Port Vale (H) Match Preview

The promotion train keeps rolling on. And it’s gathering momentum. Saturday saw another sweeping victory away from home, the second 5-0 win for the U’s on their travels so far this season. And we’re only six games in. Oh, and Wes Hoolahan is nicely rested for Tuesday night. In reality, it couldn’t really have gone much better.

Listen to our podcast reviewing the Scunthorpe game and with an exclusive interview with U’s manager Mark Bonner.

We can file Scunthorpe under ‘Teams we really should be beating’. Our five goals and five star performance took it a step further, but Tuesday night’s arrival of Port Vale at the Abbey provides a much more significant test. The Valiants will prove a much, much tougher team to beat than Scunthorpe were, and we’ll need every ounce of the resilience and smart game management that inched us past Newport. They’re next in line in United’s tough opening ten games of the season: after this, pre-season favourites of Bolton and Salford come to the Abbey, with not-easy trips to Walsall and Crawley Town sandwiched between them. 

Vale have their own promotion hopes. UTAS tipped Vale to do well last season, and were it not for the curtailed season their upturn in form in the new year might well have seen them overtake Northampton into the final play-off spot. Their start to this season has been somewhat mixed; wins over Exeter and Salford have been tempered by disappointing defeats to Morecambe and Carlisle – an 8-0 scoreline over these two isn’t for everyone. 

Regardless, they are a formidable side on paper, and Bonner will know that they’ll be coming to the Abbey looking for all three points and to catch United on the current league-leading total of 13 points. God, it still feels good to say that…

Expected U’s line-up: Mitov; Knoyle, Taylor, Darling, Iredale; Hannant, Digby, Boateng, Dunk; Hoolahan; Mullin

While Bonz changed the starting 11 at the weekend, bringing Ironside back in for a two-man attack and resting Wes, we’re expecting him to revert to a shape more similar to the one that beat Newport. As well as bringing Wessi back in, it gives us an extra man in midfield to try and control possession, and in a tightly-contested game where chances might come at a premium, giving Wes the wand in the middle with full license could be the difference.

We’ve also backed Boateng to start over May; his quality off the bench at Scunthorpe was evident with some beautiful passing. With his fitness improving, this could be the first game he makes a contribution from the off. 

Who’s their player to watch? Mark Cullen

There’s a number really: Tom Pope, Devante Rodney, Theo Robinson, or Christian Montano could all be highlighted as dangerous players for the U’s to watch. But it’s got to be the ex-Luton man, hasn’t it? Cullen has missed Vale’s last two games through injury, but if he’s back he looks like first-choice ahead of Pope and Robinson to occupy the central striker role in Vale’s preferred 4-3-3. Cullen is probably best remembered for his 90th minute equaliser at the Abbey that essentially secured Luton the Conference title in 2014. Less of that tomorrow night please, Mark.

Who’s in the dugout? John Askey

Born in Stoke, John is the son of former Vale player Colin Askey. John came through Vale’s academy but never made an appearance for the club, instead making 511 for Macclesfield and becoming a downright club legend there – when they were liquidated, it was revealed he had lent the club in the region of £175,000 to keep them afloat. He also took charge of nearly 300 games as their manager, with a five-year spell from 2013 including a National League title and a return to League 2 football.

Askey has built a really good team at Vale, and they’re a lot of people’s tips for a top 7 finish. He might still be growing his reputation in the Football League, but that should be no discredit to his team’s potential or threat at all.

What’s their recent form like? Last 5: Won 2, Drawn 1, Lost 3. Scored 3, Conceded 2. 

Any ex-United players?

Former United captain Leon Legge has the armband at Vale. A player that many United fans still have fond memories of, and that many would still take at the Abbey. If we were allowed in, he would likely get a decent round of applause (after a United win of course). He’ll be lining up at the heart of their defence looking to keep Wes and Paul quiet. Worst of luck, Leon.

David Amoo also features in Vale’s ranks, but has only made one appearance so far this season. You might remember that in our 1-0 loss at Vale last year, it was Amoo who created the goal (and celebrated accordingly). The sort of direct winger I loved watching, even if sometimes the end product left something to be desired. 

Last time out:

31st August 2019: Port Vale 1-0 Cambridge United

With this same fixture last year scheduled for United’s third-to-last game of the season, it was, for obvious reasons, never played. So last time out involved an awful Calderwood substitution, a David Amoo assist, and a Harvey Knibbs shocking miss in the dying moments. 

From the archives: 

31st August 1993: Port Vale 2-2 Cambridge United (Claridge, Danzey)

Look at those shorts, just look at those shorts!

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