On Saturday, Stoke were booed off at half-time against Aston Villa and the mood failed to improve in the second half as Matt Lowton and Christian Benteke earned the visitors a pivotal victory in the relegation battle. Villa left the Potters just three points off the drop zone with six matches remaining, having won just one game in their last twelve games and scoring just four times in their last eight.
A malaise has set in at the Britannia through dull football and poor results to put Tony Pulis under severe pressure. Supporters are refusing to renew season tickets through the utmost concern of where the club is heading under a manager that has spent £77 million since gaining promotion in 2008 and has failed to yet land a top half finish. Now, the prospect of relegation is looming and the discontent is emanating vocally from the crowd.
The night beforehand, across town and three divisions lower, Port Vale were hammering Burton Albion 7-1 in a League Two fixture that positioned them on the brink of promotion, a margin of six points provides their cushion on the automatic places. It has been a season founded on the attacking intent of a 4-4-2 with the flying wing-play of Ashley Vincent and Jennison Myrie-Williams, providing striker Tom Pope, who got his 32nd goal of the season against Burton.
The 27 year old was named as League Two’s player of the season a fortnight ago and before Lee Hughes arrived in January to contribute 9 goals in 14, he was single-handedly firing Vale’s promotion charge. His 32 goals have accounted for a significant portion of their club total of 81, the highest amount in all of England’s top four divisions.
It is in stark contrast to the years of misfortune that Vale fans have been forced to endure at Boardroom level. Financial mismanagement brought last season’s administration that ultimately cost them a play-off spot and, last March, the club were staring down the barrel of extinction over unpaid tax bills and an outstanding £1.8 million loan from the city’s council.
Transfer embargoes and unpaid wages followed before November’s takeover over Paul Wildes, a businessman from the Wirral, and Norman Smurthwaite bought brighter days. The duo have renovated the outlook of the club, from a previously insular, uncommunicative board that issued numerous false promises, they have been on a charm-offensive, holding Q&A nights and promising a new superstore, a new ticket office and price initiatives. The game against Burton for example, a huge night in the race for promotion, attracted 10,000 fans as prices were reduced to £9. The new chairmanship have also promised to finalise the building work on the unfinished Lorne Street stand.
“I think the club has the potential to be a Championship club” Wildes has said, stating his ambition to lead the club into more successful times, and there’s no reason, with such healthy backing, why cannot return there after they departed in 2000. After 41 years, they are the second tier’s longest serving members out of the clubs who have yet to reach the top division. Vale Park holds 19,000 fans and the relentless drive by the owners to appeal to the supporters bodes well for the future, they have also planned for a highly competitive budget should they finish the job of getting to League One next year.
Despite some rocky form in March, Micky Adams has managed to steady the ship and put them on the brink of finishing the job he has been intent on completing since returning to the club in 2011. He has achieved it with a close-knit squad that with the likes of Doug Loft, Louis Dodds, John McCombe, Adam Yates, Pope and Rob Taylor was built on the basic principles of experience and camaraderie.
Lee Hughes and Darren Purse arrived in January to add further lower league know-how whilst Chris Birchall and Anthony Griffith, former loyal Vale servants, returned to bolster a midfield that contains the hugely promising 20 year old Sam Morsy. Adams also has a talented teenage defender in Joe Davis but the criticism remains that not enough talent is emerging from the youth set-up, something that the Wildes regime has sought to solve by planning to improving training facilities. In the meantime, Vale have been taking advantage of their Staffordshire base to train at the National Football Centre at Burton.
The promotion party will be even sweeter to the Vale fans who witnessed the poisonous era of Perry Deakin, Bill Bratt and co. that formed the previous board in which progression was sacrificed for personal profit and greed. It was described the the supporter’s group at the time as a “perfect administration” and, after the arrival of Wildes and his partner, it can be argued as being just that.
The good times are back in Staffordshire, but only in the white half of town.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
Please like O-Posts on Facebook
You can follow O-Posts on Twitter @OPosts