This afternoon sees the club rewind for another Saturday, this time previewing one of the most comprehensive away victories the Imps have had in recent memory.
Lasts season’s mauling at Vale Park was a fantastic afternoon and saw us bag ten goals in two trips there. You can buy 50/50 tickets for the game here before settling down to watch the fixture. In case you’ve forgotten the build-up to the game, we’ve got the preview here, as well as Tom Williams’ stats preview on page two. Enjoy.
Our trip there won’t be an easy prospect, away games never are even though we’ve already won 4-0 there this season. That result will have given Vale the first-hand look at us they need to combat our threat this time around. Managers get stick for adjusting their side to nullify an opponents threat at home, will Vale prepare for us or play their normal game?
If they play their normal game and if they score first, we could have a battle on our hands. Vale have won every game they’ve scored first in this season, a gentle nod towards Neil Aspin’s determination and tactical approach that closes games down. We’ve seen teams such as Forest Green unable to do exactly that, so much of Vale’s threat relies on them scoring the first goal. If we get it, they could easily crumble as they did in the cup.
There are some injury worries for Vale as well. Manny Oyeleke, who has a hamstring strain, and Cristian Montano are both ruled out of the game. Ben Whitfield, a player linked with us on several occasions, faces a late fitness test as does Tom Pope. Pope is a fine forward, one who played well as we were downed in April this year and who poses a constant threat, both physical and in front of goal. He’s one who would fit nicely into our squad too and he riles me every time I see him play, which means he’s doing something right.
You know who isn’t doing much right at the minute? Ricky Miller. He’s another familiar name and a wonderful player for Dover in 2016/17, but his career has faltered. He’s been given plenty of football at Port Vale, 11 outings at last count, but has delivered just two goals. One of those is recent, this week in the Checkatrade Trophy, but on the whole, he’s been unimpressive. Some said all he needed was a chance to shine, but I’m not inclined to believe that maybe, just maybe he’s a National League player and nothing more. Cue him scoring tomorrow.
Vale are expected to line up in a 4-4-2 and Miller’s goal should see him partner Pope if the latter is fit. At the back, Leon Legge is having a good season after signing from Cambridge and Luke Hannant is a threat from out wide. One their day, Port Vale look to be a decent side. On the other hand, they’ve always got a result in them like the recent defeat against Grimsby where fans got on Aspin’s back. If we score early, can that particular can of worms be opened once more?
Moving on to form, we’re leading the League Two table for our last six away fixtures, winning four and drawing one. Unfortunately, Forest Green are just behind us, prompting hugely laughable speculation that Cooperman might be targeted by Brentford. Port Vale are 12th in the home form table, with ten points from their previous six games, consisting three wins, one draw and two defeats. They’ve won just one of the last three at Vale Park and tomorrow’s game is critical for them. They’re currently 16th, but could be as low as 19th by the time the day is out. On the other hand, a win could see them climb to 12th. One result pits them in the bottom five, or just inside the top half.
The Footstats model shows that Port Vale concede in the first half and we tend to score in the second. There’s a 43% chance both teams will score and a 26% chance there will be more than 2.5 goals. All that might help with the betting, but does it really help us with anything else?
The truth is we expect to go there and get a result, as we did in April. If we drew, it might be acceptable but we’re in the unique position of not expecting to lose these types of games. That is always dangerous and fan complacency was counted as a factor when we lost to Crawley. Of course with nearly 1,000 making the journey tomorrow there will be vocal support and that could and should help us get over the line.
Our team should pick itself, just that midfield question to be raised once more. The popular choice with fans would be Pett and O’Connor, but there is simply no chance Lee Frecklington will not play. I suspect Pett will miss out again, a crying shame given his recent performances, but his appearance in midweek surely confirms him as a possibility to come off the bench tomorrow. Other than that, we’re unchanged. It is worth noting that only three players who started the game there in April are likely to start tomorrow, Eardley, Frecklington and Bostwick. Pet and Anderson were on the bench, but that highlights the size of the rebuilding job Danny undertook this season. It’s remarkable really, how quickly the new players have settled. some haven’t yet but when they all get on method, we’re going to be a terrifying prospect.
I don’t usually do a prediction, but if I were pushed I’d put this as a 2-1 victory for us, with them scoring first. That stats of them winning every game they score first in is there to be broken and after collecting our biggest ever win at Vale Park two months ago, it’s time to break another streak this time out.