More than 10 years have passed since West Bromwich Albion played in what we now call the Premier League, almost 30 since an FA Cup final victory over Everton provided tangible evidence of success. And yet still there is an aura about The Hawthorns, an atmosphere one associates with the so-called big clubs.
The stadium itself, even in its modern form, retains a certain grandeur, emphasised now by the open spaces around it. Reputation survives, too. "To come here and get a draw is a good result," the Port Vale manager, John Rudge, said, overlooking the fact that his side are unbeaten in their last six visits.
Yet Albion's proud past is also their curse. Winning the Cup persuaded them they were a force, a feeling rekindled when Ron Atkinson built a side around a young Bryan Robson to finish third in the First Division in the late 1970s. The trouble is that almost everything since has been anti-climax, each season of lesser achievement one of deeper dissatisfaction.
They might compare themselves with Manchester City, another of those clubs haunted by faded nostalgia. Alan Buckley may not suffer the intensity of stress that drove Steve Coppell to quit Maine Road but he cannot feel easy about his future, none the less. In the 15 years since Atkinson's flirtation with glory ended, he is the 11th Albion manager, and after 25 months in the job he is, one suspects, well into borrowed time.
In the same period, two people have managed Port Vale, only one since December 1983, when Rudge took over from John McGrath. Having never risen above their present status, Vale are unburdened by history and having steered the club on a shoestring along a generally upward path, Rudge has revealed in himself considerable skills.
He has had to contend with a closure threat lately but still puts out a seemingly untroubled team. There was an unhurried assuredness about them on Saturday that Albion could not match. Only Tony Naylor operated in a striker's role but support from midfield, in which the Swedish international Jan Jansson, loaned by Norrkoping, caught the eye and from the flanks, where Jon McCarthy and Steve Guppy shone, was never far away.
Guppy, fed by McCarthy, opened the scoring with a well-worked goal and Vale thereafter dominated. They ought really to have won and would have but for some splendid goalkeeping by Paul Crichton. Albion, who barely managed a shot after the first 15 minutes, equalised luckily when Dean Glover, the Vale centre-back, unwittingly dislodged the ball from his own goalkeeper's hands and allowed Bob Taylor to score. They have taken just seven points from 24 at home this season and the win at Swindon last month is their only success in a nine-match stretch.
Goals: Guppy (17) 0-1; Taylor (35) 1-1.
West Bromwich Albion (4-4-2): Crichton; Burgess, Raven, Agnew (Holmes, 63), Nicholson; Donovan, Sneekes, Groves, Gilbert (Coldicott, 60); Peschisolido, Taylor (Hunt, 67).
Port Vale (4-5-1): Musselwhite; Hill, Griffiths, Glover, Tankard; McCarthy, Talbot, Jansson, Porter, Guppy; Naylor (Foyle, 81). Substitutes not used: Mills, Walker.
Referee: U Rennie (Sheffield).
Booking: West Bromwich: Raven.
Man of the match: Crichton. Attendance: 13,975.Reuse content