Having studied his new players in training for a fortnight, Horton made five changes at Portman Road without managing to prevent a 14th defeat in 16 games, but was not displeased with his depleted side: "If that's what they'll do for the next 18 games, they'll keep us up," he said.
Ipswich, also on a losing run until yesterday, ought to have halted it with more to spare and must still be concerned about whether they can score enough goals to maintain a third successive promotion challenge.
David Johnson, touted as a Premiership striker until his knee injury before Christmas, has not scored in nine subsequent games and Marlon Harewood, who is on loan from Nottingham Forest, looked promising but somewhat lightweight.
John Rudge's departure from Vale Park after 19 years had ensured that it would be a momentous week in the club's history, regardless of yesterday's match. It was unfortunate that the board's decision to make a change should be made just as they were trumpeting their generosity in reducing admission prices for the unemployed "as a result of recent redundancies and job losses across the Stoke-on-Trent area".
Such was the uncertainty of Rudge's last few months in charge that Craig Russell, making an uneventful debut yesterday after signing on loan from Manchester City, was the 36th player used this season.
Even Ipswich, at the other end of the division, have to borrow rather than buy, and as well as Harewood in attack they had the experienced Jim Magilton from Sheffield Wednesday making a home debut. A shrewd passer, he was closest to a goal, with a deft free-kick from 20 yards, before setting up Jamie Clapham for a startling strike in the 40th minute. The former Tottenham reserve came inside and sent his shot into the top corner of the net for a first goal in 58 appearances.
Marcus Bent, Rudge's last signing, from Crystal Palace, carried what little threat Port Vale posed. It was his header, 11 minutes after the interval, that forced Richard Wright into his only save of the afternoon. Paul Musselwhite's smart stops from Kieron Dyer and Tony Mowbray prevented a more realistic reflection of the balance of play.