Since their home win against lowly Fleetwood at the end of November the Vale of Lune have flattered to deceive and their push for promotion has stalled due to inconsistency.
And the fixture against Rochdale exposed a disturbing fault line as they struggle to recapture the style and verve that was the hallmark of their play earlier in the season.
A fired up Rochdale stuck exactly to their script and gained revenge for their heaviest defeat of the season, 48-10, at Powder House Lane back in September.
With the Pennines basking in the winter sunshine the Vale opened with a solo break from Sam Wallbank but the lock forward opted to chip the ball forward which allowed Rochdale to regroup and clear the danger.
In the 11th minute Jimmy Moore kicked a penalty goal after Darren Wilson and Sam Wallbank had made a surge deep into Rochdale territory.
Vale’s lead only lasted three minutes when a penalty kick from number eight Mike Bradwell levelled the scores.
When Darren Wilson was shown a yellow card in the 18th minute the pendulum began to swing very much Rochdale’s way.
The Rochdale forwards rolled the Vale back towards their goal line, flanker Chris Hodgkinson was on hand to collect an unconverted try in the 22nd minute.
Vale managed a number of isolated attacks but they lacked support and with Rochdale’s confidence on the up the Vale fell further behind to another forward inspired passage of rugby in the 28th minute when Mike Bradwell went over for an unconverted try following some no nonsense handling in congested circumstances.
In the 35th minute Vale’s hopes were raised when Moore set off on a 60 metre diagonal run that completely wrong footed the Rochdale defenders for his try, the conversion hit an upright but failed to go over.
There was little time for the Vale to celebrate or consolidate, because in the 39th minute Rochdale added a third try.
Players from both sides appeared to be waiting for a whistle except winger Richard West who carried on running for a try converted by Mike Bradwell.
The Vale played with vigour in the closing minutes of the first half and they began the second 40 with a number of positive attacks.
Nick Royle was brought more into the action as the Vale probed for an opening.
Moore kicked a penalty in the 50th minute as the Vale began to thread together some encouraging passages of rugby but the dynamics of their game altered when the number ten was shown a yellow card in the 58th minute.
Although Rochdale had a player sin binned shortly after the Vale failed to make any impression as their game became more fractured.
There were moments of promise when Danny Lin was held up on the line and Darren Wilson was bundled in to touch by the corner flag but with the clock ticking down the Vale appeared incapable of altering the situation.
A penalty from Mike Bradwell in the 70th minute effectively put the game beyond an increasingly desperately looking Vale side.
There was a mad scramble from the Vale to at least secure a losing bonus point but with over ambitious passes dropping either around the ankles or out of reach of the recipients all Rochdale had to do was keep their heads while those around them were losing theirs, which they did successfully.
Vale: Alex Cowey, Andy Powers, Mark Hanson, Sam Wallbank, Ben Charnley, Alex Baines, , Danny Lin, Phil Berry, Darren Wilson, Jimmy Moore, Nick Royle, Sam Moorby, Jonty Higgin, Adam Macluskie, James Hodder, Olly Cowey, Rob Ward, Gareth Tudor.