By Ty Jenner
1.With the season kicking off a few weeks ago, how do you think your side have done so far after returning to League One?
I’m answering this on the eve of our home game to Bolton Wanderers so maybe you should ask me on Sunday! But so far, it’s been a bit of a mixed bag, so I’ll rate it a 5/10. We opened the season at home to Fleetwood with a team that was pretty much unchanged from last year and I was pleasantly surprised. We looked very comfortable and after the opening 10 minutes Fleetwood didn’t cause us many problems, looking decent going forward despite only one striker being fit and solid enough at the back. But fast forward a week and things couldn’t have been more different! A nice 4hr trip to Devon to see us thrashed by Exeter, one of the teams we followed out of League Two. I think what was more concerning for us was that Exeter (at that point) had only a couple of signings… So, it was a little sobering to see us struggle so badly. If I was to look at things glass half full, I’d maybe put the poor performance and result down to a shortened pre-season & a lack of match fitness having played just two friendlies (I’m not making excuse. Honest.)
2.Are you happy with your club’s activity and business in the transfer market?
I think if you asked most Vale fans to describe the transfer window in one word it would be “frustrating”. To be fair, that may be down to how previous transfer windows have gone where we’ve had little direction and players on short term contracts, so we’ve gotten used to a big turnover of players year in year out. But since David Flitcroft came in as Director of Football things have now changed. We now have a proper recruitment team and sports analysts in place, so while signings have come in spurts with weeks in between I think most fans trust the recruitment team after the players they bought in last season. In terms of signings, we’ve strengthened across the board and we’re a stronger outfit now than a week ago. Defenders Will Forrester, Lewis Cass & Thierry Small have all joined the club and come with big reputations, so will expect them all to make an impact in some way this season. Funso Ojo comes into midfield from Aberdeen and has already had a steady, calming presence in a midfield three & Rory Holding has joined from Walsall who, should he stay fit, offers some exciting options going forward. Gavin Massey has come into the team after winning promotion with Wigan last year, and despite being played as more of a winger during his career expect to see him at wing-back in place of James Gibbons who left for Bristol Rovers. The two biggest question marks about this summer so far have been the goalkeeper and strikers, and thankfully we addressed that on Thursday. Jack Stevens comes in on loan from Oxford and I fully expect him to start in goal on Tuesday and Ellis Harrison has signing for an undisclosed fee from Fleetwood. Harrison played under Clarke at Bristol Rovers where he scored for fun, so if he can rediscover that form, we’ll be made up! Overall, despite being a frustrating summer for signings I think that majority of fans will be pleased with the business we’ve done. So far!
3.How do you think the Port Vale will approach the game? (Style of Play/Sit back/press etc)
So far this season we’ve stuck with the 3-5-2 that proved so popular for us last season, and on paper we have the players to help us kick on, but I think this game may be a little to early to see us firing on all cylinders. Under Clarke the Vale play a high intensity press when out of the ball and you can expect the midfield 3 and front 2 to press hard. With the ball a lot of what we do relies on our wingbacks and centre backs. It’s no great surprise that last season we went off the boil when we lost (then on loan) Lewis Cass to injury because our centre backs tend to overlap and support the wingbacks. So, expect to see a lot of 6’4” Connor Hall bombing on and putting balls into the box!
4.Which Vale player do you think the Dons should watch out for in the game?
In normal circumstances I’d say James Wilson or Tom Conlon. Wilson is technically a very good player and was outstanding for us last year in League Two. To be honest the fact he was even playing at that level is a travesty, but he’s out injured. Conlon, out captain came off the bench last week after 7/8 months out with a ruptured Achilles so whether he starts is anyone’s guess, but on his day, he could be one of the best midfielders in the league. Comfortable on the ball, he has an eye for a pass and a wand of a left foot especially when it comes to free kicks. But seeing as I’m not sure they’ll start I’ll suggest Will Forrester at centre back if for no other reason than his pedigree and back story. It was quite the coup for the Vale when Forrester joined the club. The club actually paid a fee for him from a Championship club where he was very highly thought of and at 21 looked to have a bright future, and he finished the season in their back three… But when that club is rivals Stoke City, it gave the whole transfer a new dimension. But drama aside, Forrester’s signing is exciting – he should start on Tuesday and will (potentially) be the best defender in a strong back three. He’s comfortable on the ball, good in the air and likes to get forward, so expect a real battle between Forrester, Smith & Hall and the Dons forward line.
5.Realistically, where do you think the Dons will finish this season, considering the departures of Twine and Darling, as well as the arrivals?
