A surprise awaited us at the start of the match as we started with a 4 4 2 formation instead of the more usual defensive formations with one up front. Player fitness may have been the dictator of this and from the start it made no difference to the way we played. The players seemed to lack belief in what they had been asked to do. The effort that they put in was being nullified by the lack of organisation. The only player that seemed to pose any threat to the Vale defence was Marvin Bartley and he was playing out of position wide on the right. He made a number of his trademark powerful runs but as he is not a great crosser of the ball and the lack of bodies in the box meant that these runs looked good but produced virtually nothing. His power is needed in the middle of the park bursting into the middle of the oppostion's box.
Vale went one up in the fifteenth minute when the lack of a challenge allowed a run into our box. Whilst this was initially repelled closer to goal the ball found its way out to Richards who fired in from just outside the box off Jalal's left hand post. The 'keeper's view was also blocked which left him flatfooted as the ball passed by. Not much else really happened in the half but 1 0 at half time was a true reflection of the play.
We did improve a bit at the start of the second half. Bradbury and Bartley combined well out on the right but the outcome of this was nothing. The totally ineffective Sappleton was replaced by Pitman after 56 minutes and within 2 minutes we were level. A free kick was sent deep past the the far post and Bradbury, who had lost his marker volleyed the ball back acroos goal for Lindfield to head in. Unfortunately, far from giving us momentum, the goal meant that we reverted to the ineptitude of the first half. Within 6 minutes Port vale had regained the lead. Jalal (who made a number of good saves) saved well from a shot but could only parry the ball upwards which allowed the alert Richmond to head into an empty net. Two minutes later we were 3 1 down as acorner on our right was eventually crossed for defender McCombe, up for the corner, to get ahead of our markers to head home at the near post. Jalal had no chance.
Bradbury and Garry (clearly not fully fit) were replaced by Ward and Wagstaffe and we went to 3 at the back. What the formation was ahead of this I could not work out....and seemingly neither could the players. Wagstaffe made one reasonable run and Anderton hit the outside of a post with a free kick but that was the sum of our efforts to get back into the match. Port Vale were conent with the 3 1 win and really just played out time.
The problem that Bond has is that if he has to make a decision about selection or formation he does not seem to be able make the correct one. The good run last season started when we had a match with only 11 fit players who just happened to be a goalkeeper, 2 fullbacks, 2 centre backs, 4 midfielders and 2 strikers. Even Bond could not get that wrong! The belief and confidence that some wins produced negated Bond's unnecesaary tinkering when players became fit again. This season the wrongdecisions and lack of belief and confidence of the players means that, unless something drastic is done soon, we will be in the Conference before the end of February. It was sad to think that on the way to the match we were considering the places that we could be visiting in the Conference next season. On the evidence of today's match it was a realistic approach.
AFCB: Jalal, Bradbury, Garry, Pearce, Cummings, Hollands, Cooper, Anderton, Bartley, Sappleton, Lindfield
Subs: Pryce, Pitman (for Sappleton, 56 mins), Ward (for Bradbury, 71 mins), Wagstaff (for Garry, 71 mins), Igoe