GRAFTING Town had the better chances to win and a ‘goal’ disallowed in their first scoreless draw for 13 months, but they still have plenty of reasons to be cheerful.
The arrival of Dean Hoyle on the board, a bigger budget for summer signings under a new manager and the announcement of £100 season-tickets for the centenary have given a feel-good factor to the club right now.
A win against fierce derby rivals Leeds at the Galpharm tomorrow night would undoubtedly set the seal on a few days of hyper, behind-the-scenes activity which have breathed new life into the support, the staff, the players and the hierarchy after two seasons of treading water in League I.
And watch out for the rush when the cheapest season-tickets in the land go on sale at the Galpharm on Wednesday.
Hoyle was in the crowd at Vale Park as 396 travelling fans watched caretaker manager Gerry Murphy’s side fashion enough opportunities to take three points but condemn Vale to relegation in any case.
The chairman-elect described the performance as "reasonable", which was fair enough, and he admits it will feel strange to be wearing shirt and tie and be watching from the opposite side of the ground when he swaps his regular Antich Stand seat for the directors’ box tomorrow.
Hoyle reckons he probably won’t sleep through nervous excitement – "it was 4.30am when I finally nodded off on Saturday, and that was for Vale Park!" – and he’s sure of a warm welcome from supporters buoyed by the promise of extra investment on the playing side to have a real crack at marking the centenary with promotion.
Some building blocks are already in place – Saturday’s man of the match Nathan Clarke is not one of the 16 out of contract – and Vale manager Lee Sinnott remarked afterwards that Town have got "some really good players".
There’s a base to work from for the new team chief, but he’ll probably get a more accurate reflection of how much work needs to be done should he watch against a Leeds side who are fresh from a 3-2 win against Carlisle which has moved them back into the play-off placings.
Town will certainly need to be more clinical than they were in the Potteries.
The match was a strange mix of appallingly scrappy play broken by sparkling shards of enterprise on both sides, and Town were unlucky not to go ahead when Rob Page’s firm downward header from an excellent Robbie Williams free-kick on 11 minutes was brilliantly blocked on his line by keeper Joe Anyon.
Then, barely 90 seconds later, after an Andy Holdsworth cross from a super James Berrett pass had been headed down by Andy Booth, the lively Chris Brandon fired the ball against his own trailing foot when he seemed certain to score from close in.
Booth then had another header cleared from the line by Simon Richman as Town again looked dangerous, but they were certainly not having it all their own way.
Attacking midfielders Jon Worthington and Michael Collins were finding it difficult to make an impact and, with Town not moving the ball quickly enough at times, Vale managed to harass them into mistakes and to grasp the territorial advantage.
Marc Richards found himself in acres of space only to head wide and there were long-range shots from Paul Harsley and David Howland to test the assured Matt Glennon, so Murphy switched his 3-5-2 formation on 36 minutes and went to 4-4-2.
It worked well as Town bossed most of the second half without ever hitting top gear and both Berrett, with a 51st-minute half volley, and Holdsworth, with a low shot four minutes later, had missed chances by the most controversial moment of the match when, from a corner on the right, Clarke got in a terrific downward header and Brandon, standing alone at the back post, swept in what looked like a potential winner.
The flag was up, however, and after a short consultation with his assistant, referee Kevin Wright agreed Brandon was offside. It appeared harsh as a defender was very near the line.
Town remained on top and it was a pity Holdsworth didn’t aim a yard either side of Anyon with a cracking right-foot volley, or that Booth – having muscled his way into space – fired high with only the keeper to beat on the next attack.
Ex-Vale man Malvin Kamara went on for ankle-knock victim Worthington, but he wasted his best break with a poor cross while Brandon, turning superbly in the box, created a great chance, but Booth was blocked near the line and Holdsworth aimed high with the follow-up.
It was frustrating stuff, and Town almost paid right at the end as Danny Whitaker fired wide from the clearest chance of the match in the final minute and substitute James Lawrie was a yard off target in stoppage time.