Dons had an incredible season last year! And the money you got for Twine & Darling should help the club progress, but obviously there’s no guarantees in football and footballers of that quality are hard to replace. If Will Grigg can rediscover his best form then I fully expect Dons to be in the hunt for automatic promotion again and I like the signings of Nathan Holland, Connor Grant & Bradley Johnson, but I think this year, after losing two big players like that may prove a bit too soon for Dons in terms of autos when you’ve got the likes of Ipswich & Sheff Wednesday throwing money around but I fully expect Dons to finish in the top 6 this year.
6.After securing promotion back to League One, do you think the objective will be primarily to stay up, or do you think Vale can aim higher than that?
100%. I don’t think anyone expected us to go up last season and before the season started it felt very much, with Darrell Clarke in his first full season, that the club was building for a promotion push in a year or two, so for it to happen in year one that was incredible! The Shanahan’s back the manager last season and they have again this year. But being newly promoted into League One these days with Bolton, Sheff Wed, Derby etc it’s a different proposition and I think most Vale fans are realistic around what we’ll be capable of as we’re fishing in a pool with some serious big boys. If we can stay up this year, consolidate on the promotion I’ll be a happy man!
7.Many people have varied opinions on Stadium MK – have you been, and if so, what are your thoughts on the ground?
I’m absolutely gutted because I’ve been trying to get to Stadium MK for years, and because of work it looks like I’m missing out again. Although I did have the pleasure of visiting the National Hockey Stadium before you guys moved, which was an “experience”. In all honesty I can’t really comment on the stadium too much as I’ve never been as I’ve said but, in my opinion, and I’m sure it’s one you’ve heard many a time before, I just think it’s a bit big in terms of capacity. I’d genuinely love to know how MK Dons fans feel about it because I know it’s something Vale fans have commented on about Vale Park before, having empty seats on TV etc and adding to the atmosphere. I just wonder whether a smaller stadium would create a more intimidating atmosphere at game.
8.Which game are you looking forward to the most this season in the League?
I’m really looking forward to Derby away! Mainly because it was the first game, I went to in 1995 and we’ve only played them once since then. Also, it’s not a million miles away down the A50 at a decent stadium with passionate fans so it should make for a tasty game.
9.Who do you think will be going up this season, and who do you think will be going down?
For promotion I think you have to say Sheffield Wednesday & probably Ipswich for me. They’ve made some very good signings and just some miles ahead of the rest when it comes to budget, although I could see any of 5 or 6 teams being in the mix. I think Wednesday win the league, Ipswich 2nd and Peterborough in the play-offs. Relegation – again it could be any number of teams. Having played them this season I think Fleetwood will be in there, as they were terrible. I think Forest Green Rovers have lost some key players and may struggle despite winning the league last year. I also think Cheltenham will struggle, Michael Duff has gone, and Burton seem to be in free fall under Jimmy Floyd. So, my bottom four are Fleetwood, Cheltenham, Burton & Forest Green.
10.If you could have any current Dons player, who would it be and why?
It’s a toss up for me between Eisa & Grigg… But I’m going to say Eisa. We’re a little short on options up front right now and it’s been a while since we’ve had a forward who’s as “exciting” as Eisa. We’ve got a technician in Wilson, a target man in Proctor and I think Eisa would be another option alongside those two
11.Who or what made you support Port Vale?
I didn’t really have much choice! My family are all Port Vale fans so being anything different wasn’t much of an option. I only live around 3 miles from the ground so it’s a bit of a no brainer really and it is the definition of “my local club”. I can distinctly remember the night I became a Vale fan… 22nd May 1993. I was 5 and was tucked up in a sleeping bag on a camp bed in my grandads living room when there was a knock at the door. My nan opened the door and my mum & dad, uncle and & aunty and two cousins came in waving Wembley scarves singing “champions” when my mum dragged me out of bed and pulled a grey, black, and white Vale shirt with “Kalamazoo” on the front over my head before they disappeared to the pub! We’d just won the Autoglass Trophy for the first time… and I’ve been hooked on Vale ever since.
12.Thank you for participating in our Trash Talk, it really helps us to understand and see the perspective of opposition fans. So finally, the most important question of all is what is your score prediction?
Oh crikey! I don’t ever like to be a pessimistic person, but I think this could be a big test for us! I think you’ll throw a lot at us but after that Exeter drubbing, I don’t think we’ll capitulate like we did before and will hold firm. So I’m going for a 1-1 draw.