Rudge treads a fine line

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The Independent Online
Stoke City 0

Port Vale 1

As the dust settled on an attritional Potteries derby, the focus shifted from the bitter divide between Stoke City and Port Vale to the fine line between consolidation and stagnation.

Stoke confirmed a place in next season's First Division on Easter Monday. Now it was their neighbours' turn, Martin Foyle's goal also ending a 68- year run without a League win at the Victoria Ground and securing Vale's first victory in 10 meetings spanning four decades. But for some - in both camps - survival is no cause for celebration.

Strangely, the fear of marking time seems more pronounced among those of the black-and-white persuasion. Ten months after giving John Rudge a three-year deal following his third promotion success, Vale's chairman, Bill Bell, is making plain his impatience for progress, implicitly questioning whether his manager of 11 years can deliver it.

Letters in Saturday's Green 'Un revealed backing for Bell's position, though the writers were doubtless among the 4,500 Valeites singing in the rain long after the rest of the stadium had emptied. Rudge waxed philosophical - "If he wants to sack me, I can't do much about it" - before stating the defence case.

"When I came to this club we were second bottom in the Fourth Division, getting 2,000 gates, and Stoke were in the old First Division drawing 25,000," he said. "But we've caught them up, and for us to be able to compete at this level is like winning promotion again."

Solidarity came from Lou Macari, who considered Rudge's achievements "quite incredible... how anyone can't see that is beyond me". The Stoke manager broadened the discussion to include his own club, who have also stayed up in a "tough league" on slender resources.

"People lose sight of the fact that we're both competing with some big, big clubs with lots of money," Macari said. Yet the same is true of Barnsley, Reading, Tranmere and Bolton, who all appear more ambitious at the same time as living frugally.

While supporters weaned on the artistry of the Tony Waddington era are giving Macari the benefit of the doubt, a slump in Stoke's average crowd from 16,000 to 13,000 (against Vale's 9,000) suggests some dissent. In fact they were the more stylish of two ordinary sides early on, but it was a different story after half-time.

Foyle's 18th goal of the season, a flashing header from a corner, provoked a frenzied finale. A stunning save by Paul Musselwhite turned Paul Peschisolido's 82nd-minute drive on to a post, and Stoke's misery was complete when Ian Cranson was sent off for what was harshly deemed a second bookable offence.

Macari had prefaced his verdict by saying that he was down to his last 14 players, so it was amusing to find a tongue-in-cheek aside in Stoke's splendid fanzine. "Lou likes to give an honest appraisal of how the match went, whereas his Vale counterpart gloats when they've won and moans incessantly about being down to his `last 14 fit men' if they lose," opined The Oatcake.

The name comes from a local delicacy which, at least until the next derby, may taste not unlike humble pie.

Goal: Foyle (69) 0-1.

Stoke City (4-4-2): Sinclair; Butler, Overson, Cranson, Sigurdsson; Keen, Wallace, Allen, Gleghorn; Carruthers (Gayle, 59), Peschisolido. Substitutes not used: Scott, Prudhoe (gk).

Port Vale (4-4-2): Musselwhite; Sandeman, Aspin, D Glover, Tankard; Porter, Bogie, Van der Laan, Guppy; Naylor, Foyle. Substitutes not used: Kent, L Glover, Van Heusden (gk).

Referee: S Dunn (Bristol).

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