A battle of the Valiants in the last home game of the season

Port Vale are the visitors to The Valley this coming weekend as we embark on the closing stages of a season that has been dramatic rather than successful. So can we sign off with a win, please?

Of late, we never quite know what to expect at The Valley, whether on the field or off it. We're never quite sure if Saturdays are going to bring us a Shrewsbury spectacular or Morecambe misery but at least of late there's been a guarantee of goals. Probably too, we can expect that to continue with the Midland Valiants having one of the leakiest defences in the whole division and sitting on a goal difference of -20 right now.

On the whole though, Port Vale are probably going to be the happier of the Valiants at this stage of the season. Having come up from League Two last season via the play offs, they have consolidated their place in the higher division and despite a late season slide have never really looked in any danger of getting dragged into the relegation battle. Incidentally, it was Port Vale who beat Ben Garner's Swindon in the semi-finals of the League Two play-offs last season. Mind you, they have beaten everyone in the League over the course of their history - literally everyone after last season's defeat of Sutton United.

That's a record we'd rather not share all the same, though it would have been nice to claim the scalp of Manchester United earlier in the season in that infamous game which, excluding the Brighton match, has probably been the height of our 2022/23 season. Maybe if we'd had our current managerial set up in place at an earlier stage, things might have been different. But it is what it is and we can only move forward with higher hopes for next season.

At this point in the season the best that we can hope for is a tenth place finish, which maybe would give us a psychological boost for next season, as position-wise we’re within touching distance of the play-off pack. But the truth is that over the course of the season, a table doesn't tell any lies and right now we are 17 points away from Derby in 6th place. Maybe most scarily, that current play-off quartet of Sheffield Wednesday, Barnsley, Bolton and Derby looks like one of the strongest in recent times and the scariest part is that three of them may well be staying in this division for another season.

With yo-yo clubs Wigan and Blackpool possibly joining, alongside point-stripped Reading, it's not a good time for anyone hoping to fight a cash-strapped promotion battle. A common complaint of seasons past is that we haven't always hit the ground running with our signings in pre-season, although last year we tried to address that by stealing half of Swindon's squad. However, the key difference in this year from the last is that we have a manager at the helm with a better grasp of the game at this level and with the ability to work with what he's given as well as bettering the players he has got. We just hope he's supported in summer transfer dealings because it is going to be another tough year ahead in a tough division.

In the meantime, let's enjoy the last home game of the season and see what attire the visitors turn up in, having had the Hartlepool Smurfs and others land in town on the last days of seasons past.