Boss Leam Richardson knew his side had a mountain to climb when he saw the ref flourish an early red card
Leam Richardson admitted his heart sunk when referee referee Andy Davies brandished a fourth-minute red card on Saturday.
In the previous game at Plymouth, injuries to Nicky Hunt and Craig Lindfield knocked the Reds out of their stride and denied them a chance of a victory.
And this week Charlie Barnett’s rash challenge with the game barely under way knocked the young manager for six as title chasers Port Vale moved to the top of the table with victory over Stanley.
When you are down at the bottom, things just don’t go your way and whatever happens to Richardson in the future, the current run of one win in 13 league encounters can only make him a stronger person.
Hopefully the Reds fans will stick with the Stanley boss as, despite the defeat, the team showed that they have enough about them to get out of the relegation battle – and that’s the only aim now this season.
New centre half Mark Hughes was strong at the back on his Reds debut after signing on loan from Bury two days before.
Goalkeeper Paul Rachubka, on his return to the Reds team after being on loan in December, was good with his catching and shot-stopping. And they also had new boy Tom Aldred on the bench to boost the backline.
And this addition in personnel could give several of the Reds’ players a chance to recover as they are battling with tiredness and injuries due the previous lack of strength in depth of the squad.
Striker James Beattie has been carrying a slight knock, captain Luke Joyce has played more than 50 successive games and Rommy Boco hasn’t had a rest – going from playing in China, to playing in Ireland and straight into the thick of League Two action.
And, in the press box on Saturday, sat Lindfield (ankle), Hunt (concussion), Padraig Amond (groin) and Will Hatfield (broken finger) – players who would be definites or at least pressing for a starting place.
Richardson admitted Saturday was just one they have to cross off now but learn from and move on. He said: “Your heart sinks when you have put in the work all week and you have plans to be effective and then one decision changes all that.
“It was early in the game and I don’t think the referee needed to act so hastily but, by the letter of the law, he (Barnett) went in with his studs showing and you see red cards for that.
“It’s a big pitch at Vale Park and they have good wide and forward players and it’s hard enough with 11 men but having 10 men for almost 90 minutes against a team like that is obviously tough.
“In the first half, with set pieces and periods of open play, we shaded it.
“We will never know what would have happened with 11 on the pitch as I felt comfortable and, when decisions don’t go your way, it makes it harder.
“We tried to frustrate them but in the end the weight of pressure told.”
There is still a lot of football to be played, a lot of points to be played for and a lot of pressure to be felt and hopefully relieved – and it’s important to stick together as the Reds should have enough to be playing League Two football next season.
But this was another that got away as Richardson admitted he was confident with his new boys going into the clash at Vale Park.
However within four minutes Barnett was judged to have lunged in with his studs showing on Dan Jones and the ref showed an immediate red. After that, you could only fear for Stanley.
The 10 men, though battled hard and deserve a lot of credit with Hughes firing just over bar while Peter Murphy’s three-yard shot from a corner was desperately cleared off the line – that would have gone in earlier in the season when the Reds were having more luck.
Laurie Wilson’s corner hit the top of crossbar as the 10 men ran the show in the first half although, just before the break, Rachubka pulled off a superb tip over from Ryan Burge.
The Reds’ backline had limited 27-goal Tom Pope and well-travelled Lee Hughes while also restricting their wide men but, after boss Micky Adams got into them at the break, they made their numerical advantage tell immediately. Burge put in a free kick five minutes after the re-start and debutant Hughes got ahead of his marker to clip the ball first time over Rachubka and into the top of the net for a goal on his Valiants’ debut.
The second followed four minutes late when Doug Loft’s strike from outside the area was pushed out by the Stanley keeper but only into the path of another debutant, Darren Purse, who almost tripped over the ball as he put it into the net.
And it was three goals in 16 minutes when Hughes got on the end of Richard Duffy’s long ball through. He beat the off-side trap and rounded the outrushing Rachubka to slide the ball home from an angle.
Wilson did enough to stop a fourth for Vale while George Miller fired an effort straight at keeper Chris Neal at the death as Stanley looked for their first goal in around six hours of football.
It didn’t come and it was a dejected 10 who trooped off at the final whistle but, with the positives they can take from their first-half show and with the injuries clearing up, this might just be a springboard for moving up the table.