A third of the season has skipped by already and the clocks going back last weekend heralded the start of winter good and proper. Or is it the monsoon season? In any case it’s a good time to review where we are and, dare I mention it, have a quick check on progress so far.
In the top half of the table, in touching distance of the play-off places and unbeaten at home is something that the vast majority of supporters would have gladly accepted back in early August. However, there’s a growing feeling amongst some of the Vale faithful that we should be even better placed.
In a way I can sympathise with this thinking. Whilst we’ve only lost 4 out of 16 League games and are unbeaten at home, we’ve only won 5 and we have a negative goal difference. Too many drawn games, most of them where we’ve failed to capitalise from a winning position, have cost us dearly and we could now be in the top 4 or 5. If only…
If only the ref hadn’t given that penalty, if only this or that hadn’t happened against us, then yes, we’d probably be top of the League by now. Fair enough, but my sympathy doesn’t extend to the complete acceptance such a jaundiced view.
The main reason why we aren’t sitting nearer the top of the League is because, right now, we aren’t good enough to be there. Harsh penalty decisions aside, we just haven’t shown enough consistency in our performances to warrant a higher berth. The excellent win at Bradford sandwiched between two turgid home draws against supposedly poorer opposition would seem to underline my point quite nicely.
I’m not quite sure how the gaffer addresses the issue of consistency, but I guess that it’s not an uncommon problem at lower league level, otherwise the players would probably be earning their corn higher up the pyramid. Is it a confidence thing perhaps? Who knows? It’s certainly frustrating.
I sometimes think that it’s just down to belief. I’m confident that our fully fit squad, playing to its potential, is good enough to do well in League 2. In addition, with the likes of Brown, Legge, Joyce, Worrall, Amoo and Pope we have committed professionals with the combined experience of over 2000 League appearances to lead and complement the younger and less experienced players in the team. Yet we have too often failed to take games by the scruff of the neck and as a result had to settle for just a single point.
We generally look balanced and rarely get overrun. The match stats suggest that we are creating a reasonable number of chances and the goals tally is spread throughout the team, so I’m struggling to put my finger on what it is that’s holding us back. I don’t think that it’s a tactical thing, but whatever it is I hope that the gaffer can sort it out.
In fairness injuries haven’t been that kind to us so far, with the all-important midfield department being hardest hit. Taylor and Burgess have come in and done OK but losing both Manny and Conlon at the same time has been a real setback. Let’s hope that their eventual return will be like having two new signings for the second half of the season and they’ll help to balance out the inconsistencies so that we can push on that little bit more.
Whilst we’re analysing our own performances, it’s also worth looking at the standard of opposition we are facing. From what I’ve seen to date, I don’t think there’s much to really shout about in League 2 this season. There doesn’t seem to be a group of standout teams expected to form the promotion places come next May. With the odd exception it’s much of a muchness from top to bottom and we are certainly not the only team struggling for the consistency required to lay down a marker. The middle of the table is particularly congested and any of those team who puts together a few wins can make huge strides towards the top. Let’s hope we can start such a run at Crewe on Saturday.
Before I get too carried away, I have to repeat the comments I made at the beginning of the season. The yardstick this term is progress, no matter how small. As far as I am concerned, we are moving in the right direction but there’s still a way to go. There’s no quick fix to the situation that the new owners inherited. A good measure of patience is required.
Key thing for me right now is to hang in there and get past Christmas staying in contention, then who knows what might happen. Mid table has to be taken as a decent stride forward and anything better a bonus. As long as we’re not in a relegation battle. We’ve just had three of those in succession - and that’s a run of consistent performances we definitely don’t want to continue.