JEROME DRIVEN BY LOST YEARS

Vale move jump-starts ca­reer

The Football League Paper - - INSIDE: - By Jimmy Booker

BE­FORE this sea­son, Jerome Thomas had played in the top two tiers of English foot­ball for all of his 15-year pro­fes­sional ca­reer.

How­ever, de­spite drop­ping to League One, the Port Vale winger is de­lighted just to be back play­ing reg­u­larly af­ter three frus­trat­ing years with­out reg­u­lar first-team foot­ball.

Thomas came through Arse­nal’s sto­ried acad­emy but made only a hand­ful of League Cup ap­pear­ances for the Gun­ners be­fore mak­ing his name dur­ing four years at fel­low Premier League side Charl­ton Ath­letic, hav­ing joined the Ad­dicks in 2004.

Fol­low­ing an in­jury-rav­aged spell with Portsmouth, he en­joyed three suc­cess­ful years at West Bromwich Al­bion but signed a short-term deal with Rother­ham United in 2016 af­ter an un­happy time with Crys­tal Palace.

The 33-year-old helped the Millers stay in the Cham­pi­onship last term but opted to drop down to the third tier with Port Vale over the sum­mer.

A string of eye-catch­ing per­for­mances in Stafford­shire are vin­di­cat­ing that de­ci­sion.

“It’s been good to get back play­ing. That was the main rea­son for sign­ing,” Thomas ex­plained.

“Af­ter not play­ing many games in the last four years, the most im­por­tant thing was to be back start­ing for a team who let me play my at­tack­ing game.”

Thomas was faced with a choice at the start of the sea­son: whether to join a Cham­pi­onship team bat­tling the drop or a League One side gun­ning for pro­mo­tion.

He chose the lat­ter but, although Vale started the sea­son im­pres­sively, they have fal­tered in re­cent months. Man­ager Bruno Ribeiro, who per­suaded Thomas to make the move to Vale Park, re­signed in De­cem­ber.

The Valiants are cur­rently un­der the eye of care­taker boss Michael Brown, who made a name for him­self as a no-non­sense cen­tral mid­fielder for the likes of Sh­effield United, Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur and Ful­ham. Ac­cord­ing to Thomas, Brown’s man­age­ment style is sim­i­larly full-on. But, with the team hav­ing slipped into mid-ta­ble ob­scu­rity in re­cent times, that is not nec­es­sar­ily a bad thing. “We’re all be­hind Browny,” said Thomas. “He has shaken things up a bit. Train­ing has been a lot more in­tense. He’s had us do­ing dou­ble ses­sions. We’re try­ing to in­cor­po­rate what he wants us to do, start­ing off with be­ing harder to beat and con­ced­ing fewer goals, and try­ing to cre­ate more chances. “It’s hard for him be­cause he’s in­her­ited a squad that was Bruno’s, but Browny knows what he’s do­ing and I’ve been im­pressed with him so far.” Thomas will be 34 in March but claims the lengthy pe­riod with­out reg­u­lar first-team foot­ball means there is still plenty of life in his legs yet.

Com­bined

“Partly it’s down to good genes, so I should re­ally thank my par­ents!” he added. “But I didn’t play con­sis­tently un­til later in my ca­reer. I had a year out at Portsmouth with a bad back in­jury, and had al­most four years with­out play­ing un­til this sea­son.

“In that time, I’ve ticked over, but it’s helped my body the fact that I’ve not played as much. I still feel good and I’m just go­ing to keep go­ing for as long as I can.

“I’ve missed so much foot­ball in re­cent years. I think, be­cause of that, I still feel good at 33.

“Now I’m try­ing to fin­ish my ca­reer strongly. The 20 games I’ve played is more than in nearly four years com­bined, and if I could get any­where near the 40-game tar­get then I’ll be de­lighted.

“Any­one who has been con­sis­tently watch­ing Port Vale would, I hope, be im­pressed.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

VALIANT TIMES: Port Vale’s Jerome Thomas and, in­set below, Michael Brown

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