Vale are targeting a victory on Saturday which would virtually guarantee their League 2 survival after they picked up four points over Easter with a 2-1 win over Chesterfield and 2-2 draw at Crewe. If Vale completed the double over Reds, having won 3-1 at the Checkatrade on the opening day of the season, they would have a nine-point cushion above the bottom two with four games to go.
Michael Brown was Vale boss that day but he was replaced by Neil Aspin in October. Aspin, who celebrates his 53rd birthday next Thursday, left Gateshead to return to the club for whom he made more than 350 appearances in a ten-year career after signing in 1989. As a manager Aspin cut his teeth in non-League with Harrogate Town and Halifax. In December he was nominated for the League 2 manager of the month and also signed a new two-and-a-half-year contract.
Reds have had mixed fortunes on three previous visits to Vale Park. Our first Football League game in August 2011 was there when the sides shared four goals with Tyrone Barnett and Kyle McFadzean scoring for Crawley. There were then two meetings in League One. In April 2014 Reds lost 2-1 despite taking the lead through Billy Clarke. Eleven months later we came from behind to win 3-2 thanks to goals from Richard Wood, Izale McLeod and Dean Wordsworth. At home, Reds won 3-2 in March 2012 with Gary Alexander (2) and Sergio Torres on target. The meeting in December 2014 ended in a 2-1 win for Vale, Conor Henderson scoring our goal. Enzio Boldewijn scored our goal in the opening-day loss in August.
Tom Pope (pictured) is the player to watch in the Vale ranks. The striker has scored 17 goals this season with 15 in the League and including one in Monday’s 2-2 draw at Crewe Alexandra.
Vale will have Sam Hornby in goal on Saturday after he came on in the first half for the injured Ryan Boot at Crewe in their last game. Hornby has been on loan at Chester this season and his last Vale appearance had been in September.