James Russell looks back at the first-half of the season and assesses Vale’s chances of staying up.
James Russell writes…
When the Valiants kicked off this season with a victory away at Harry Kewell’s Crawley there will not have been many fans that would have thought they would be worried about a second consecutive relegation before the Christmas trees had gone up. But thanks to two consecutive wins – Vale now sit four points above the drop zone ahead of a tricky festive fixture list.
Controversially knocked out of the FA Cup in a replay against Yeovil, Neil Aspin knows that he still has to raise his team in the months ahead to ensure that he isn’t the manager responsible for turning Vale into a non-league club.
After Michael Brown’s tenure left Vale rock bottom of the league it could be said that anything would be better. Although Aspin oversaw a rocky start, three consecutive victories in October steadied the ship somewhat. Results have been more of a mixed bag since then but the feeling is that Aspin has started to give the fans some hope that they won’t experience back-to-back relegations.
An outside bet to go down, the threat is still very real so what does the manager need to do?
When you’re at the wrong end of the table there is never a good run of fixtures to look forward to. But December and January do look especially hard going for Vale. First up are two tough games at home to two high-flying sides in the form of Luton and Coventry. A New Year’s Day trip to Notts County comes straight after that and it is not inconceivable that Vale will be able to count the points picked up over Christmas on one hand.
To make matters worse, Aspin will have to do without James Gibbons after the defender was sent off for the second time this season in the FA Cup replay against Yeovil. He will miss four games and won’t be back until New Year’s Day. But it is another player that Aspin will be hoping he can still select come January.
Ben Whitfield’s loan period ends on New Year’s Day and Vale could really do with his parent club Bournemouth agreeing to extend that until the end of the season. Whitfield seems happy at the club and had been a driving force in the midfield until his injury setback. Now regaining fitness, he could really help Vale in the coming months.
More Goals Please!
It may not have been a classic season anywhere on the pitch so far but one thing that would help Vale climb the league over the next few months is some more goals. Neil Aspin’s side have scored fewer than most of the clubs around them and Tom Pope has been largely to thank for those that have gone in. Tyrone Barnett’s strike against Carlisle was very welcome and if he – and others – can start contributing a bit more then it would take a lot of the pressure off Pope up front.
Hope for the Future
With such an almighty change in personnel at the start of this season it remains to be seen whether Aspin gets to bolster the squad in the January transfer window. But with the recent upturn in fortune – as well as the continuing support from the fans – Vale could well pull clear of the bottom of the league in the New Year. But Aspin will know that is easier said than done in what is a very congested division.