Football Blog: Tangerine Flavoured

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Tougher test: the Mighty vs Port Vale

I don't think there's a tunnel club at Vale Park. I hope not. 

A match report from a game I didn't go to in a place that doesn't exist. 

This a chance to test our mettle against a higher class of opponent. The Southport game was convincing but it has to be said the opposition were limited. Whilst Port Vale  do play a league below us, we're facing a side who finished the season in good form and emerged from their FA Cup tie against Man City with some credit. I've always quite liked Port Vale. They're filed alongside Notts County as 'they never seem to have any luck' and are a bigger club than their league position would suggest. I'd call them 'proper.' I used to work in Burslem as well and it was indeed, proper. 

Vale Part is one of my favourite English grounds. Not because it's a particularly auspicious place to watch football, (though I do like its dated but roomy ambiance,) but because it represents an example of history that never happened. Reading plans that never came to fruition and unfulfilled dreams of generations long gone is a fascinating window into the fantastical. The long forgotten vision for Vale Park as a Wembley at the heart of the country sits alongside images of Maglev railways and airships travelling the world as invoking strange nostalgia for something that never was. When Spurs spend a billion quid on a stadium and justify that as the base price of entry to a new world of income, there's something heart wrenching about Vale Park as the living ghost of a world where ambition cost a lot less and amounted to little more than a lot of shale with some concrete poured onto it. It doesn't matter that it was never fulfilled. It was a dream nonetheless and dreams are beautiful. Reality only spoils them. 

Nostalgia is not the name of the game at Bloomfield as Neil Critchley has resolutely swept a new broom through the corridors and we've even got a much upgraded portakabin. We're dreaming our own dreams and there's nothing ghostly about them at all. All is good with the world (baring all that obviously isn't but lets not talk about that shite again.)

Another the chance to see how our newest signings fare is very welcome. Yates and Anderson firmly impressed in the previous game and I want to see if they're consistent. Other questions I want to see answered include whether Antwi can looks as assured against some stronger opponents, whether Nuttall and/or Madine can combine with the rest of the side to pose a threat to an opposition defence and to what extent Feeney can make a case for having a role to play. 


The game takes place on a weirdly compressed version of Vale Park's usually spacious meadows and struggles to get going early on. Vale, clearly several cuts above Southport, put pressure on the backline early on and force a few shaky passes and hurried moments. Pool start much more directly than in the Southport game. Cameron Antwi settles back into the level of performance we'd seen in the last friendly, looking calm, controlled, using the ball intelligently and showing, showing, always showing for the ball. If this is the unfinished article, there's a real player here when the lad's done. 

Jerry Yates also impresses from the off, his running, pressuring and high standards evident. It's probably a bit early to compare him to certain legendary forwards who ran every channel and made things happen by the force of will but I think we can definitely go so far as to say 'it's at least as exciting as if Chris Long had been any good.' I'm not getting carried away, but I really like this lad.  

As the half wears on, the Mighty gain a bit of control. Antwi (him again) shows a lovely bit of vision to play in Teddy Howe, who in turn wins a corner, from which the ball bounces about until Liam Feeney cracks a shot so hard that it's deflection lands out of play behind him. 

Keshi Anderson runs at the Vale defence and has a good shout for a penalty turned down. Anderson is all over the pitch in the 60 minutes he's on it, appearing on the right, on Yates' shoulder, coming deep and letting Virtue move forward. He's got a lovely touch but a bulldog physique and his reaction to not getting the penalty shows a player with real determination and fire. 

The strengths and weaknesses of this performance are epitomised in the next move as Big Marvin, who has looked both class and chaos in the same body plays Teddy Howe into trouble and the whippet right back concedes a free kick. From Vale's short free kick it's Jerry Yates back winning possession with a strong challenge then as Pool break, it's Yates again receiving the ball a couple of passes later after haring upfield and in turn, feeding Anderson who brings a good save from the Vale keeper. 

Howe has a decent half going forward, he delivers a couple of decent balls and interlinks well with both Feeney and Anderson on the attack but he looks pretty fragile when under pressure defensively and as Vale swing what looks like a harmless ball across, Howe, faced with the bulk of Tom Pope, seems to panic and shove him over.

It's blatant spot kick. (except, it isn't when I rewatch it and Pope has made a meal of the lightest of touches from Howe whose eyes don't leave the ball)

The star of social media looks calm and collected and ready to dispatch the ball with ease as he steps up and sends Maxwell the wrong way. As the keeper does that slow motion crumple they always do, when they know they guessed wrong, looking like an empty carrier bag that has fallen from a kitchen work top, the ball strikes the outside of the post and Pool are redeemed. 

Vale maybe deserved a goal for their endeavour, but buoyed by the let off, Pool maraude forward. Howe slips in Feeney who produces one of his classic 'experienced' crosses, driving the ball low into the defender to force a certain corner. From it, Yates spins and I think it's going in, but it isn't, Big Marv hooks it towards goal again from an awkward angle and the ball comes back to the near post and from nowhere, KaiKai who has done nothing else in the half, ghosts in and tucks it away very nicely. 


At half time Pool just about deserve the lead on the balance of play. They've not looked as slick as in the previous game, but what is really pleasing is the way most of the new signings have again impressed and the young players have done well.

