It was sad to see Tony Mowbray go, but a 10-game winless run to start the season should speak louder than sentiment. Even if you think he was let down by the owners, it was clear that he just couldn’t get results with this team. Whether anyone else can is a legitimate question, but it’s better to try something else than to stick with something that wasn’t working.
It took some honesty and integrity from Tony Mowbray to walk away from a job that he would seemingly have been able to hold onto despite the results. The worry is that the lack of leadership behind-the-scenes that meant Tony Mowbray had to make the decision to leave may make the search of his successor a difficult, and unsuccessful process. Mark Venus has a massive job right now as both caretaker manager and also seemingly in identifying a new manager.
Wednesday night displayed the immediate challenges that Mark Venus and Tony Mowbray’s eventual successor will face. This current squad lacks the edge in both penalty areas to take advantage of dominating games for spells and withstand pressure when it comes. The new man is not only going to have to instil a defensive rigidity but also a killer touch at the other end if we’re going to move up the league.
Having failed to beat the teams 20th, 22nd and 23rd in the table, serious and immediate improvements are required to get this team out of trouble. With Mark Venus having had just two days to work with the players, he is going to have to produce something remarkable to get anything out of a clash against one the division’s strongest teams at home this season.
Unless Mark Venus has something radical up his sleeve, I doubt there will be many changes from Wednesday night. Not only because Venus has had such little time to work with the team and is close to Tony Mowbray, but also because we pretty much played our strongest team on Wednesday night, barring Jodi Jones. Maybe though, some consistency in team selection is just the thing this team needs right now.
Last Time We Met
A defeat to Port Vale in our last meeting back in February may have brought Tony Mowbray’s time at the club over sooner than it eventually unravelled. Off the back of three defeats and the sale of James Maddison that began our slide from promotion contenders to relegation candidates, Tony Mowbray set the team out in as cautious a manner possible to prevent a fourth consecutive defeat. With Jacob Murphy and Adam Armstrong to call upon in attack, we always had a chance of snatching something, which is what we almost did when Jacob Murphy scored midway through the first-half, only for Port Vale’s Sam Kelly to score a screamer past the otherwise impressive Reice Charles-Cook.
How Are They Doing?
Port Vale chairman had grown frustrated with ex-manager Rob Page’s dull-but-effective brand of football and decided to go for something completely different after Page’s departure for Northampton Town over the summer. The Portuguese manager Bruno Ribeiro was plucked from relative obscurity (although he did play for Leeds and Sheffield United), along with a raft of unknown foreign players with no experience of English football. It seemed to be a classic case of over-correcting that seemed to spell disaster for Port Vale.
Instead, Vale have started the season in impressive form and seem to be getting better as their new-look squad gels. However, few of the foreign players have made that big an impact thus far for Bruno Ribeiro’s side with several English players stepping up to the mark and Vale posing a big threat from set-pieces, as well as well-executed counter-attacks.
Nathan Smith in central defence has been the star performer this season, returning from a loan spell last season at Torquay United with a series of assured defensive performances. Standing under 6 foot, Smith isn’t the most physically dominant of defenders but commands the back-line with authority and also poses a threat from set-pieces. Alongside former Newcastle youngster Remie Streete, who spent much of last season either injured or on the bench, Port Vale have one of the best central defensive partnerships in the division.
The other stand-out performer for Port Vale this season has been Birmingham City loanee Alex Jones, who leads Vale’s scoring charts with six goals. Jones had been banging the goals in last season for Birmingham’s under-21 side, and has shown he has the pedigree to score at senior level this season, despite often being deployed on the wing by Ribeiro. Former Blackburn youngster Anton Forrester has proven an effective target-man up front, Jerome Thomas has been a threat on the wings and Bruno Ribeiro has even gotten Martin Paterson scoring goals after a lean few seasons for the former Burnley man.
With five assists already this season, another big threat that Port Vale pose is Sam Foley in midfield. Via a combination of pin-point set-piece deliveries and some accurate passes, Foley has stepped up to the mark as Vale’s chief creator. With the brilliantly cynical Anthony Grant as the midfield enforcer, Port Vale have a mix of technical quality and a physical edge to impose themselves on the game.
Of the foreign signings, it’s only really been left-back Kjell Knops, striker Rigino Cicilia and midfielder Paulo Tavares who’ve been first-team regulars. Of the three, Knops has made the biggest impact despite being deployed out-of-position from his preferred centre-back role at left-back. Cicilia has been a useful physical presence when deployed, although mainly from the bench. Tavares has been somewhat inconsistent but has shown signs that he could really stand-out if he can find some form.
As mentioned earlier, Port Vale has been particularly strong at home this season and this doesn’t really seem like a presentable opportunity to get that first win of the season. Our main hope is the old ‘dead cat bounce’ – something which saw us beat eventual promotion winners MK ‘Dons’ at the Ricoh Arena after Pressley’s departure – but there is no rational reason to believe that we can get something from this game.
Port Vale look a better team in pretty much all areas of the pitch right now, so it should be little surprise that I’m tipping them to beat us 2-1.