Oxford travel to Port Vale for an unusual Monday night match against the league's second-placed side, just over a week after facing leaders Gillingham in our last league match. An impressive victory away at Cheltenham in the JPT has renewed a sense of optimism about this side, but Vale have only lost twice so far this season and will present a stern test.
Arguably Port Vale are a surprise addition to this season's title race, having spent most of summer under a transfer embargo beset by financial concerns. But contrary to expectations, the Port Vale players have thrived on the financial uncertainty and have been on fire this season, scoring more goals than any other side in the league. Top scorer Tom Pope has already netted 12 times this season (by way of contrast, our top scorer is Alfie Potter with four). That said, they haven't won at home since September 8th, so they certainly won't be unbeatable.
In addition Vale are missing captain Doug Loft due to a calf injury, though of course this pales in comparison to our own lengthy injury list. There is, however, good news on that front with Damian Batt and Lee Cox apparently close to returning and some other big players such as Michael Duberry able to train again. Johnny Mullins will be hoping to capitalise on his impressive debut performance as he returns to the squad after last Tuesday's JPT outing.
There are a few significant connections between the two sides, Sean Rigg of course the chief among them. Rigg made over 100 Port Vale appearances during three seasons at the club but left amidst their summer turmoil and became our firstsigning of the season. Another is Ryan Burge, who made five appearances for Oxford towards the end of the 2010-11 season on loan from Doncaster. He then joined Port Vale but has failed to really feature for the Valiants since joining in 2011.
The two sides have played out some real thrillers in recent years, the last of which was last season's final-day crushing at Vale Park which signalled the culmination of our spectacular implosion. The previous three games had all been won by United and all by a scoreline of two goals to one. The home game at the Kassam saw Peter Leven score the goal of the season and the season before that Tom Craddock scored a last-minute winner just seconds after Vale had equalised in dramatic fashion.
From the Vaults
Port Vale v Oxford United, 4th April 1998
The appointment of Malcolm Shotton as manager had brought about a resurgence in form with four victories from our previous five games and we travelled to struggling Port Vale full of confidence. That confidence proved misplaced...