For fans of Port Vale, the football season has been filled with progression, with former Bristol Rovers boss Darrell Clarke clearly going all out as he aims to get the side back into League One.
James Russell writes…
With Vale aiming to go up against the likes of Sheffield Wednesday and Portsmouth next campaign, Clarke will surely be keen to showcase just why they belong in that sort of company. League Two is a hard league to predict, though, hence why Vale’s play-off push has been somewhat unexpected for many fans of the Burslem-based club. While La Liga predictions are generally easier to get right given Real Madrid’s evident dominance of the division in recent times, League Two is a totally different kettle of fish.
A highly competitive division with many sides sharing similar aspirations, Vale’s excellent all-round showing wasn’t guaranteed by any stretch. In fact, with sides such as Salford City and Leyton Orient operating on larger budgets, the promotion push further highlights just how much the club is progressing under a bright manager in Clarke who has already won promotion to League One with Bristol Rovers. Regardless of what division Vale find themselves in next season, though, how can the club build on the success of the current campaign and will Darrell Clarke need to make wholesale changes?
Defensive stability key to any future success
Similar to the promotion-winning side he put together at Bristol Rovers, Port Vale’s defensive solidity has provided them with a strong base to build from this season. The fifth best defensive record in the division at the time of writing, Vale’s League Two form has dipped towards the end of the season and goals are being leaked rather uncharacteristically, but that shouldn’t detract away from what has come before. Under Clarke, Vale have been a tough nut to crack and are widely regarded as being one the most organised and well-drilled sides in the league. Heading into next season, that same type of defensive solidity needs to be established once again if the club is to have any chance of kicking on.
Vale are in desperate need of a reliable goal machine
Despite finishing in the upper echelons of the division, Vale’s success has largely been associated with their aforementioned solid backline. Where the side has been lacking, though, has been in the goalscoring department, with the likes of Jamie Proctor and James Wilson reliable scorers but both sadly missed when on the injury list. Regardless of whether or not Vale are in League One or League Two next campaign, more goals need to be added to the side during the summer window. If Vale had the likes of Dominic Telford or, dare we say it, Harry McKirdy to call upon, then automatic promotion could easily have been on the cards. For example, Vale have not scored more than once in any of their last five fixtures, with each of their most recent four goals being scored by different players. Although the goals are being shared around, there definitely isn’t enough of them.
Above all else, if Vale are to build on the evident progress being made under Darrell Clarke, then patience is required. A trigger-happy approach from the club’s hierarchy could potentially undo all of the excellent work that has already been put in place by the former Vale loan player. Clarke has shown that he’s the man to lead Port Vale into the future, especially when you factor in the key signings he has made, such as Ben Garrity and James Wilson, and the way in which he leads from the front. Now, with the future seemingly bright, it’s time to back Darell Clarke even further.