It’s probably fair to say that the jury’s out on Vale’s performance at the half-way stage and here are some possible areas of improvement.
Rob Fielding writes…
It’s pretty much the half-way time of the season and with Vale half-way up the league table, there are some big questions that manager Rob Page needs to address.
Scoring away from home…
With Vale losing five of their last six away games, clearly something has to change…
While his side have hit nineteen goals at Vale Park, on their travels they have netted just eight times in the league, the least of any League One side. With Vale losing five of their last six away games, clearly something has to change. It could be a switch of formation to create more chances or simply a change to a more positive approach on the road.
Style of play
Some may argue that Page’s tactics are more aesthetically pleasing that predecessor Micky Adams but that can create problems of its own. To me, it’s clear that the tactics don’t suit every player in the squad.
He maybe needs to be less dogmatic and be more pragmatic in picking a style to suit the players…
Take the early part of the season when the link-up play between Enoch Andoh and Uche Ikpeazu was prominent. However, once Andoh was ruled out for the season, something had to change. So, in came Louis Dodds and AJ Leitch-Smith. When on form, the duo can terrorise the best defences but as critics of Dodds will point out – his form has always been somewhat erratic. As a result, if changes are needed upfront, the likes of Uche Ikpeazu and JJ Hooper do not particularly suit the “ball on the ground”, patient, passing style.
Could it be that while a passing style may suit Dodds and AJ, perhaps Page needs to look to a more direct style when playing Uche and JJ? He maybe needs to be less dogmatic and be more pragmatic in picking a style to suit the players rather than sticking to a style that only suits some of the squad.
The balance of the squad
For various reasons, the balance of the Vale squad isn’t quite right this season…
For various reasons, the balance of the Vale squad isn’t quite right this season. Arguably the plethora of goalkeepers is not Page’s fault but rather a result of Chris Neal’s injury and Sam Johnson’s loss of form but it still leaves Vale with four professional keepers – a number they must surely want to trim down. But that’s probably easier said than done.
In midfield, there is the excellent trio of Grant, Foley and O’Connor but with only two picked in central positions, for me Foley looks uncomfortable shunted to the left flank. Is it possible to accommodate all three in a different formation – perhaps with Grant slightly withdrawn to shield the Vale defence? Or an alternative could see Foley given a more advanced role in front of the withdrawn duo of Grant and O’Connor?
On the flanks there are half a dozen or more who could play wide but do Vale really need that many? Elsewhere, Vale look less well stocked at left-back and upfront. But if Vale are to obtain a balanced squad, the problem will be how to ship out under contract players. I’m sure that Page would consider letting the likes of Achille Campion, Sam Johnson and Ryan Lloyd move on to free up funds, but that theory relies on another club wanting to sign them.
While the return of Michael O’Connor has helped Vale’s set pieces (he would have been on the scoresheet from one against Scunthorpe had the woodwork not intervened) their defending of opposing set-plays remains dire. The Vale have had half a season to get this right and still they don’t seem to have mastered it. Perhaps the return of Ryan Inniss will help, but there clearly is much work to do in this department.
Winning the fans over
The best way to answer your critics is by winning games…
Page has received a fair amount of criticism and I would argue that some but not all of it is justified. If fans continue to doubt his credentials he may face a tough task should the club be sold on. New owners are hardly going to want to have their multi-million investment in the hands of someone who divides the supporters. It may sound like a cliché but the best way to answer your critics is by winning games.
If the manager can manage that then he’ll have undoubtedly solved some of these problems along the way too.