Of the 12 League One games this weekend, only four can mathematically affect the division both teams will be in next season. One of those four sees relegation strugglers Port Vale take on promotion-chasing Bolton Wanderers.
They meet with neither side in the best of form, particularly in goalscoring terms, 2nd place Bolton netting just one goal in five. That run highlights both Gary Madine’s performances prior to injury and the team’s shortage of ideas in the striker’s absence.
His last full game was a 4-2 win over Oxford. While he did not do anything eye-catching himself, he was always tussling with centre-backs and often won his battles with Chey Dunkley. Madine’s selfless play gave Bolton the option to go direct and midfielders, the chance to get forward.
The Trotters scored four goals in 90 minutes with Madine in the team that night, but have scored only three goals in 600 minutes of football since his injury. Chris Long provides pace while fellow striker Adam Le Fondre is a good goalscorer at this level, but at 5’11” and 5’9” respectively, neither are the ideal recipients of high balls.
If the duo start in Burslem, they will face defender Nathan Smith, the only player to start all 43 games and one of Vale’s better performers this term. He has switched from the full-back role he played at previous clubs and is one of the few to show passion in an otherwise dispirited outfit. At six foot, he might have been more worried about facing Gary Madine but, along with Remi Streete, is capable of dominating Long and Le Fondre in the air.
Vale’s bigger concerns lie in the opposing half, where they have failed to score in their last four games. In each of them, JJ Hooper and Regino Cicilla have both started up front, yet Vale’s Expected Goals output (Experimental 361) is among the worst in the division on current form.
Hooper’s work rate has not been as strong as it has been previously, particularly at the tail end of last season under Robert Page. Cicilla tries a little harder but his towering height is not backed up by muscle and he has struggled to adjust to the physicality of League One.
There should be few problems therefore, for Mark Beevers and David Wheater, arguably the division’s stand-out centre-backs this term. The duo will need to be more alert at set pieces and long throws from Ryan Taylor, who displayed remnants of his Premier League quality at Oxford last week.
Chris Eagles flattered to deceive at the Kassam Stadium, prior to facing his former club. This is a chaotic mix of Premier League ‘has-beens’ and foreign imports – if they cannot score against Chesterfield or safe, midtable sides, why will they do so against a team that could secure promotion with a win?
The Football Lab’s Verdict: 0-1