Port Vale: Match report v Northampton Town
IN THE context of the whole season, this disappointing defeat can be filed away as nothing more than a bad day at the office.
The computer was on the blink, the photocopier was jammed, the boss was in a bad mood and, to cap it all, the girl from accounts has just starting dating a rugby player.
Micky Adams wore a look of dejection after one of those games in which anything that could go wrong did go wrong.
But the manager has always highlighted the importance of putting points on the board as quickly as possible just so days like this wouldn't be such a disaster.
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After a rare defeat on the road, Port Vale are still second in the table with a handy cushion on their rivals, so there is hardly cause for concern in the overall picture.
The match hinged on a flash point in the 20th minute when Vale were undone by the type of error that usually sends a manager's blood pressure through the roof.
There seemed little trouble in store when left-back Rob Taylor intercepted a through-ball from the Northampton midfield. But his back-pass to goalkeeper Chris Neal fell woefully short and livewire Alex Nicholls nipped in.
The striker danced around Neal and was felled by a desperate challenge from John McCombe as he slotted the ball into the empty net.
Nicholls writhed in agony with what later transpired to be a broken leg and referee Richard Clark, perhaps swayed by the consequence, rather than the merit of the tackle itself, produced a straight red card for Vale's captain.
McCombe's challenge might have been fractions of a second late, but it looked a genuine attempt to play the ball.
Sixfields, it seems, is not a happy hunting ground for the 27-year-old. The only other time he's been sent off during his Vale career was in December 2009 – at Northampton.
Nicholls was treated by paramedics on the pitch and it was fully 11 minutes later before he was stretchered into an ambulance.
It was an incident which would leave a dark shadow over the entire afternoon and which also caused something of a re-think for Adams, who was left with the problem of trying to plug a huge gap in his defence.
Having initially plumped for the experience of Gareth Owen to replace the suspended Clayton McDonald in the heart of the back four, the manager was now forced to change it again by throwing on young Joe Davis.
That meant striker Ben Williamson, making his first start of the season in place of Louis Dodds, was the unlucky one who had to make way.
Vale had earlier struggled to make much headway into the teeth of a howling gale which was so strong that goalkeeper Neal's punts upfield were not even reaching the halfway line.
Sam Morsy fired high and wide from the edge of the area, but that was almost the sum total of the visitors' chances even before they were reduced to 10 men.
Northampton hardly looked world beaters either, but it took a superb block by Owen on the edge of the area to stop Nicholls in his tracks.
Vale were really up against it after the red card, of course, and it looked as though the game was well and truly up when Anthony Charles rose highest to head in one of Ben Tozer's throw-in missiles from the right.
Clark, though, consulted assistant Gary Evetts and the goal was ruled out, perhaps for pushing, though the referee seemed to be indicating offside.
If that was a welcome stroke of luck for the Valiants, things were to go wrong again soon after and, just to rub salt into the wound, it was former Stoke City striker Louis Moult who doubled the score.
The substitute, who had replaced Nicholls, ran through a huge gap between Owen and Taylor and was jumping for joy after slotting past Neal.
A difficult, and entirely forgettable, first half from Vale soon got even worse when Owen's ugly challenge on the massive Adebayo Akinfenwa, having been deemed worthy of a yellow card, also left him hobbling badly.
Vale should, though, have been given a lifeline just before the break when Ashley Vincent's run into the penalty area was crudely halted by left-back Joe Widdowson.
Vincent was sent flying by the mis-timed tackle, yet referee Clark somehow saw nothing wrong.
The incident did little to calm a heated atmosphere and there was a lot of pushing and shoving amid something of a melee at the half-time whistle.
Owen failed to reappear for the second half and Adams, now down to the bare bones, was forced to form yet another central defensive partnership with Davis alongside young midfielder Kingsley James.
But if Vale fans were fearing the worst with such an inexperienced pair at the heart of the defence up against such a difficult customer in Akinfenwa, they needn't have worried. The duo showed plenty of fight, and no little skill, in keeping Northampton at arm's length throughout a second half in which the visitors generally upped their game.
Vincent went close to pulling one back when he raced clear of the home defence after 64 minutes.
The winger homed in on goal, but tried to beat Lee Nicholls at his near post and the keeper was up to the task.
The introduction of Ryan Lloyd gave Vincent the chance to play centrally alongside Pope for the last 20 minutes, and though Vale looked much improved on that first-half horror show, they could never find a way back into the game.
But while angry Adams might have gone home to kick the cat, he'll perhaps not worry too much about the result when he looks at the season as a whole.
Thanks to the huge strides his team have taken already this season, this was barely even a step backwards.