Match analysis: Port Vale 0, Morecambe 1
BILL Bell spent many years turning Vale Park into a modern stadium fit for League One and beyond.
The former Valiants chairman died last week at the age of 81, but it appears as though his beloved club remain on course to climb the league ladder once again, despite Saturday's defeat to Morecambe.
It was Vale's first loss since New Year's Day and saw them relinquish top spot to Gillingham, who beat Dagenham and Redbridge.
However, Micky Adams' side remain seven points clear of the play-off pack and with a superior goal difference.
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Bell's wife Jean, daughter Linda and grandchildren Katie and James were special guests as the Valiants paid a tribute to the man who pulled the strings during one of the club's most successful ever periods.
The family took pride of place in the directors' box, where the chairman's seat was left vacant, after a minute's applause in which a section of the Railway Stand launched into a raucous rendition of "One Billy Bell".
But just when you expected Vale to continue the mood on the pitch, along came a surprise home defeat.
Mid-table Morecambe looked like your average League Two side.
Big, strong and organised, but not blessed with too many players to worry about.
But off-colour Vale found it almost impossible to break them down until the final quarter.
Only then, when the visitors had first taken the lead and then been reduced to 10 men, did the home side mount any kind of sustained threat.
It was too little, too late and Adams admitted his side hadn't deserved victory.
"It was frustrating because we didn't play to our maximum potential," he added.
"We should have at least come away with a 0-0, but I wouldn't say we did enough to win the game."
A dour first half passed without any real incident of note, though it was immediately obvious that Morecambe had done their homework.
Manager Jim Bentley opted for a five-man midfield which looked tailor-made to snuff out Vale's wing threat.
And it worked a treat, as the home side struggled to find their usual fluency.
Lee Hughes nipped in behind the Morecambe defence in the first minute to present Ryan Burge with a chance that was deflected into the arms of keeper Barry Roche.
But that proved to be a rare sight of goal for either side as the players struggled to cope with a soft pitch that cut up badly almost from the start.
Indeed left-back Dan Jones seemed to be the only one oblivious to the conditions as he charged forward at every opportunity.
Morecambe's Kevin Ellison directed a header over the top and Andrew Wright, having found an alarming amount of space at a corner, made sure the keeper Chris Neal was on his toes with a stinging shot.
Jennison Myrie-Williams prompted a spell of handbags after earning a yellow card for diving in rashly on Will Haining just before the half-hour, but neither he nor fellow winger Ashley Vincent were able to make any impact of the right kind.
Frustration in the crowd turned into groans when Myrie-Williams fluffed a cross from a decent position soon after, while a struggling Hughes was high and wide with a speculative effort and Tom Pope's header was comfortably held by Roche.
Vincent burst forward at the start of the second half to deliver a tasty low cross that was cleared from inside his own six-yard box by the impressive Chris McCready and Doug Loft was off balance as he cracked a shot from 18 yards over the angle.
Little had been seen of the visitors as an attacking force, but that was about to change.
Jack Redshaw escaped from Adam Yates to deliver a cross which Ellison poked over the bar.
But Morecambe were more successful after 63 minutes.
Gary McDonald's cross from the left put a stretching Neal under pressure and Lewis Alessandra lunged in to bundle the ball past the diving keeper and over the line.
The Valiants almost hit back straight away, but defender Darren Purse's header from a Ryan Burge corner was cleared off the line by McDonald.
Morecambe's bid top hold on became more difficult in the 72nd minute.
Vincent pushed the ball past Wright, who couldn't get out of the way before the winger crashed into him.
Referee Dave Phillips felt it was deliberate and Wright, having been cautioned in the first half for foul on Myrie-Williams, was sent off.
The rampaging Jones smashed in a piledriver from 25 yards that was well saved by Roche and Vale were at last building up a head of steam when Pope was off target with a header and Myrie-Williams drilled wide after a corner.
Things were becoming desperate towards the end as the home side piled forward, but the ball wouldn't drop for them as a string of crosses failed to find a target.
Finally, when one did, Pope rose highest to direct another header on goal, only for Roche to save on the line.
Jones let fly with another shot from distance that whistled only a yard wide and when Myrie-Williams had an injury-time effort from an angle punched out by Roche, Richard Duffy picked up the loose ball only to see his goal-bound strike diverted away.
And there was still time for the irrepressible Jones to fire another arrow, this time from inside the area, just wide of the target.
But that was that. No comeback and all a bit deflating in the end.
The leading scorers in the division have failed to find the net twice in a row, while Pope has now gone four games without a goal for the first time this season. Some crisis.
Their team might have been knocked off top spot, but surely fans must keep an eye on the bigger picture.
This was a first defeat in seven games and Vale are still very much on course to complete a promotion campaign Bell himself would have been proud of.