The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By Dan Barnes

HIGHLY-RATED Port Vale de­fender Nathan Smith be­lieves he is close to re­cap­tur­ing his best form.

De­spite the Valiants’ rel­e­ga­tion from League One last term, the 21-year-old was a shin­ing light at Vale Park, even if his ef­forts proved in­suf­fi­cient to keep them in the third tier.

Smith picked up all five of the club’s end-of-sea­son awards, in­clud­ing the Player of the Year gong.

Hav­ing helped Neil Aspin’s troops to three wins out of five in Oc­to­ber, he hopes that both his and his team’s form is on an up­ward curve.

“I thought, to be hon­est, at the start we weren’t per­form­ing well as a team and I wasn’t per­form­ing as well as I thought I should be. But I think it is pick­ing up again,” said Smith.

“Hope­fully, we can con­tinue to per­form well as a team and I can put the per­for­mances in that we need.”

As part of their im­pres­sive show­ing last month, Vale had won three on the spin be­fore slip­ping to a 3-0 de­feat at the hands of Swin­don in their last League Two out­ing.

Smith said: “We were tak­ing mas­sive steps for­ward, with the three wins in a row, so then to take a mas­sive step back like that is a bit of a dis­ap­point­ment.

“We have to an­a­lyse it and learn from it, but hope­fully move on.”

Smith was hailed as a fu­ture Premier League player by for­mer Vale man­ager Bruno Ribeiro but says he is savour­ing life un­der for­mer de­fender Aspin, who made more than 400 ap­pear­ances for the club in his play­ing days.

“It is def­i­nitely a big thing for me when it’s a de­fender who has come in as a man­ager,” said the young­ster.

“I can pick his brains and ask him ques­tions, and I know he will come back with the right an­swers.”

“That’s the na­ture of the Cham­pi­onship; some­times you get your re­wards when you don’t nec­es­sar­ily de­serve them.”

It took 43 painstak­ing min­utes for the game’s first chance to ar­rive and Mill­wall fluffed it.

Steve Mori­son’s cross was met with a scis­sor-kick from Wal­lace that went back across goal into the path of Ai­den O’Brien, who blazed his first-time ef­fort over the top of an un­guarded net.

The start of the sec­ond half fol­lowed the same pat­tern as the first – Mill­wall un­able to turn their pos­ses­sion into any­thing mean­ing­ful, while Bur­ton were just con­tent to be on level terms. Wal­lace’s red card, Mill­wall’s fourth of the sea­son, may have been harsh, but they should have been ahead be­fore­hand.

And they were pun­ished for an in­sipid dis­play when Palmer drove a di­ag­o­nal shot low into the box, that was blocked and fell to Sordell, who fin­ished pow­er­fully from ten yards.

With the fi­nal kick of the game Lee Gre­gory hit the post as he looked to place the ball around keeper Stephen By­wa­ter, who had va­cated his line.

Bur­ton hung on though and Clough added: “We said to the back four if you deal with Mori­son and Gre­gory you’ve got a chance of win­ning, and gen­er­ally we did that.”

PIC­TURES: Richard Holmes/Pro Sports Im­ages

STRIKE IT LUCKY: Marvin Sordell scores Bur­ton’s win­ner to seal their first away win of the sea­son

POS­I­TIVE: Nathan Smith

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