The Thursday Preview: Port Vale Vs Gillingham
For most of the nineties, Stoke City and Port Vale seemed to be battling it out for Potteries hegemony, but those days seem very distant now. Tony Pulis has converted the Britannia from a nasty place to visit on most fronts to a nasty one on all fronts and the Potters’ excellent reaction to a dreadful start is typical of their determination as a club. Meanwhile, across in Burslem, it’s been a miserable return to form for Vale, forced to look on enviously as the traditional order has been restored.
At the end of September, this trend seemed to have been spectacularly reversed. An unlikely 3-1 win at fellow future table toppers QPR in the League Cup provided a launch pad for a mazy run that saw only two points squandered from their first 24. The catalyst for this impressive beginning was the namesake strike force of Marc and Justin Richards; the former a reliable goal getter for Vale in recent seasons, the latter a canny acquisition from Cheltenham. Both were on the score sheet against Southend, Bradford and Rochdale in the JP Trophy and goals have certainly not been hard to come by.
Into October, however, and a pell mell finish to the match at Oxford saw Vale handed their first defeat. Gareth Owen looked to have come to the rescue in the second minute of injury time but a second, late, late strike from Tom Craddock gave the U’s victory and saw well seasoned manager Micky Adams question the squad’s mental vigour. A 1-1 draw at struggling Hereford followed and the Staffordshire club are looking nervous for the first time.
All this said, the Valiants remain atop the pile and a visit from lowly Gillingham should present few problems. Like Vale, the Gills have enjoyed a productive twenty years by their standards with a number of seasons passed scrapping in the second echelon. Mark Stimson’s desperately disappointing spell in charge ended with club legend Andy Hessenthaler resuming the job that saw him achieve the men of Kent’s highest ever league position in 2002-3. An underrated player and boss, the Dartford man has described the club’s diabolical away form as “getting on everyone’s nerves” — no doubt uttered in a style that pays homage to Phil Daniels (“I’ve got the RIGHT hump with this etc.”) Conceding 7 at Accrington isn’t a thing to put on your club CV for sure. Vale should return to winning ways.