Nathan Shaw has manfully filled an unfamiliar left back role and played a couple of really lovely raking crossfield balls in the bargain, notable for their accuracy and stood up to a bit of physical buffeting with one particularly well timed leap at the far post against a powerful Vale forward standing out. He's good with ball and he'll hold his ground. Antwi only gets better as the game goes on, one moment popping the ball up off his chest and nodding it forward accurately standing out in the memory as does his ability to retain possession when his youth would suggest he might have made the wrong choice. He's got a trick or two but he seemed to deploy them sparingly. Both do their chances no harm at all today. 


Second half, the only change on 45 is the keeper, with Fojticek, the more impressive of the two trialists from the previous game given a run out. Early on, the defence are playing seemingly endless triangles and the keeper plays a short ball out to Big Marvin who is under pressure. His hurried and lax touch lets in a nippy Vale forward who tucks a lovely finish away. It's almost as if Critchley has said 'Go out and piss about at the back then we'll see if this trialist lad can play' 

It's clear we are going to have to accept that the way we're going to play will mean we concede goals that a more agricultural approach would have avoided. The flip side will hopefully be we score goals that a more agricultural approach probably wouldn't. If we are allowed back under some kind of post apocalyptic 'no shouting, no chanting' rules, then it's a good chance the first person ejected from the stadium will be bellowing 'FOR FUCK'S SAKE! JUST GET RID' as we tikitaka about in defence. At least Ryan Edwards has gone, so we're spared that.  

Pool hit back straight away. Nathan Shaw hits a long ball (on his right foot as well) that Yates springs for and not only wins but controls beautifully. He plays the ball for Keshi Anderson, but it's not quite the right one and Vale clear their lines. Except they don't, they dally on the ball and in response to our error, show their own frailty, it's like an AA meeting for lower league teams with footballing pretensions...  Anderson out muscles their man and suddenly has the goal at his mercy. He shows none at all as he executes a beautiful, precise side footed finish into the bottom corner and caps a cracking show with a really well deserved goal. 

On 60 minutes, it's all change and the start of the CJ Hamilton show. This lad is quick. No, he's not quick. He's fucking quick. And a bit quicker than that. 

He gets his performance going by racing inside the fullback onto a lovely ball from deep (possibly from Grant Ward), like fire melting ice... he just surges away from him leaving him reeling and forces a sharp save. 

Then Super Joe goes down with a knee injury and young Nathan comes back on. Probably because the older lads made him. 

Hamilton is back on it, with a run from inside his own half where he goes past several defenders like they aren't there but (in what I feel may be a clue as to why we were able to get a player of such obvious attributes and thrilling potential) finishing the run by passing the ball tamely into the hands of their keeper. Fans of Martin Bullock (of which I am very firmly one) may have found their new hero.

Sarkic is playing deeper than we expected from the brochure in the showroom but he looks calm and composed. He seems like a player who will stroll thoughtfully rather than run headlessly. Robson looks really good on the ball and several times we have the kind of move we'd go games without witnessing last year, where we pass and move and progress up the pitch by merit of players finding space, moving for each other and interchanging well. 

Fojticek redeems himself with a vary smart save when Vale get a one on one.

Grant Ward fizzes a lovely cross from the right that no one quite can put their name on.

Turton and Nottingham form an unlikely but actually quite effective partnership and the former in particular looks really steady, whilst our Ollie's distribution is good.

New cult hero Ben Garrity does ok in an unfamiliar right back role and puts one lovely lofted ball through that almost releases Ward from deep. 

I do spend a lot of the 30 mins Gary Madine on the pitch pondering the same question I've pondered since realising Critchball is for real. How is he going to be a part of this? He jogs about up front and is tidy enough but without really affecting the game. Again, I thought Nuttall in his few minutes looked more part of things than the goal machine but in the dying minutes, he controls the ball and slips Hamilton away who is again foiled. Maybe the big lad and the quick lad isn't so outdated... Maybe with his back to goal and the likes of Anderson and Hamilton haring off him, Madine could be class. I'm still not sure. 


This felt like a good work out. It was a decent test and after what was little more than an exhibition match, that was exactly what we needed. We've learned that our scouting has been decent and that we've got some potentially frightening attacking power. We've also seen again, that some of our new players look to have an excellent mentality. Yates and Anderson in particular looked like they wanted to win and though Ekpetita wasn't quite the Rolls Royce we want, his reaction to an error was to carry on playing the same way which is what you want to see and there were moments he looked great. If anything, it felt like him and Thorniley hadn't really gelled. I didn't think Thorniley did much wrong I can point too but they didn't look like the foundation to build the house on. 

We still look a player or two short - Certainly a real experienced/classy head at the back and maybe a similar central midfielder (can't think of one currently unemployed though...), but for all that, we've also discovered that Antwi and Shaw look ready to play a part. Sterner challenges await for both, but this was a much authentic test than last week and both did well. They seem to have the brain for it as well as the skills. They're not going to be the lynch pins around which a season revolves, but as players who can do a job, be on the bench, put pressure on and bring their enthusiasm and energy to the squad, they're valuable. They're even more valuable when you consider them as 'free hits' in a salary cap squad. 

Bring on Barrow and David Dunn then bring on the Bluenoses. Who cares about a bit of defensive wobbliness.

We'll score one more than anyone! 


*after being a bit snide about the feed last week, this was a top job by both clubs and the picture and commentary was excellent. 


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