THE BIG MATCH

Third hosts second in npower League 2's game of the day with Cheltenham Town up against Port Vale and looking for the win that would see them climb above the visitors.

Cheltenham go into the weekend a point behind Vale on the back of two wins and a draw from their last three League 2 fixtures, while they are also boosted by progress to the third round of the FA Cup.

Last season's beaten Play-Off finalists are building up a bit of momentum and boss Mark Yates is anticipating a "great game" because of the attacking threat Vale carry.

He told www.ctfc.com: "We go to win every game. It's important we play well, it's important we compete and it's important we do as well as we can do and if we do that they give themselves a chance. Port Vale have had a fantastic start to the season and we're only a point behind so it should be a great game.

"They have a lot of good players and I've been to watch them a few times. Fair play to Micky [Port Vale manager Micky Adams] and his squad, they play a way probably nobody else is brave enough to play in our division so we'll make sure we deal with them and play to our strengths as well.

"Their two wide players are big players for them with pace and power, they're quite direct and they're skilful when they ball gets to them so we'll make sure we deal with them like I said, but we're at home and have to make sure we don't lose sight of what we're about."

Vale approach the game on the back of three straight defeats, though two of them have been in cup competitions so they remain second in the table and on the coat-tails of leaders Gillingham.

There is no lack of belief at Vale Park however, and defender Richard Duffy says the players are looking forward to Saturday's trip to Cheltenham and the busy festive period.

He told www.port-vale.co.uk: "If you can put two or three wins in over Christmas and other teams don't, then all of a sudden, within the space of 10 days, you could be clear of people, so it could be massive for us, but we are looking forward to it.

"Saturday's game at Cheltenham will be a big test of character for us coming back from three defeats in a row and it will be a big ask for us to go there to Whaddon Road.

"They are a strong side, but we fancy our chances away from home no matter who we are playing. This season we have been better on the road than we have at home, so we will fancy our chances on Saturday."

KEEP AN EYE ON

The current npower League 2 form guide flyers are Southend United and on Saturday they put a seven-match unbeaten run on the line at home to Bradford City.

It's another encounter between two sides at the top end of the table with Southend starting the day sixth on 33 points while Bradford are fourth, two points better off and with the added boost of progressing to the Capital One Cup semi-finals in midweek.

That all points to a game between two sides high on confidence and looking to further cement their promotion credentials.

Southend boss Paul Sturrock, who was named as the npower League 2 Manager of the Month for November, told www.southendunited.co.uk: "It's going to be a very difficult game. They are one of the form teams at the moment.

"They are sitting just above us in the league and are still in all the cup competitions which in itself is a tremendous achievement.

"They will come here to Roots Hall on Saturday brimming with confidence, and so they should be.

"But we will be confident too because we've done well recently, so it should be a real exciting game of football."

Bradford caused a huge stir on Tuesday night with their penalty shoot-out victory over Arsenal at Valley Parade, though prior to that they had also been in excellent form.

A run of just one League 2 defeat since late October has seen them keep pace with the division's leading sides and suggests that they are finally looking up after some troubled years.

Now they have to make sure their feet are on the ground as they return to League 2 action at Southend.

Boss Phil Parkinson told www.bradfordcityfc.co.uk: "It might be a bit of a challenge initially to refocus given the scale of what we achieved on Tuesday, but we have the staff here who are professional enough to get the players right for the weekend.

"We also have some good senior players here. They will make sure that there are no minds wandering within the camp.

"I know I won't have to say anything myself because there won't be any talk of the Arsenal game on the coach down to Southend. We know exactly how important our league form is to us."

ELSEWHERE IN THE DIVISION

While four of the teams just behind them will be battling it out against each other, npower League 2 leaders Gillingham will look to press home their advantage as they welcome Fleetwood Town to Priestfield.

The Gills have maintained their position at the top of the table pretty much all season and currently hold a four-point lead over Port Vale, the side closest to them in the standings.

For Martin Allen's men it's a chance to earn a second victory of the month but they come up against a Fleetwood side eighth in the table and with their own eyes on returning to a Play-Off position.

Southend United and Bradford City are two of the teams currently occupying the four Play-Off spots and they meet at Roots Hall, while Rotherham United are fifth and Exeter City are seventh.

Rotherham are on the road on Saturday as they look to maintain their position with a visit to AFC Wimbledon, who start the weekend two places and one point outside the relegation zone, while Exeter City have a local derby with a home fixture against Plymouth Argyle.

Exeter's advantage over Fleetwood is a solitary point while Plymouth are one place and two points above Wimbledon.

Burton Albion, Chesterfield and Torquay United are all within striking distance of the Play-Offs at the moment with the 10th-placed Spireites - on the back of four successive victories - hosting the ninth-placed Brewers at the Proact Stadium.

Torquay, meanwhile, start the Saturday in 11th and will be hoping to end it higher up after their home game against Northampton Town, who are in 13th.

It's looking quite tight at the bottom too, although Barnet have the most ground to make up as they sit at the foot of the table, two points adrift of the teams above them.

The Bees travel to 14th-placed Dagenham and Redbridge knowing a victory could lift them out of the relegation zone depending on other results.

Bristol Rovers are immediately above them on 18 points ahead of their visit to York City, who are 15th, while just outside the bottom two are Aldershot Town only by virtue of goal difference with a trip to Rochdale their Saturday afternoon action.

Saturday's remaining two games see Morecambe, in 16th, host 18th-placed Oxford United, and Wycombe Wanderers, in 19th, on the road to the team two places above them - Accrington Stanley.

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