I hate leaking a late goal in a game like we did today. It feels like a defeat, especially when you look at the other results. It’s also easy to forget what we’ve gained over Christmas and how we’re still very much architects of our own destiny.
There was a bit to talk about today, but certainly not as much as Cambridge or Newport. The team selection raised a few eyebrows, but I’m going to start with a little bit about the fanzine. We’ve upped the run, saved some for internet sales and a few for the Grimsby game, but on the whole it sold very well indeed. Thanks to our 2018 profits and to our print company resolving the complaints, we’re able to put every penny of today’s sales into the club and still have the next print run covered.
That means that give or take a few pence, purely from today, £250 will be going directly to the club courtesy of the fanzine. It’s going in via sponsorship of a player, be it a youth team lad or a first team player, we’ll keep you posted on that as the week goes on. Remember we’re also part of the Mattadores group that sponsors Matt Rhead and donates to charity every time he scores, assist or does anything remotely noteworthy.
Today, his mere inclusion was noteworthy. I wonder if perhaps there was an element of ‘it’s Port Vale, Rheady will be up for it’. As a Stoke fan there’s plenty of needle there and he does seem to do well against the Valiants. It seemed harsh on Big John to me, he’s been great the last couple of weeks, so maybe it was merely squad rotation.
Other than that there’s little surprise in the team selection and that does point to the need for incoming players this January. For the avoidance of doubt, we are not one of the clubs bidding £750,000 for Jayden Stockley, but MK Dons are. That’s what we’re up against in terms of the promotion challenge. We do not have that money to fritter away, they do. It might be hard to take, with the huge complex some of our fans have about being top in everything, but we are not one of the really big players in this league, not financially.
That was also underlined by the sale of Matt Green, something Danny commented on post game today. His comments were interesting and whilst we’re on team selection and options, I want to pick it up. He said that he backed the sale of Matt Green given the sums involved. He did not say he made the decision, he said he supported it. Interesting? Perhaps. Maybe that’s just something I picked up on and read too much into.
It didn’t matter which XI started, they started badly. Port Vale went at us early doors, forcing a succession of corners and having some good possession. For the first ten minutes or so we looked really poor, as we did in the first half against Cambridge and all game against Crewe. The points haul over Christmas has been good, but the performances have been bang average. Danny knows it too, but this isn’t a division you win based purely on performances. points win prizes.
It didn’t look to me like we’d get many points in the first ten minutes, but I thought after that we took control of the game. We found our stride with the passing and looked to break down a tight Port Vale back four, or back eight at times. They were solid, but they began to sink deeper. Our joy all came from the right hand side, Harry Anderson never stopped running and offering the out ball, him and Neal Eardley have looked excellent in recent weeks. On the left we looked decidedly average.
I wonder if Bruno is still suffering the effects of his injury, or if Harry Toffolo isn’t quite 100% either. Neither looked to have the same penetration, pace or endeavour that we saw in the early section of the season. Then again, they’ve had four games in such a short space of time and that has to take its toll. If they’ve gone into that period carrying knocks, it’s not going to be made better by such an intense schedule. that’s the same for both sides, but it might offer a reason why we’ve lost our edge on the left.
Or, other sides might have done their homework, seen how effective we are on that side of the field and moved to combat it, moving attention away from the right as much. I’m not as naïve to think that they would ignore the threat on one flank, but when they’re doubling up on Rheady and crowding out Toff and Bruno, there has to be a bit of space left over somewhere.
It’s hard to think of what to write about in too much depth in the first half because although I thought we controlled it, we did so without ever really looking like breaking the deadlock. We got some balls into the box, sure. We got a couple of headers off, but did we test their keeper? One save I counted came from a Rheady header. We’re back to the centre forward looking isolated and when that effort was parried back into the six yard box, I couldn’t help wondering if someone might have gambled with a run. It would be Shay’s job, but he was lurking elsewhere.
We also had a decent opportunity from a free kick, but having been spoiled in recent weeks the easily-saved shot on target didn’t exactly get my pulse racing.
The other incident of note has to be Harry’s injury and the Port Vale reaction to it. Everyone got a little bit heated didn’t they? Most were hoping that the ref would stop the game, hoping Vale would kick it out. The ref didn’t bother, nor did Port Vale and that, I’m afraid to say, is the right call. Harry was scythed, the ref should have blown for a free kick but if he deems there to be no foul, which he did, then the injury is irrelevant, especially as it’s not a head injury.
Then we had the dust-up and again, that was handled in a manner which shouldn’t raise too many concerns. The issue was the involvement of Anthony Kay. He had been booked early for a bad challenge, got away with at least one more and then made himself a target by getting involved in the handbags. There’s an argument he could have seen red, but the referee chose two other targets and kept Kay on the field. It would have been harsh to dismiss him, but those with rose-tinted glasses might feel differently.
Half time, 0-0 and in fairness, I thought it would stay that way.
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