In what seems a lifetime ago now, in the opening weeks of the season, we lost 3-2 at home to Port Vale - leading to the sacking of Dean Holden just over a week later. Now, as Michael Appleton's side continue a pattern of late concessions and poor results, how close are we to seeing history repeated in the return leg?

For a long time now we have argued that the club needs stability and consistency. We can't keep on going through managers as quick as outfits on Xmas Party nights. When we lost to Port Vale Dean Holden was the man at the helm struggling to keep our promotion ambitions on track, even at that stage of the season.

Just a few weeks later, Michael Appleton took over the hot seat, with grand ambitions of moulding the current group into a successful team and turning The Valley back into a Garden of Eden.

The fact that we're falling ever further adrift of League One's play-off places shows that this isn't working. Presently, we're in 14th place on 29 points with our one saving grace being our goal difference.

We're a whole twelve goals better off than Saturday's rivals, largely thanks to Alfie May's extraordinary season. But if we lose against Port Vale, that goal difference won't count for much when they're three points ahead of us. Worse than that now, we have Wigan and even Reading starting to breathe down our necks, despite their points deductions.

Unbelievably, we are one week's worth of results away from being 20th in the League One table. Even if we go on a decent run we probably won't have caught up with Northampton by the time they come to town in a fortnight. That's a long, long way south of where we thought we'd be or expected to be at this stage of the season.

Like Birmingham City in the division above us, we look like a club that has lost its identity in the midst of grand ambitions without a sense of realism at their heart. This week they sacked Wayne Rooney despite the American owners' earlier assumption of him being a kind of Marvel super hero who'd laser-blast all rivals out of their path and bring them Premier League glory.

What at this stage is the likelihood of Michael Appleton suffering the same fate? Presumably it's unlikely unless we have a completely barren January. Why would we be in the race to sign players such as Jonson Clarke-Harris and Macaulay Gillesphey if we are on the verge of changing managers again? Surely a huge part of our managerial problems in the past few seasons stems from the fact that we keep having new managers in charge of someone else's team and players?

The only logical explanation then is that, if these are managerial transfer targets, the owners are starting to build a squad for the 2024/25 season, with Michael Appleton at the helm,. If they're not, then it's just going to raise more questions than answers about long-term plans.

Also this week, we have heard gossip about Louie Watson being recalled by Luton because of lack of game time. The art of good management is about getting the best out of people and we have seen flashes of Louie Watson's best alongside George Dobson. If that's not enough to get into the team on a regular basis, then why would Luton leave him to rot on the sidelines in the League's bottom barrels?

Right now there are serious concerns about team selection and tactics, despite the undeniable fact of a lengthy injury list. Maybe when they're all back (except for Miles Leaburn who's probably out for the season) results will start to improve. Then we'll get a sense of what a longer-term Appleton era might look like.

Port Vale's form is unpredictable. They have recovered well to the 7-0 thrashing by Barnsley on the first day of the season and are now just one place below us.  They lost at Carlisle last time out and were beaten at home by Barnsley on Boxing Day. In between, however, they saw off Blackpool 3-0. It is now twelve games since Charlton kept a clean sheet in the league while Port Vale have only failed to score once in the last ten. Their leading scorer Ben Garrity looks sharp.

It could be back to square one in our games of managerial snakes n' ladders unless we get something from Port Vale and then at home to high-flying Peterborough on Saturday week. We would be starting to fear that the Appleton era is never going to bear fruit. The Garden of Eden hasn't returned. Will it ever return?

As fans we just don't know. Even this article seems to have more questions than answers!