The season started modestly, with two wins in the four August games. In September only Lee Glover, Tony Naylor and Martin Foyle could find the net, but the Vale managed to win six points from their five games. To help with his recovery from a serious injury, Ray Walker spent some time on loan at Cambridge United, and managed to win back his first team place in the Vale starting eleven upon his return. Meanwhile Tony Kelly arrived at the club from Bolton Wanderers, but after a brief spell moved on to Millwall. Vale's poor attack was highlighted in October, though the defence managed to ensure three draws from five games. In November, Darren Hughes was allowed to leave the club for Northampton Town. Rudge decided to make another big signing, and bought winger Steve Guppy from Newcastle United for £225,000. On 5 November, Vale lost all their inhibitions in front of goal, beating Southend United 5–0 with five different scorers. However their draw with Swindon Town would prove to be the only point gained in December, as Vale were stuck in a relegation dogfight. John Jeffers spent January on loan at Shrewsbury Town. During this spell defender Kevin Scott arrived on loan from Tottenham Hotspur. The team gelled, forming a five game unbeaten run based on just two goals conceded to shoot up the table. In March, midfielder Ian Bogie was signed from Leyton Orient for a £50,000 fee. Potteries derby day finally came on 14 March, and 19,510 turned up at Vale Park to witness a 1–1 draw with Stoke City, Naylor scoring the Vale's goal. Five defeats in seven games followed, raising concerns of the drop. However the Vale were unbeaten in their final five games to ensure safety. This included a 1–0 win over Stoke at the Victoria Ground on 22 April, Foyle scoring the goal.
They finished in seventeenth place with 58 points, leaving them ten points clear of relegated Swindon Town. They were five points short of Stoke, who finished six places above the Vale. Player of the Year Martin Foyle bagged twenty goals, double that of his nearest rival Tony Naylor.
In the FA Cup, Vale smashed Third DivisionHartlepool United 6–0 in Burslem, with Martin Foyle bagging a hat-trick. Remarkably, this would be the last hat-trick scored by a Vale player at Vale Park until April 2011. However a shock awaited in the Second Round, where Scarborough, also of the fourth tier, beat the Vale 1–0 at the McCain Stadium.
In the League Cup, Vale advanced past Second DivisionBristol Rovers 4–2 on aggregate, having won 3–1 at the Memorial Stadium. In the Second Round they faced Premier League Manchester United. Alex Ferguson's "Red Devils" beat John Rudge's "Valiants" 2–1 at Vale Park in front of 18,605 supporters; Lee Glover scoring for Vale and Paul Scholes scoring a brace on his United debut. At the time Vale fans were disappointed to witness the then-unknown United reserves, though Scholes would go on to become a household name, as would teenage teammates Gary Neville, Nicky Butt, and David Beckham; the United first eleven would go on to win a combined total of more than 500 international caps over the course of their careers. For the second leg there were 31,615 fans at Old Trafford to witness a 2–0 United victory, David May and Brian McClair getting the goals.