The Christmas Covid-19 cancellations in Sky Bet League Two have hit Port Vale hard with The Valiants last in action on 11 December.
Despite seeing their last four league games postponed, firstly because of an outbreak within their own squad, and then because of outbreaks within their opponent's camps, Vale still sit sixth in the table, four points off the automatic promotion spots with games in hand on all those around them.
The enforced break might have come at a good time for Darrell Clarke's side who had won just three of their previous eight in all competitions, after a run of just one defeat in 12 through September, October, and early November.
Vale have shown their quality in the run to the Third Round, knocking out higher division opposition in both earlier rounds. They saw off Accrington Stanley 5-1 at Vale Park in Round One before a 2-1 win at Burton Albion last time out.
Clarke's side have been highly efficient in front of goal this campaign. Despite only averaging the 15th highest shots per game in the fourth tier (11.7), they have the joint second-best goals per game (1.7).
At the other end, their defence, which includes former Brentford Player of the Year, Leon Legge (below), has given up the fourth fewest shots per game (10.6) and have the division's fifth-meanest defence, conceding 23 in their 21 outings so far.
Ben Garrity has popped up with seven goals from the centre of midfield this campaign with striker Jamie Proctor behind him on six.
Writing for Hot Off The Press, Stoke-On-Trent Live's Mike Baggaley told us: "[Darrell Clarke] likes to keep his cards close to his chest when it comes to team news, injuries and so on, but it’s fair to say that for the majority of the season so far, Vale have lined up in a 3-5-2. It has not looked like a defensive line-up with five at the back; the two wing-backs, Gibbons and Dave Worrall are attacking players, really, and it is a really effective, attacking system."
Thomas Frank confirmed on Thursday that Kristoffer Ajer (main picture) will start following a hamstring injury while Bryan Mbeumo is likely to also be involved after recovering from his calf issue. Sergi Canos (hamstring), Mathias Jensen (knock), and Rico Henry (hamstring) will just miss out while Zanka, Charlie Goode, Tariqe Fosu, (all hamstring), Josh Dasilva (hip), Julian Jeanvier and David Raya (both knee) remain longer-term absentees. Frank Onyeka is also unavailable as he has joined up with the Nigeria squad ahead of the African Cup of Nations
Port Vale forwards James Wilson, Jamie Proctor and Devante Rodney are all sidelined with injuries, while defender Daniel Jones is suspended following his red card against Newport County last month. However, January addition Ryan Edmundson, who has joined on loan from Leeds United, could be handed his debut up front alongside Dennis Politic. Huddersfield Town striker Kian Harratt joined Vale this afternoon but may not be registered in time to feature tomorrow.
A box-to-box midfielder, Darrell Clarke began his career with Mansfield Town in 1995, where he spent the first six years of his career, making 173 league and cup appearances. In 2001, he moved to Hartlepool United, where he spent another six years, making a further 136 appearances. He was sent out on loan to Stockport County, Port Vale, and Rochdale in the final years of his spell in the North East. After leaving Victoria Park he dropped into the non-league with Salisbury City, taking up the management position at the club in 2010. He led City to promotion into the Conference Premier from the Southern League with two play-off final victories in three seasons.
He was appointed manager of Bristol Rovers in March 2014, but could not prevent the club from dropping out of the English Football League. It would only be a one-year stay in the non-league for The Gas who won the Conference Premier play-off Final the following May. He followed that up with another promotion to League One 12 months later. At the time of his departure in December 2018, he was the fourth-longest serving manager in the EFL. He was appointed manager at Walsall in May 2019 but left the club last February to take over at Vale Park.
THE OPPOSITION VIEW
Port Vale defender James Gibbons told the press: “There's no hiding that they are going to come here and be a good side. We've got to be organised and play our game; we can't affect what they do.
The Premier League teams are the ones that you want to test yourself against. As a League Two player coming up against the best it's what you dream of when you are growing up.
"That's the magic of the FA Cup. It brings the top players down to the lower leagues and the lower league players thrive off it. Hopefully, it will be a good game. We are raring to go"
LAST TIME OUT
Referee: Thomas Bramall
Assistant Referees: Adrian Waters and Mark Dwyer
Fourth Official: Marc Edwards
Port Vale 21/22
244 fouls - 14th in Sky Bet League Two
37 yellow cards - 14th in Sky Bet League Two
3 red cards - 5th in Sky Bet League Two
All adult supporters must self-declare and be able to show proof of an NHS COVID Pass or negative test result within the 48 hours leading up to kick-off.
There will be Pay on the Day. Tickets will be available for £18 Adult and £8 Juniors. Our hosts operate an away sales kiosk situated outside the away stand. It will open from 1pm for a 3pm kick off and is a cash only sales point.
The only way to follow from Vale Park is with Mark Burridge and Ben Burgess on Bees Player.