Columnists Malcolm Hirst and Mark Walton ponder whether a managerial change is needed at Vale Park.
Malcolm Hirst and Mark Walton write…
No doubt Neil Aspin is worried for his job, and rightly so. Vale have only won one match in the last nine games and just one of our last nine home games. This is relegation form. It is no surprise that fans are beginning to wonder if Aspin is the right man for job. The conundrum is ‘do we stick or do we twist?’
Twisting involves putting trust in our owner to appoint the right manager. The track record of Norman Smurthwaite may not fill the most ardent Vale supporter with hope for the future. So far he has appointed Rob Page, arguably his best choice, back in September 2014, only to see him leave as the team that was making steady progress through League One was dismantled when they were offered woeful new contracts. This appointment was followed in June 2016 by the ill-fated and financially disastrous Bruno Ribeiro managerial stint. In December 2016, Michael Brown was given the reins of the first team before being dismissed in September 2017 with a pitiful win ratio of 17.6%. No one is sure how he managed to stay so long.
We now have what was described at the time as the ‘dream team’ of Neil Aspin with John Rudge, appointed to give whatever support or advice Neil wanted. If we sack Aspin then his replacement will be our fourth manager in two and a half seasons, with the attendant cost, upheaval and uncertainty. What does that say about our club? Are we the new Leeds? What it suggests is that there is no long-term (or even medium term) plan. How long can Vale survive as a league club without a plan? It feels like downward cycle to National League football with an apathetic fan base watching on. The key maybe this coming January transfer window and we see what funds from Smurthwaite materialise.
Twisting, some might argue, is a bigger risk than sticking with Aspin and some might even use the phrase endlessly reeled off by former owners V2001: “be careful what you wish for”.
So, is it better to stick? Malcolm was fortunate enough to be one of the 113 fans who saw Vale’s last win away at Yeovil on 27th November. What a night and what a performance! The players played with a freedom we have rarely seen. Perhaps they reacted to the heavy criticism of the 4-1-4-1 line-up and set out to prove a point. Whatever it was, the fans want more of it. There were forward passes instead of the incessant sideways or backward balls. We utilised the midfield and played with belief.
We can fully understand why fans want to get rid of Neil Aspin. The stark contrast in footballing style since that wonderful evening in Yeovil has left us frustrated and it’s become more of a duty than a joy for us to make the 400 miles or so round trip to Vale Park. Quite frankly, in recent matches we have been bored to death and an episode of the Teletubbies would be preferable to watching Vale. The manager sets the tactics, but the players themselves need to take some responsibility for the lack of entertainment too. If we keep Aspin then what is expected of him? We’d argue that we need to be promoted within three seasons from the start of this campaign. Adams took four but of course there were major mitigating circumstances. Does Aspin show any sign of being capable of leading the team to promotion? Not at the moment. Just nine league wins in the calendar year, a clearly cautious/negative playing style whatever else he says, and apparently decent players out of the first team picture while others appear undroppable. His transfer record is just about more good than bad, with Brown, Legge and Oyeleke key signings, but so far Miller and Joyce, of whom much was expected, have not delivered.
Stick or twist? It’s not an easy decision. We still feel we will end up mid-table and hope we don’t get drawn into yet another relegation battle but, if we do so, hopefully we can see the Vale players trying to win a match rather than setting up not to lose which is what it looks like at the moment. As a playing legend and having been dealt a poor hand when he took over, Aspin has probably earned a stay of execution until the end of the season at least. But we need to see improvement in both style of football and results pretty sharpish. This is going to be difficult with a run of games against Lincoln City (A), Colchester (H) and Crawley (A). The players need to start delivering the performances we know they are capable of otherwise we will not achieve a mid-table finish and yet another Vale legend will leave having failed in the managerial hot seat.