‘Meeting the opposition’ – Port Vale.

‘Meeting the opposition’ – Port Vale F.C

This upcoming weekend sees Tranmere Rovers play host to Port Vale in League Two action. With that in mind, I placed questions towards long-serving supporter Scott Challinor. I thought it would be interesting to see the thoughts of a fan who’s club will soon face Rovers, to get his opinions of the Whites as well as his thoughts on the position of the Vale at the moment, on and off the pitch; amongst many other subjects.

How long have you been a Vale fan? How did you first come across the club?

‘I have been watching the Vale since roughly 2001, with the LDV Vans Trophy Final triumph of that season being the first game I can remember. As for how I got into watching them, my Dad indoctrinated me early on in life!’

Proudest moment as a fan?

‘Promotion in the 2012-13 season. The club started the season still in administration from the previous campaign and didn’t even have a permanent first-team kit by the opening day. 21 wins, 15 draws and just ten defeats later and the club was celebrating a miracle promotion which had manifested completely against the odds. Boyhood Vale supporter Tom Pope also notched 31 league goals that season (33 in all competitions) and walked away with the League Two golden boot to put the cherry on the cake’.

Random fact about Port Vale?

‘The club holds the record for the fewest goals conceded in a Football League season, with Freddie Steele’s Vale side conceding just 21 goals in 46 matches on their way to the Third Division North title in the 1953-54 season. The Valiants defence, nicknamed the “Iron Curtain”, also helped the club reach the semi-finals of the FA Cup in the same season, controversially losing out to eventual winners West Brom’.

What are your thoughts on the campaign so far? What were your expectations going into the season and what are they now in the final stages?

‘Going into the season, there was high expectation that we’d be finishing in a playoff place and prospectively sneaking into the top three. After a horrible run of form between November and the New Year which culminated in John Askey’s sacking, those hopes are pretty much out of the window now! I am quietly hoping we can string together a good run of form to at least give us an outside chance of sneaking seventh place, but I’m expecting that we’ll be between 11th and 14th by the end of the campaign’.

What were your thoughts on John Askey’s dismissal? How has your interim manager looked in his role so far? Going forwards, who would you like to see in the hot-seat?

‘It was absolutely the correct decision and was perhaps slightly overdue. Although the players had to shoulder a large portion of the blame, our run of form became indefensible and a change was needed. I’m pleased that the owners were brave enough to make what was a difficult call.

Since Askey’s departure, interim manager Danny Pugh’s performance has been pleasing. If we overlook two of our recent fixtures where Pugh wasn’t present for training or in the dugout due to testing positive for Covid (both of which we lost) he has taken seven points from a possible nine. I anticipate this weekend’s match to be one of the sternest tests of his time in caretaker charge, however.

In the long-term, out of the realistic candidates for the role, I’d like to see David Flitcroft in the Vale Park hotseat. He has an impressive track record in League 2 and has managed at a higher level, as well as having worked with Pugh before now. Having successfully worked with Tom Pope at Bury earlier in his career also, he’s sure to curry up favour in the dressing room quite early on, I feel’.

What are your thoughts on Vale’s owners? Who are they?

‘I couldn’t be happier with the owners we have. Carol and Kevin Shanahan are both supporters of the football club and they run the successful IT security business Synectics Solutions which is based just next door to Vale Park. They both paid well over the odds for the club to take us out of Norman Smurthwaite’s hands (thankfully!) and since then it has largely been a period of steady improvement…until now. The last 2-3 months have been the biggest test of their tenure so far.

Having made the bold decision to dispense with John Askey after an unacceptable run of form, they now find themselves having to appoint a new gaffer for the very first time. Whether they do decide to appoint an experienced manager or stick with interim manager Danny Pugh for longer than anticipated, I trust that they will make the right call for the club’.

What players will pose the greatest threats to Tranmere this weekend?

‘Firstly, Devante Rodney. The 22-year-old summer signing from Salford scored in the return fixture at Vale Park and has since established himself as the Valiants’ leading marksman for the season with ten goals in all competitions, nine of which have been in the league.

