So last week it was the cup and this week the pottery (ouch). But certainly a bringing back to earth for our somewhat tired looking outfit. We said beforehand that this game would show what we are really made of – regrettably it did: it told us that we are currently not good enough to go up out of this division. It also hinted at a potential relegation fixture for next season.
The team selection seemed bold enough, though not at all obvious why Robinson was on the bench. But a midfield featuring both Leons showed plenty of attacking intent, whilst the centre midfield pairing of O’Leary and Tudor-Jones suggested that some steel and grit would also be in order, and clearly KJ felt that these would be the two to provide it.
In defence Tate and Ricketts began at right and left full back respectively. Lowe and Monk were in the centre in front of Gueret. Trundle was up front, partnered by Akinfenwa, whose recent run of form saw him (probably rightly) selected ahead of Fallon.
The conditions in which the game commenced were truly awful. The wind was swirling, and driving rain came and went in patches, with intermittent sunbursts barely concealing the difficult conditions as the pitch began to cut up. For the first twenty minutes or so, the Swans hardly joined in. Port Vale mastered the conditions more quickly, but also generally showed more desire. Without ever looking like a particularly good team they battled their way into some threatening positions. A couple of headers flashed wide, and Willy was forced into one full length save. During the spell, the Swans chased shadows. In particular, our lamentable centre midfield watched the game go round them, over them, past them and sometimes through them, with no impact either in defensive or attacking mode. We quickly resorted to the long ball, but with Bayo being out-jumped and Knight and Trundle out-muscled there was little penetration or control on our part. The only bright spot was the excellent forward running of Leon Britton, whose trickery and pace belied the conditions and the general state of play. But with little support his impact was minimal.
However, as the half wore on the very limited Vale side began to surrender control and looked increasingly less threatening. The Swans managed to get something of a foothold, mainly because Britton drifted into a central role and managed to provide some much needed creativity from the middle of the park. Curiously, Trundle found himself drifting into a wide right position to compensate. This improved spell resulted in a couple of blocked efforts (from Trundle and Knight respectively) and Tudor-Jones header which flashed just wide. On 40 minutes we had gained the upper hand without actually playing well, and when the home side took the lead it was actually against the run of play. Ricketts, who had been skinned more times in this half than the Canadian seal population, once again failed to prevent a cross from the PV right – this time it was met easily by the unmarked Togwell who nodded past stranded Gueret. The home fans burst into life and celebrated as torrential rain swept across the pitch and into the stands.
Curiously, the sun came out at half time, and things looked generally brighter when O’Leary was substituted at half time for Martinez – reminiscent of Tranmere earlier in the season, when the same players were swapped in an attempt to save the game. And it was a transformed Swans team which started the second half, suddenly swarming forward with renewed vigour. The reward came quickly – Britton started the move which resulted in Trundle being played into a wide left position. Trunds turned his defender before floating a delightful cross towards Bayo, who headed home at the far post. A nice goal, which should have been the platform for greater things. And for a while this looked likely, as we continued to press forward and control the game, without creating any really clear cut chances.
But then on 58 minutes we contrived to pass the initiative back to the home side. A simple ball from the PV left found Cummins some 25 yards out. To the astonishment of all observers, no-one from the Swans midfield or defence made any attempt whatsoever to close him down. The Vale man was able to control the ball, set himself, take aim (I even think he stooped to initial the ball) before unleashing a shot on goal. It wasn’t a particularly good shot – not that hard and at very save-able height. But inexplicably, Willy managed only to palm it into the back of the net. From a position of control we had contrived once again to self-destruct. But it was obvious that PV weren’t that good. Surely we could still get something from this? Knight gave way to Robinson in an attempt to put more impetus into our attack. But with the wind in their sales it was the home team who extended their lead 5 minutes later. Another deep cross from our right side bisected Lowe and Monk, and Constantine headed home from close range. A well executed goal, but we have to wonder whether our centre half pairing has lead in its boots. A partnership of Izzy and Watt for next season, methinks?
For the next half an hour or so the Swans pretty much dominated possession, certainly keeping the ball far better than in the first half. This period saw us produce a couple of impressive long range efforts from the lovely Robinson, both of which were beaten away by the home keeper. But we always looked vulnerable on the break and one sweeping Vale move saw a shot flash just past our post with Gueret beaten. Fallon came on for Britton and we found ourselves in a 4-3-3 formation in a late attempt to save the game.
We certainly managed to exert some pressure, with some decent delivery from Tate and Trundle, but it was in the last 10 minutes that we managed a real assault, with Vale seeking to close the game out. First, Trundle tested the keeper with a trademark lashing left foot drive. Then, on 88 minutes, Trundle tried the same thing again – this time his shot looped off the defender’s foot and fell kindly to Fallon who was able to volley into an open goal. This spurred the Swans into a late rally in which nearly nicked a point. Firstly Trundle was played through on goal – with keeper advancing, Lee nicked the ball over him, and we were almost celebrating before a Vale defender cleared the ball off the line. Then we created a couple of goal mouth scrambles before Tudor-Jones lashed a close range shot against the bar when perhaps he should have scored.
The players were clearly devastated at the end, and to be fair they had come very close to nicking a point. But this was not a good side we lost to today – we made them look better than they were and in the end a defeat was probably what we deserved.
Gueret – 6 One good save, but certainly at fault for second goal.
Ricketts – 5 Really struggled today (but not worthy of the “scapegoat” insults from the crowd)
Tate – 7 the most combative of our defenders
Lowe/Monk – 5 apiece (or 2.5 each if you like). Not strong enough at the heart of the defence
Britton – 8 Some excellent play for 65 minutes – our most creative midfielder.
Knight – 6 Some determined running but wasted on the wing
O’Leary – 5 Got one good tackle in.
Tudor-Jones – 6 Not great but had a couple of moments in attack
Bayo – 6 Battled hard and got his goal.
Trundle – 7 showed his class in patches, often marked by three players. Our other strikers don’t seem to be able to exploit that. Two assists and nearly stole it.
Martinez – 6 As always gave some shape to the midfield, although nowhere near his best
Robinson – 7 Some real drive and energy from the impact man
Fallon – 6 Did little, but like Bayo he popped up for his goal.
KJ/KN tactics and motivation – Sadly, the team didn’t seem to play with much pattern or cohesion. The players didn’t really seem to know the game-plan. We are devoid of natural width, and are trying to force strikers and central midfielders to play as wingers. We are looking increasingly reliant on the individual brilliance of our more skilful players to make things happen. PV gave us a lesson in how to create space in wide positions and deliver quality crosses. Despite our late rally, this was horribly reminiscent of some of our lamentable efforts in the winter and early spring of last season (e.g. Notts Co away). But this time there seems no time left for the late run to automatic promotion. Let’s hope we can still scramble a play off place. See you at Blackpool – hope the weather improves.
Have a read of another Port Vale v Swans match report by Nigel Gigg.