Exeter City make the trip to high-flying Port Vale this weekend so we get the Vale perspective with thanks to local Vale journalist Mike Baggaley.
Mike has been covering the Valliant's since the early noughties, shortly after transfering from Stoke City reporting. He has been at the Stoke Sentinel, now Stoke-in-Trent Live for 23 years and there's few people more clued up on Darrell Clarke's side.
Ahead of the game, Mike kindly gives us an overview of our hosts on Saturday.
Hi Mike thanks for getting in touch with us! How long have you been covering Port Vale?
I began in the 2000/01 season when the club was just starting back in League One after relegation. I just missed the John Rudge era which included promotions, Wembley appearances and the majority of the 1990s in the Championship!
What have been your highlights in this time? Favourite Game?
There have been lots of highs, and plenty of lows too – including two spells in administration.
The current era feels like a major highlight. The club has been transformed since owners Carol and Kevin Shanahan took over in May 2019. Things have improved on the pitch but, more than that, the club has made a huge impact on the people around it. It was named EFL Community Club of the Year in April for efforts that included delivering 300,000 meals to locals during the pandemic.
As for favourite game, I'll go back to 2001 and the LDV Vans Trophy final win over Brentford at the Millennium Stadium.
Vale are high flying at the moment, but do you feel there is another gear to find?
Yes I think so. The Vale have managed to stay in the top three despite a lengthy injury list. In fact, all five of the club’s senior strikers were missing in last weekend’s defeat at Newport.
After the start the Valiants have had, what are your expectations come the end of season?
The Vale have looked like a top seven side in the first half of the season so I’ll go for that. I’d love to say top three but ‘expecting’ that is a bit greedy with so many other clubs in contention.
Who are going to be the key players for Port Vale on Saturday?
Look out for home grown defender James Gibbons. He’s an excellent right back who has been even better since switching to left-wing back this season.
Another local lad, Tom Conlon, has also impressed. The left-footed midfielder is competitive, can pick a pass and scores free kicks.
How would you expect Darrell Clarke to set his side up against City?
He’s set up with a back three in most games, usually 3-5-2 but occasionally 3-4-3. He’s not afraid to change during a game though. There have been a few occasions where he’s switched formation at half time with success.
How important is home advantage for Vale, given the respective league positions of the two sides?
Vale will be glad to be back home after a run of four successive away games. They did pretty well in that run though, just about losing at Rotherham on penalties in the Papa John’s Trophy and then winning at Burton, in the FA Cup, and Bristol Rovers in the league before running out of steam in last weekend’s 2-1 defeat at Newport.
What kind of game are you expecting? Open? Cagey etc…?
Vale’s games against Exeter in recent years have tended to be entertaining so I’ll go for that and hope I haven’t jinxed it. One thing I am sure of is a warm reception for Scott Brown, Vale’s former player of the year who remains a favourite here.
And finally what’s your score prediction for Saturday?
Vale to just nick it, 2-1.
Brilliant, thank you Mike. See you Saturday!