Secondly, Tom Conlon. A leading contender for Vale’s player of the season, the midfielder has established himself as one of the most proficient set-piece takers outside of the Championship and boasts five goals (three of which have come from direct free-kicks) and six assists for the season to back that up. His stellar performances haven’t gone unnoticed by the interim manager, who has awarded the locally born midfielder with the captain’s armband since taking charge of the side. He won and scored a penalty in the return fixture against Tranmere at Vale Park and assisted another in the same game.

Thirdly, David Worrall. The industrious and hard-working winger is League Two’s leading assists provider for the season with nine, while notching two goals of his own. He assisted Devante Rodney’s headed goal in the return fixture against Rovers earlier this season with a quick free-kick’.

What is your score prediction for the match at Prenton Park?

‘I think this match will finish 2-2. Both sides carry a significant attacking threat while finding clean sheets somewhat hard to come by. With the previous match between the sides being a seven-goal thriller, I expect goals again in this one. After the manner in which the last game ended, I think the Vale players will be desperate to come out of this one unbeaten, but will come up short in having enough to win the game against an in-form Rovers side’.

What is your opinion on Tranmere?

‘At this stage in the season, Rovers are pretty much exactly where I expected them to be. I imagine the Palioses felt hard done to that the club found itself in League Two this season in the first place – given the manner in which the previous campaign ended – and their determination to get the club swiftly back into League One is underpinned by the significant investment that has gone into this campaign. Not only have they dispensed with Mike Jackson and funded the appointment of Keith Hill, but an array of impressive summer and January signings including the likes of James Vaughan, Otis Khan and David Nugent show the spending power that the club has at this level. With an impressive transfer window coming during a rich vein of form, I expect Tranmere to finish in the playoff places at least, if not in the top three’.

What were your thoughts following the last meeting between the two clubs? Tranmere won 4-3 after an amazing comeback.

‘From a Vale point of view, that result was bitterly disappointing. Were it not for a needlessly reckless challenge from Vale midfielder Luke Joyce who took an early bath around ten minutes into the second half, I feel we would have taken something from the game. Nevertheless, even with ten men, when you have worked so hard to get ahead and lead 3-2 in stoppage time, you expect to see out the win or take a point at the bare minimum, yet we conspired to lose the game in dramatic circumstances. That isn’t to take anything away from the spirit Tranmere showed that day to keep going for the win. That match also happened to spark the poor run of form which derailed our season and culminated in Askey’s sacking, so perhaps the football gods might let us escape Prenton Park with a point or better this time around!’

What are your thoughts on Port Vale’s January transfer business?

‘Considering that our transfer business has been conducted by an interim management team, I’m quite pleased with the additions we’ve made. The permanent return of midfielder Jake Taylor who scored seven goals on loan with the club last season is most welcome, and the addition of Bradford’s Kurtis Guthrie provides us with a target man in the final third while Tom Pope is sidelined with a broken arm. On deadline day, we bolstered the defence with the loan addition of young Huddersfield defender Mustapha Olagunju, who I look forward to seeing in action, and Nottingham Forest striker Will Swan who has an impressive goal record in U23s football and in the Southern Premier League following a previous loan spell at Truro. I anticipate both players should help us. With a managerial change looming and squad turnover likely, strengthening the side for the rest of the season with loan deals was a cost effective move.

The only other January move came out of necessity, with young goalkeeper Tom Scott coming in to provide cover for regular number one Scott Brown, after backup keeper Dino Visser suffered a season ending training ground injury. Credit to the club for making sure we covered all bases’.

Given that David Amoo played for Tranmere, in 2013, what are your thoughts on him?

‘I’m a fan of Amoo. On his day he can be unplayable, but so typically of a flair player at this level, consistency is an issue. After an impressive first season with us in 2019-20 I hoped he’d kick on and become a key player for us this time around, but he has found his opportunities limited by injury, with a recurring hamstring problem hampering his season. However, he still has plenty to offer to the team when fit and notched a goal in the return fixture against Tranmere earlier in the campaign. At this stage I’m not certain as to whether he is match fit, so we may see him this weekend or we may not!’

  • Former Tranmere forward, David Amoo, pictured in action for Port Vale. 

I would like to thank Scott Challinor for his time answering the questions that I placed towards him. This league encounter should be an interesting occasion, a Rovers win could see them being placed in the top three. I hope that readers enjoyed this Q+A.

Thank you very much for reading,

Stay safe,

Ethan Hoijord 

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