A third blank Saturday will have given Gary Caldwell’s beleaguered City side a chance to regroup once more after an improved yet still toothless performance against Shrewsbury last time out. Cheick Diabate was again used up front in that fixture which has continued to cause much head scratching amongst the City faithful – James Scott will be hopeful that he has impressed enough in training to resume up front while Admiral Muskwe’s situation after the injury he picked up playing for Zimbabwe remains unclear. Dion Rankine, Reece Cole and Ilmari Niskanen have made successful returns from injury while Tom Carroll should also be back.

Having given Andy Crosby the permanent job after his caretaker spell following the dismissal of Darrell Clarke towards the end of last season, Port Vale’s trajectory has been similar to that of City. Despite a 7-0 opening day thrashing at Barnsley, the Valiants recovered to go unbeaten until losing to Burton in mid-September. Since then, however, Port Vale have like City failed to register a win in the league, reserving all their better performances for the cups where they have gone one better than City in reaching the EFL Cup quarter final stage where they will take on City’s conquerors Middlesbrough. Unlike City, who haven’t played since last Tuesday, Vale have played twice – drawing 1-1 with Stevenage in the FA Cup (meaning a replay at Vale Park on Tuesday) then losing 2-0 at Bolton in the EFL Trophy on Tuesday night. Crosby may therefore need to adjust his squad with Tuesday’s replay in mind.

Like City goals have been an issue for Port Vale, although unlike City they do appear to have a striker in reasonable form in Ben Garrity, who has seven in all competitions so far. Meanwhile Conor Grant will be familiar to supporters in Devon having been a part of the promotion squad of that lot down the A38 last season. Having missed two months of the season Grant was back for the Stevenage FA Cup match last weekend. Another player hoping to feature will be Ryan Loft, who once again will be out to show what he is capable of following a particularly unsuccessful loan spell at City a few seasons back.

The sides met three times last season. The corresponding fixture was seen as a chance for City to gain revenge for the final day defeat the previous season which denied City the League Two trophy, and City responded in style, thrashing the Valiants 4-0. Harry Kite’s stunner opened the scoring before a brace from Jevani Brown (one from the spot) and Sam Nombe completed the rout. City also won the FA Cup tie at Vale Park in a nail-biting fashion. Politic had given Vale the lead, Brown then put City 2-1 up with a goal in each half. Butterworth scored a late equaliser which looked to have forced a replay only for an Archie Collins special to clinch the win. The league encounter, however, was altogether less exciting – Rekeem Harper saw red just before the hour mark with Forrester immediately capitalising with the only goal of the game. That win extended Port Vale’s league head to head lead over City to 25-19, with 12 matches finishing level.

The match officials for this game will be:-

Referee: Neil Hair
Assistant Referees: Steven Plane and Dean Treleaven
Fourth Official : Adam Ricketts

Neil Hair last refereed Exeter in the 2-0 defeat to Northampton Town in September at St James Park. He also took charge of the 2-0 defeat to Burton Albion in September 2022.

By Jason H

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