THE BIG MATCH

Gillingham and Port Vale are are in a long-standing battle for top spot in npower League 2 and this weekend they meet at the Priestfield Stadium.

The Gills have the upper hand going into the pivotal fixture as they sit top on 51 points, two ahead of second-placed Port Vale, and with a game in hand over their promotion rivals.

Martin Allen's side won't want to surrender their place at the summit this weekend, and the 47-year-old is playing down the importance of the fixture, but knows it will be an exciting afternoon of football.

"You can't deny it, it's a special occasion," Allen told www.gillinghamfootballclub.com.

"We don't talk about this being the biggest game of the season; we just try and do exactly the same every week. We're not going to spend seven hours on our training pitch doing this and that; we want it to be steady throughout the season.

"We haven't treated it any differently, we haven't trained any differently. Friday will be normal, Saturday will be normal, but then of course we know it's not normal, it will be an amazing Saturday afternoon at three o'clock when we start."

Port Vale boss Micky Adams is eager to see his side take over at the top and he says he will put out a team to combat Gillingham's threats.

If they are to win on their trip to Kent, the Valiants will need to break down a defence that has conceded just 12 goals at home in the league.

They do have the league's top goalscorer Tom Pope within their ranks, though, and he will be hungry to add to his 23 goals so far this term.

Adams told www.port-vale.co.uk: "Gillingham are a formidable outfit and they have strengthened their side lately.

"It is a difficult game - it always is against Gillingham regardless. They are a confident unit, we are a confident unit, it is first versus second and we know what we are playing for.

"But that's the beauty of it, if we beat them we go top, so we will pick a side accordingly."

It is likely to be a tight encounter between the two promotion chasers, and not only because of the close proximity between them in the standings. Both sides come into the match having lost one, drawn one and won three of their last five fixtures.

KEEP AN EYE ON

There's another match between two promotion rivals in npower League 2 this weekend as Exeter City host Southend United.

The two teams sit side-by-side in the Play-Off places - the Grecians in fifth and the Shrimpers in six, with a point separating them - meaning a victory would boost their promotion credentials.

Paul Tisdale's Exeter experienced a disappointing festive period, winning just one of four matches in December, but they have won both of their matches since the turn of the year.

Their home form is a real concern, though, with only three wins registered from the 13 games at St James Park.

Defender Pat Baldwin, who appeared for opponents Southend before moving down to Devon, insists he and his team-mates are doing their utmost to improve their form on home soil.

The 30-year-old told the Exeter Express and Echo: "It has been difficult for us at home, but we are working hard to change that. Our luck is going to change and hopefully it will be on Saturday.

"We do need to sort out the home form. We have come close one or two times to trying to change our luck, but we are just going to go into Saturday with the same mentality as we do our away performance and hopefully get a result.

"We are due a performance and result at home, we are just going to go out and give it our best shot. I'm expecting a typical Paul Sturrock team, which is very organised, very strong and very determined."

Southend, meanwhile, will approach the match in high spirits after reaching the Johnstone's Paint Trophy Southern Area Final.

The Shrimpers fought back from a 2-1 deficit and overcame the heartbreak of conceding an 89th-minute equaliser against Oxford to beat the U's 5-3 on penalties.

Striker Neil Harris is eager for the team to build on their midweek exploits, telling the Echo: "It goes without saying that it will be a difficult game, but we're going into the game in good spirits after a fantastic night at Oxford on Tuesday.

"We want to get back to winning ways in the league after losing our last two games and that makes Saturday's encounter at Exeter City very important indeed.

"They went above us in the table after winning last weekend, while we were playing in the FA Cup, and this is our chance to overtake them again."

ELSEWHERE IN THE DIVISION

With the top two locking horns at Priestfield, third-placed Rotherham United will have a chance to make up some ground when they host Barnet.

The 20th-placed Bees certainly wont be pushovers, though, as they have won three of their last five, including a comfortable 2-0 victory against Bradford City last time out.

AFC Wimbledon are another side down at the foot of the division who have picked up points recently. They beat Torquay United 3-2 on New Year's Day and followed that up with a 1-0 success against Rochdale. The Wombles host Wycombe Wanderers, who have pulled themselves up to 18th after being bottom, this weekend.

Bristol Rovers and Plymouth Argyle will be eager to move out of the bottom two and they are up against Fleetwood Town, who could hand a debut to record signing Jamille Matt, and Morecambe respectively.

A win for either side could take them out the relegation zone, although they would need Wimbledon to lose in their match against Wycombe and Aldershot to fall to a defeat, too - the Shots host Accrington Stanley.

Like the relegation zone, the Play-Off places could also see some movement this weekend.

Cheltenham Town, Exeter City, Southend United and Fleetwood Town currently occupy fourth to seventh. The Robins host York City, while the other three sides fixtures have already been covered.

Bradford City, Northampton Town and Burton Albion are all ready to pounce as they lie in waiting just outside the top seven.

The Bantams, who are fresh off the back of more Capital One Cup heroics, entertain Oxford United, Northampton, who have won their last three, scoring eight goals, travel to 11th-placed Chesterfield, while Burton take on Torquay.

A draw could be enough for any of the three teams to enter the Play-Offs, while a win could take them all the way up to fourth, but only if other results go their way.

The remaining match in npower League 2 sees two sides struggling for form in mid-table meet in Greater London, as Dagenham and Redbridge host Rochdale. The Daggers have one win in five, losing the other four, while the Dale have two wins in that period, being defeated in the other three.

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