Perhaps I should have more belief (remember Cardiff!). Perhaps it was the inability of Virgin Trains to provide air-conditioning on the journey home or run even approximately to timetable. Whatever the reason, it was depressing to lose in the manner we did on Saturday.
With temperatures in the 90s, I think it's the first time I've ever been glad to have the opportunity of sitting down at a football match. In the conditions, a slowish tempo was inevitable and we soon settled into our usual passing game. In fact, the hosts barely had a kick in the first half and the main danger for Mossie was sunstroke. With Maher, Young and Tindall all injured, Broadhurst (presumably still not 100% fit himself) played alongside Carl Fletcher at the back. Otherwise the formation was as expected, with Hayter and Supa up front. To be fair, we had a couple of worthwhile efforts at goal, the best being a spectacular shot on the turn from Browning which Delaney did well to tip over. Elliott also forced a couple of good saves from the keeper.
Vale are notorious for their poor first-game-of-the-season results and their fans we getting restive as their team struggled to get any possession. In fact, we were getting so much possession we kept carelessly giving the ball away. On these occasions, however, Vale would obligingly give it back to us.
Brian Horton must have had a word or two during the break, because the home side looked more purposeful after the restart. However, we were still very much in control but without really looking like scoring. On 65 minutes Thomas (who hadn't been playing badly) was replaced by Stock (who hasn't played well since the Hartlepool game at DC) and almost immediately we went a goal behind. Stock (to be charitable he may not have got his bearings yet) chickened out of a challenge, the ball was crossed into our box, Carl Fletcher could only head it back to an opposing player and McPhee finally volleyed high into the net. 1-0.
On 76 minutes Feeney replaced Steve Fletcher but, although we still looked the more likely to force a result, it was Vale who next came close to scoring when Purches had to clear off the line following a corner. Holmes then came on for Hayter, but hopes of at least a point were dashed three minutes from the end when a (very) long throw was nodded on to substitute Littlejohn who managed to steer the ball wide of Moss' left hand.
And that was that. All our nice intricate passing had come to nothing. And the long ball to Supa hadn't fared any better. The substitutions hadn't had the desired effect either. In fact, Supa might have been able to defend that long throw. Why not start with Feeney and bring the Big Man on with 20 minutes to go?
No defensive cover because of injuries (unless we can get someone in on loan), an attack lacking a cutting edge (unless Connell can find form and fitness), and no money, so I don't envy SOD in the forthcoming campaign. Stock will soon have to realise his undoubted potential if he wants to be selected, but he wasn't the only underachiever on the day. On the positive side (yes, there is one!) O'Connor and Elliott showed some class at times. And not forgetting that the Vale keeper was their Man of the Match.
But all in all, a very disappointing day out.
AFCB: Moss, C Fletcher, Broadhurst, Cummings, Purches, O'Connor, Hayter, Browning, Elliott, S Fletcher, Thomas
Subs: Stewart, Holmes (for Hayter, 80 mins), Feeney (for S Fletcher, 76), Stock (for Thomas, 65), Tindall
Ellis Griffin, Chertsey