The Valiants return to action at Vale Park this weekend as we face relegation threatened Cambridge United.
After 37 games in league One this season, the U’s find themselves second from bottom, seven points from safety, after six matches without a win.
The latest of that winless run was a 2-1 defeat to Charlton Athletic at the Abbey Stadium two weeks ago, with goals from Miles Leaburn and Jeserun Rak-Sakyi doing the damage for the Addicks, despite a consolation goal from Lloyd Jones.
Vale, however, sit 16th in the table after an excellent performance secured them a valuable point at Fratton Park against Portsmouth last weekend.
Goals from Matty Taylor, and Funso Ojo – alongside an Aidan Stone penalty save – had given the Valiants a two-goal advantage at half-time, but two goals after the break from Pompey earnt the home side a point.
Saturday’s match will be an interesting clash, so here is what you need to know about United before we lock horns with them at the weekend.
ONE TO WATCH: Sam Smith
The U’s top scorer last season, Sam Smith, no… not that one, will be leading the line for the hosts this Saturday, and with his goalscoring record, he will be one we hope to keep quiet.
Smith is enduring his second spell at United after he initially joined on loan from Reading for the 2019/20 season, scoring a total of eight times.
The striker went on loan six times during his time at reading with the final one being very successful as he played a part in Cheltenham Town’s League Two title-winning side in 2021.
After his success in Gloucestershire, the 24-year-old returned to Cambridge, but this time on a permanent basis, signing a two-year contract.
Cambridge reaped the rewards from the signing as the Smith went on to score 15 league goals last campaign, whilst scoring a total of 21 in all competitions, a fantastic return for his first season back at the club.
The Manchester-born has netted six goals so far this campaign whilst also providing three assists, so Vale will need to keep a watchful eye on the attacker this Saturday.
THE MAN AT THE HELM: Mark Bonner
A man that knows the club extremely well, Mark Bonner has been the man in the dugout for the U’s since 2020, but his coaching career at the club has lasted a lot longer.
Bonner joined Cambridge over a decade ago in 2011, starting in a coaching role at the academy before moving up the ranks in their youth teams.
The 36-year-old worked his way up through the ranks at United before securing a First Team coaching role at the club in Shaun Derry’s backroom staff.
Born in Cambridge, Bonner’s passion for the club has never wavered, and whenever called upon he took over the senior side on a caretaker basis whenever a new manager was being recruited.
Nine years after joining the club, and after many different roles in his time with the U’s, the young boss finally got the managerial role on a permanent basis in March 2020.
Covid meant Bonner had to wait until the next season to oversee his first match for United as the permanent gaffer.
His first season at the Cambridgeshire side was extremely successful, he led them to promotion to the third tier for the first time since 2002.
After signing a new contract with the club in the summer of 2021, Bonner’s second season was also a good one, overseeing a 14th-place finish in their return to League One, and a fantastic FA Cup run which include a third-round victory over Newcastle United at St. James’ Park.
After a recent poor run leaving them in the relegation zone, the young manager will be hoping he can turn the tide for the U’s as they fight to stay in League One.
HEAD-TO-HEAD LAST FIVE:
Vale wins: 2
Cambridge wins: 3
Matches between us and the U’s have been tight in the last five meetings, and unfortunately, it’s this weekend’s hosts that just edge us out by three wins to two.
However, it was Vale that came on top in the last meeting between the two sides, securing a 1-0 win at the Abbey Stadium in the reverse fixture back in October.