Football: Sinking feeling for Potteries pair

Port Vale 0 Stoke City 0
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JOHN RUDGE, Port Vale's veteran manager, spoke afterwards of "a titanic struggle". The imagery was as apposite as it was unfortunate, for neither Vale nor Stoke City did much in yesterday's derby to dispel the impression that they are going down with all hands from the First Division.

Results on Saturday had anchored the Potteries rivals to the bottom two places. A decisive outcome would have raised one of the sides out of the last six, but both played as if avoiding defeat was their priority. The stalemate leaves Vale and Stoke with just three wins between them in the last 40 League fixtures.

Chris Kamara, still seeking his first victory after eight matches in charge of Stoke, remains certain Stoke will avoid relegation as his Bradford team did on last season's final day. "There were only four clubs involved then," he said. "There are 11 who could get dragged in now."

Sadly, from the point of view of preserving top-level Nationwide League football in the city, all are performing better than Vale or Stoke. In mitigation, both Rudge and Kamara pointed to a badly cut-up pitch - there was also a fierce wind - but as the latter admitted, he was glad he had not paid to get in.

Nearly 14,000 did, at least half supporting Stoke. The attendance represented a drop of 33 per cent on the first Vale Park confrontation of the modern era, a decline in interest that can not be excused entirely by high unemployment or by fears of hooliganism.

Perhaps the most violent moment this time came when Vale's Jan Jansson felled Ally Pickering with a crude retaliatory foul. The referee, having missed the provocation, compounded his error by neglecting even to book the Swede despite a long chat with his linesman.

Mr Rejer still made fewer mistakes than almost any of the players. An early goal might have broken the tension, but Stoke's Larus Sigurdsson blocked Martin Foyle's goalbound drive while Peter Thorne was not ruthless enough at the other end.

Half-time was beckoning when Neville Southall, making his debut for Stoke on loan from Everton, made his first save. The man he thwarted, the pounds 1m- rated Gareth Ainsworth, had a frustrating day, being well policed by the Australian, Danny Tiatto.

Strange to think that when they met in October, Vale were cruising in eighth place and Stoke in 11th, blissfully oblivious of the icebergs which now loom large.

Port Vale (4-4-2): Van Heusden; Carragher, Hill, Glover, Tankard (Snijders, 57); Ainsworth, Bogie, Porter, Jansson; Mills (Naylor, 88), Foyle. Substitute not used: Corden.

Stoke City (5-3-2): Southall; Pickering, Sigurdsson, Tweed (Crowe, 72), Whittle, Tiatto; Wallace, Kavanagh, Forsyth; Lightbourne, Thorne. Substitutes not used: McKenzie, Heath.

Referee: P Rejer (Tipton).

Bookings: Vale: Tankard, Hill, Snijders, Ainsworth. Stoke: Wallace, Whittle, Tiatto.

Man of the match: Tiatto.

Attendance: 13,853.