Watching from the stands on Tuesday night, Tony Mowbray will have witnessed what was a microcosm of our season. Some decent play, a silly goal conceded, a lack of an immediate response, some too-little-too-late bluster and of course, a failed penalty appeal. We may have only lost by a narrow margin but with the rest of the bottom 6 teams in the division also losing, this was a missed opportunity, especially as it puts paid to any momentum we could have built after the MK ‘Dons’ result.
Mowbray can either look at that performance against Barnsley and think ‘we conceded a cheap goal from a set-piece, we need to defend better’ or think ‘we failed to respond to that goal in any meaningful way, we need to attack better’. It’s that conundrum that any lower league manager has, you know both your team and the opposition will make mistakes, you can either reduce your own or try and force the opposition to make more than you do. You would expect a manager of Mowbray’s attacking instincts will go for the latter rather than the former.
The team selection for this game is anyone’s guess. The team on Tuesday night did not cover themselves with glory with a low-key showing. Adam Barton and John Fleck were both name-checked by Mowbray in his opening press conference but it still feels that the two together slow the team down rather than provide creativity. Conor Thomas seems like someone who will benefit from Mowbray’s management and could be handed a start ahead of Adam Barton.
Blair Turgott made a promising cameo on Tuesday whilst his fellow wideman Sanmi Odelusi struggled to get into the game. If Tony Mowbray is looking to reduce his reliance on loan players, Odelusi’s quiet performance would have been a convenient excuse to give chances to other loanees. On the other flank, Jim O’Brien needs a real kick up the arse at the moment, not that he’s lacking in work-rate, O’Brien is lacking form on the ball and has no idea what to do off it at the moment.
The selection in defence is also up in the air. Lee Burge’s recent form in goal gives Mowbray the chance to select loan players in outfield positions. The new manager could be tempted to drop Matthew Pennington for Andy Webster in another move to give him more options to play loan players. Dropping Chris Stokes for Ryan Haynes could be another selection with the loan player rules in mind, that one could depend on how well Haynes has reacted to Mowbray’s management early on.
Dominic Samuel seemingly spent more time offside than on against Barnsley but seems one of the few players guaranteed a start against Port Vale. His strike partner looks to be either Frank Nouble or Marcus Tudgay. Samuel has played well alongside either and Mowbray might feel that he can see something in one of his former favourites Ishmael Miller in Nouble and believe that he can bring the best out of someone who has been largely frustrating thus far for us. The less said about Nick Proschwitz, the better.
Possible Line-Up: (4-4-2) Burge; Phillips, Pennington, Martin, Stokes; O’Brien, Thomas, Fleck, Turgott; Nouble, Samuel.
Last Time We Met
Our last meeting against Port Vale felt like a significant turning point of the season at the time. Steven Pressley’s team won back-to-back away league games for the first, and only, time this season having previously failed to win away nearly 9 months. Despite Port Vale finding themselves on top for most of the game, the Sky Blues nicked three points with two scrappy goals. The first came just after Matthew Pennington deflected a cross off the Hubble telescope before the ball dropped onto the head of Reda Johnson storming forward from left-back to give us the lead. After holding on for dear life, Jim O’Brien somehow failed to score an easy chance on the counter before Gary Madine tripped over the ball and sent it into the back of the net.
It wasn’t pretty but there was a feeling at the time that the win was a turning-point in the season. We have won just two of our 13 league games since then.
How Are They Doing?
Port Vale were not expected to be in the hunt for the play-offs this season. Last year under Micky Adams that had been solid but effective, after Adams walked out stating that his shelf-life at the club had expired, few expected Rob Page to do anything more than to keep the Valiants in the division, if even that. Despite losing to Oldham on Tuesday night, Port Vale sit comfortable in 13th, just four points off the play-offs.
Perhaps Port Vale’s form this season should have been no surprise as their squad had actually been strengthened over the summer. Players like Michael O’Connor and Michael Brown in midfield are proven stand-out performers in this division with wide-man Byron Moore having previously attracted attention from Championship clubs before joining the Valiants in the summer. Ex-Sky Blue Mark Marshall has been one of the star players this season after Micky Adams took a punt on a player who had just had a mixed spell at Coventry City.
It would be remiss to write about Port Vale without mentioning Tom Pope, but their top-scorer for the past two seasons hasn’t been at his peak level this time out. Young forward Ben Williamson has usurped Pope on the top of the goal-scoring charts despite being widely ridiculed by Vale fans for the majority of the season. Williamson is quick and is a decent physical presence in the box although he can be very inconsistent.
Port Vale’s success this season under Rob Page has been centred around good defensive play, taking the lead and seeing the game out successfully. Chris Neal in goal is one of those opposition keepers you worry about putting on one of those famed ‘goalkeeping clinics’ that pop-up every now and again. Freddie Veseli, a player who was on the books of both Manchester clubs, has matured this season after a loan spell from Ipswich to become a classy presence at the back. Crystal Palace loanee Ryan Inniss has recently joined and helped increase Port Vale’s defensive stinginess. And they have Carl Dickinson to circumnavigate.
Possible Line-Up: (4-4-2) Neal; Veseli, Inniss, Robertson, Dickinson; Marshall, Brown, O’Connor, Moore; Williamson, Pope.
Port Vale are in decent form at the moment and have the motivation of keeping themselves in contention for the play-offs by winning this game. Whilst many are looking at this fixture as a relatively easy game for Tony Mowbray to open his account with the club, we will need to find our way past a well-organised and street-smart Port Vale side. Rob Page’s side might be very happy to play large portions of this game on the back-foot and hurt us on the counter with their pace out wide, we need to make the spells we do dominate count.
This game is massively important for us to win. Not only because it gets the new manager off to a good start but because off our desperate situation in the league. The players and us fans need a boost, a feeling of an upturn in momentum that Tony Mowbray will be able to turn things around, and fast. As I have been impressed with how Mowbray has handled himself thus far, I am predicting 3-1 win for Coventry City.