGivern too badly.

McGivern helped his country make history when he came on as a 59th-minute substitute in their 2-0 win in Greece on October 14; Northern Ireland’s third straight win in their European Championship qualifying group and their best ever start to the competition. The former Manchester City youngster will now be looking to help his country continue their remarkable form and push this team a little closer to qualifying for Euro 2016 in France. McGivern’s involvement in Northern Ireland’s squad over the past few months has been testament to the defender’s form for Port Vale, and the League One club will be proud that their squad now has international talent amongst it.

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