Malcolm Hirst: there is always next season…

Columnist Malcolm Hirst says he “would like to see Aspin given the time to build a squad.”

Malcolm Hirst writes…

I have been impressed with the signings to date and it will be interesting to see which players make the starting XI against Cambridge…

There is always next season. This is the mantra of most fans outside the Premier League’s top six teams when the fixtures conclude at the beginning of May. It is perhaps more of a truism for us Vale fans given the appalling last two seasons we have had to endure. Relegation from League 1 was almost followed by the unthinkable – relegation out of the English Football League (EFL). It nearly happened. Vale have no divine right to league status and credit goes to Neil Aspin, the players and the management team for the guts and determination to keep that status. There is always next season.

Next season is now almost upon us. What should we expect as Vale fans? Sadly, yet again, we have needed a huge rebuilding exercise. This is not ideal, but the well-documented mistakes of previous seasons left Aspin with very little choice. This process has been hampered by players who we haven’t been able to let go for contractual reasons. I have been impressed with the signings to date and it will be interesting to see which players make the starting XI against Cambridge on 4th August. Hopefully the squad is of better quality than last season – if not, we are well and truly up the creek without a paddle! There seems to be a mixture of experience and potential plus some others with an eye on for a season or two in the future.

Top of the signings for me is Scott Brown, who played a pivotal role in getting Wycombe promoted last season. This is an absolute coup of deal. The press stated he wanted to move closer to his home in Wolverhampton which has helped us. However, I’m sure there would have been other options available and Aspin and Rudge deserves the plaudits for bringing such a quality player into the squad. Sam Hornby did well at the end of last season and it is great to know there is good competition for the number one slot.

The experience of Legge and Joyce should strengthen the team and being younger than Tonge and Pugh is a definite bonus. Gillingham fans I know speak highly of Legge. A typical League 2 central defender I was told, but not to expect too many cultured passes from him.

Upfront, the two most interesting acquisitions are Scott Quigley and Ricky Miller. Both have proven ability at National League level and hopefully will transfer that goal-scoring ability into the EFL with us. My only concern with Quigley is if he does ’too well‘ we could lose him in January. The loss of loan players, I believe, had had a detrimental effect on our last two seasons.

The player I’m looking forward to seeing more from this season is Luke Hannant. He made good progress with us in the second half of the season. This year he would have had a full pre-season of training. And I couldn’t end without welcoming back Louis Dodds. Yes, he divides the fan base but I have always liked his quality on the ball, together with his ability to see and make a pass. I have friends who say he “goes missing too often”. Personally, I believe he works harder than he’s given credit for. Often football matches are won through one wonderful piece of creativity and Dodds can provide such moments.

What am I hoping for this season? After the last couple of seasons, I would take mid-table mediocrity and perhaps a flirtation with the play-offs. I would like to see Aspin given the time to build a squad. Let’s make an improvement this year and then add another two or three players next season to improve us again. Steady transition not reckless revolution.

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