January began badly, with a supine defeat at home to Fleetwood Town on New Year`s Day. (Fleetwood celebrated this win by losing their next two games, including a thumping 3-0 defeat at home to Bristol Rovers.) Micky Adams showed himself commendably unmoved by the Fleetwood defeat and since then the team has gone on to thrash Plymouth Argyle, win at Gillingham and come back from 2-0 down to draw against AFC Wimbledon. I don`t think these games have told us anything new.
Vale`s strengths - pace, the ability to make and take chances - and their weaknesses, the inability to keep clean sheets, the lack of a physical presence in central midfield have been apparent all season. On the evidence of the Wimbledon game, the perennial left back problem appears to have been solved.
Purse has added strength and leadership (if not pace) at the back. I am less convinced by Hughes, but there is not a lot of evidence to go on yet. The League 2 table has a curious look about it in some ways. Gillingham went back to the top after their recent home win against Northampton Town, but that was their first win at home in the league since 20 October. The natives have seemed rather less enamoured of Martin Allen than Sky Sports.
Exeter City also have a very poor home record. Burton Albion and Northampton Town both have away records that do not suggest they are capable of achieving automatic promotion. Bradford City are a strong team, but their league form recently has suffered amid their great cup run. Much will depend on how they respond after the Capital Cup Final and to the inevitable fixture congestion.
Vale`s next two games, both at home, look eminently winnable, but both are against teams that have given us trouble in the past and, in AFC Wimbledon`s case, the very recent past. Let`s pray for dry weather.