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League Two Spotlight:

Top Marcs

As part of skysports.com's League Two spotlight, Ben Collins catches up with Port Vale striker Marc Richards.

League Two Spotlight - League Two Spotlight Posted 4th November 2010 view comments

Most would say transfer-listing your entire squad is one of those decisions that is either brave or stupid. It's difficult to know just how your players will react.

But Port Vale boss Micky Adams did just that immediately after his side lost 3-1 at Notts County in September 2009 - a third straight defeat which left the Valiants 16th in League Two after nine games.

Richards: In form of his life

Richards: In form of his life

"We were told in the dressing room straight after the game that it wasn't good enough and we'd all be put on the transfer list, and he let the media know straight away as well," said Vale striker Marc Richards.

"It was a bit of surprise. That's the ultimate really - getting put on the transfer list, knowing that if someone comes in for you, they'll let you go. So it was a bit worrying really but it made a lot of lads realise we've got it good at Port Vale."

My mate bought the pants and dared me to wear them. But as much as they begged me to wear them for games, I don't. The amount I've been scoring, I'd have my shorts constantly round my ankles showing them off!

Marc Richards.
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Fortunately for Adams, that post-match bombshell worked a treat, with the impact both immediate and positive. Rather than alienating his players it galvanised them as they vowed to get their act together and turn things around.

It could have backfired spectacularly on Adams, it was a big risk.

But it was a calculated risk which Richards believes the former Fulham and Leicester boss thought long and hard about.

Vale went on to lose just one of their next 13 before narrowly missing out on last season's play-offs, and they are now second after 15 games in League Two, vindicating Adams' decision.

"He's managed in the Premier League so he's not stupid," said Richards. "He would have calculated what the lads are like before saying what he said.

"It shows what respect the players have for the manager that we all stuck by him and ground out results. We didn't lose in our next nine games, which proves it was something we needed, just a kick up the backside.

"It was a case that we all had to be a man and deal with it. We rallied together straight away. After he left the dressing room we all said 'look, whatever happens, we've got to stick together', and that if we spoke to any press we were sticking together.

"I don't think the gaffer would have done it if he felt he'd lose the changing room. We stuck by the gaffer and he's stood by us for the past season and a bit, and we're reaping the rewards at the moment.

"The following week we went on a team-bonding exercise to help build team spirit. We continue to do stuff like paintballing and go-karting. I think that's helped, it's been a big factor."

Crossbar Challenge

There was no better example of that team spirit than when Vale did the Crossbar Challenge for Sky Sports' Soccer AM last December. With Vale on the up, they could afford to look back on the episode and have a chuckle.

For those unfamiliar with the routine, each player comes to the camera and says their name and position before trying to hit the bar from the halfway line, only each of the Vale players also said "still on the transfer list".

Adams was also game, saying "and they're all still on the transfer list" before having a miserable effort himself, and for his go, Richards had ditched his shorts in favour of a pair of 'Top Gun' briefs!

That's like wearing pink boots - you've got to be good to get away with it - and sure enough, not only was Richards the only Vale man to pull off the Crossbar Challenge but he hit the bar flush.

"My mate bought the pants and dared me to wear them," he explained. "But as much as they begged me to wear them for games, I don't. The amount I've been scoring, I'd have my shorts constantly round my ankles showing them off!

"There was a lot of banter and a lot of laughs going on for that Crossbar Challenge and it showed what a team spirit we've got."

The pants were apt as Richards has been Vale's Top Gun during the last two seasons. Last term he would have been whipping his shorts down 23 times, and the 28-year-old has remained in top form this term, reaching 10 goals by November for the first time in his career.

"I'm delighted because my first goal was to get to double figures before Christmas and to do it this soon proves how well the team is doing as a whole," he said.

"That's the thing with strikers, you've got to keep up that consistency. Scoring goals breeds confidence and I feel like I'm going to score in every game.

"I'm my own worst critic because I feel I should have scored more, but I just keep trying to get in the right position to get on the end of things.

"I've carried on from last season really and I think that shows it wasn't a fluke. It's also down to working hard on the training ground with (assistant manager) Geoff Horsfield. He's been around, scored plenty of goals and he's done the business in the top flight so he's brilliant to work with and has been a big help."

Horsfield arrived at Vale Park as Adams' number two shortly after his appointment in June 2009, and the pair have played a big part in turning around Vale's fortunes and helping Richards hit the best form of his career.

Having begun his professional career as a trainee at Blackburn, Richards had loan spells at Crewe, Oldham, Halifax and Swansea before leaving for Northampton in 2003 without making a first-team appearance for Rovers.

It took time for Richards to get his first league goal for the Cobblers while the following campaign he struggled with injury but Northampton reached the League Two play-offs in each of his two years at the Sixfields.Richards left for Barnsley in 2005 and scored 12 goals as the Tykes won promotion via the League One play-offs but he was released in 2007 to join Vale and was unable to prevent them slipping into the bottom tier for the first time since 1986.

Adams appointment

Richards then turned down a move to Cheltenham, though, and scored 11 goals as Vale, still reeling from relegation, finished 18th in League Two in 2008/09. Adams was named as Dean Glover's successor that summer and soon earned the respect of the under-performing Vale players.

"He brought a lot of stability to the club," said Richards. "He's got a lot of experience and knows what he's talking about. The lads know the way it is. If we perform, he's spot on, and if we're not pulling our weight we certainly know about it.

"It was always going to be difficult trying to stabilise, dropping out of League One to League Two, and we only just scraped to stay in the league.

"But with mostly the same players we managed to finish 10th last season. The gaffer came in and set his stall out. He knew what he wanted out of us and managed to get the best out of us, and he's doing it again this season."

Vale were in the play-off places with two games left but just one further point saw them slip out of the top seven. Richards, who hails from nearby Rugeley, was out of contract and having passed 20 goals for the first time in his career had offers from a couple of League One clubs including Carlisle.

But he chose against uprooting his family - he has two young sons - and again committed his loyalty to Vale by signing a new two-year contract.

"It was a matter of courtesy to explore the options, which is why I spoke to other clubs, but Port Vale was always going to be my No.1 choice," he said.

"They are a good club and I want to get them back into League One, where they were when I first signed. I want to be playing at as high a level as possible and maybe we can go beyond that.

"We were disappointed to just miss out on the play-offs last season and they are the absolute minimum this season.

"At the moment we're doing the business but we're not shouting and bawling about it. We had a little blip when we didn't win in four in October but we still picked up points by drawing so that shows we're good defensively now."

And Richards has found himself a new ally in his bid to fire the Valiants to promotion this season, for if he is Vale's Maverick then Justin Richards is their Goose. The 30-year-old was out of contract at Cheltenham and just like the Top Gun buddies, he and his new strike partner have soon hit it off.

"We clicked right from the off, even during pre-season," said Marc. "It helps that we're car-pool buddies and we travel in together. That broke the ice and we got to know each other really quickly.

"It sounds daft but it even helped that we're both called Richards! It made that bond a little bit tighter. Obviously there's no family connection - he's black, I'm white! But it's been funny confusing people because we've both been in the goals and I keep getting texts asking if it was me or Justin that scored."

Maybe they should follow the lead of Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez and have a nickname on their shirt. 'Goose' and 'Maverick' would give the scoresheet an interesting look.

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