Vale 1 Southend United 2
Vale produce a truly dispiriting performance, bereft of confidence and lacking in quality as they slip to another home defeat, this time to Southend United.
A disputed penalty and a deflected effort were enough to hand the visitors the points, though in truth Vale were the masterminds of their own downfall. With Plan A seemingly sussed over recent weeks, Micky Adams appeared to opt for Plan B - sheer panic. The Vale boss selected a bizarre looking team, choosing Chris Shuker on the left hand side of midfield, while there was no place for the recently recalled Louis Dodds, who is as quickly out of favour as he is in. Daniel Jones was ruled out through injury, which meant a place at left back for Robert Taylor, while Sam Morsy, who was one of Vale`s brighter performers, partnered Anthony Griffith in midfield.
With supporters understandably jittery following recent performances, this nervousness seems to have transferred to the manager, who having recently stated the case for his defence in refusing to change his team, has gone full circle and appears now to have little idea of what is his best team.
Southend were gifted the lead when Darren Purse needlessly gave away a penalty. Regardless of the validity of the decision, it was a challenge that didn`t need to be made, with midfielder Matthew Lund going nowhere. Sean Clohessy finished with aplomb from the spot. A second was on the cards and duly followed after more sloppy defending from both Liam Chilvers and Purse, who saw the on loan Britt Assombalonga drift past him with frightening ease, before firing a shot that was deflected past the helpless Neal. The Watford man was a constant threat all afternoon, as Vale`s lack of pace and/or mobility at the heart of their defence was exposed once more.
Not for the first time an opposition packed the midfield area and starved Vale of possession. What possession they had was usually wasted by the centre halves hoofing the ball aimlessly to an isolated Tom Pope and Lee Hughes.
With Vale`s wide men increasingly ineffective and the midfield out-numbered, the fluid attacking football from earlier in the campaign seems to have all but deserted the Valiants. An improved second half display was the result of some frenetic effort, but not an improvement in quality. Lee Hughes demonstrated his goal scoring instincts remain, sniffing out a Shuker cross to halve the deficit with a neat header past Smith. The former West Brom striker always looked likeliest to rescue the home side and he came close to an equaliser but Smith produced a fine stop from close range. Sam Morsy`s 20 yard shot narrowly missed in injury time, but that would have only papered over some increasingly large cracks. Cracks, that unless they are fixed soon, are in danger of de-railing Vale`s promotion hopes. Something that appeared unthinkable a couple of months ago.
More reaction to follow...