"WHAT a fine game for a neutral". That was the phrase I least wanted to hear. It means, fine game or not, we lost.
I am not neutral, nor I expect are the majority of readers. I wanted Rovers to win – to play well and win certainly, but also to play badly and win. To play so well and lose is the worst of all results. I am still hurting. Yes I am proud as well, but bitterly sad it was not a different result. Anyone there knows it so easily could have been. Rovers deserved a draw at least.
With Forbes and Collins injured as well as Ben Wright the team picked itself – almost. The outstanding question was who would play in midfield? With Port Vale being a tall bustling side the manager selected Oshodi to play the holding role rather than the lighter weight Brogan or Rowe.
Perhaps he thought Oshodi’s height would be useful in defending corners, long throws etc and the other two candidates would be hustled out of it.
We soon saw this plan was not working. I am not blaming Oshodi, who for those crucial opening minutes looked like Bambi on ice. The whole team (10 were playing in familiar positions) were tentative in every respect. There was no excuse for them.
Half-a-yard faster, Vale dominated. Did we offer them too much respect? Were we nervous and overawed? The answer is yes to both questions. Vale bullied us. For 15 minutes they were allowed to do as they wished, and in scoring two goals quickly there was danger of a rout.
This did not happen. Courage and confidence began to flow through the team and a superbly crafted and well-taken Norwood goal gave us hope. We proved we could match them – perhaps even win.
The obvious changes were made at half -time and with midfield more settled Rovers went for broke, scoring the all important next goal, making it 2-2. The second half was a pulsating affair. Without doubt the battling Rovers rattled Port Vale. Their defenders were contained to whack the ball into touch as often as they could.
If something is to be learned from this game perhaps it is that, as our weakness at defending corners is a desperate problem, the killing winning goal so clearly demonstrated this.
For 70 minutes we had easily matched and at times outplayed the side second in the league above us. We had showed we could play. We had showed we are play-off calibre. It all makes losing so hard to bear.
Norwood above all, did not deserve to be on the losing side. Rapidly maturing in every way he did his utmost to win the game. His outstanding pace, fitness and determination made him an easy choice for man-of-the-match. His goal showed all was not lost and he was a constant threat. I spoke briefly to James after the game, he was utterly disconsolate. His own fine performance mattered little. His team had lost. Players do care.
James Turley was another hero. Moved to full -back in the second half his marauding runs pushed Vale back. Yan Klukowski was as energetic as ever and in the second half the whole team showed how well they can play. That is why the result hurts so much. If only.
Everything else about the day was fine. An experienced football watcher was my guest. Facilities, pitch stewards and most importantly the team impressed him totally and rightly so. He could see a club moving forward in so many ways.
Talking to Sam Reid and Alan Grant of the supporters club was interesting. Their recent £5,000 donation is towards purchasing frost covers and they have exciting future plans. Sam pointed out the viewing facilities in the Carol Embrey Suite. Good things are being done here.
Then there was the opportunity to talk to the most famous sporting son of the Five Valleys Jack (for of course it was him) admitted to being a little chubbier. Too many biscuits were the reason. As cheerful as ever we agreed the team had to start winning.
This column is written not as, or by a journalist, but by a fan. Like all fans I have opinions and readers may not always agree. We may at times differ but always are united in our love of FGR.