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Port Vale will bring the fight to Cambridge United under Darrell Clarke, says Mark Bonner





Mark Bonner admits it is hard to prepare his Cambridge United side to face a Port Vale side adjusting under a new management – but he is sure they will have a real battle to win.

The Valiants had been around the play-off places in late October but a downward spiral of results has left them contending with a relegation battle and saw John Askew given the sack in early January.

Since Darrell Clarke took the reigns as his managerial successor on February 15, having jumped ship from Walsall, they are unbeaten in two matches and lie 18th in the Sky Bet League Two table.

Mark Bonner is expecting a battle when they take on Port Vale for the second time this season, having won 3-1 in October Picture: Simon Lankester
Mark Bonner is expecting a battle when they take on Port Vale for the second time this season, having won 3-1 in October Picture: Simon Lankester

But he will go into Saturday's contest at Vale Park desperate to bag his first three point haul in charge, having followed up a 1-1 draw at Leyton Orient with a goalless game at home to Stevenage on Tuesday.

It leaves them eight points from the bottom two relegation places but having played two games more than current occupants Barrow and Grimsby Town.

Bonner is certainly not expecting an easy ride in Staffordshire though as his league leaders look to bounce back from their mid-week defeat at home to promotion rivals Cheltenham Town.

Paul Mullin scored a hat-trick when Cambridge United last faced Port Vale. He currently stands just two goals away from equalling David Crown’s record of 24 league goals in a season (1985/86) for the U's Picture: Simon Lankester
Paul Mullin scored a hat-trick when Cambridge United last faced Port Vale. He currently stands just two goals away from equalling David Crown’s record of 24 league goals in a season (1985/86) for the U's Picture: Simon Lankester

"His teams are always incredibly hard-working, committed and they want to get the ball forwards, so I would expect nothing else,"said Bonner at this afternoon's pre-match press conference.

"In the games he's had they've certainly been that as well so I would expect a really aggressive hard-working performance from his team.

"But I'm sure from his perspective he will be looking to get his first win and all the players are looking to impress their new manager so it will be an interesting afternoon.

Hiram Boateng is said to not be ready yet to start a game following his injury spell Picture: Simon Lankester
Hiram Boateng is said to not be ready yet to start a game following his injury spell Picture: Simon Lankester

"But having seen the two games so far and the different systems they played in both it is difficult to predict in too much detail and therefore we just have to focus on ourselves and being the best version of our team as we can be."

When the two sides met at the Abbey Stadium on October 20 a hat-trick from top scorer Paul Mullin ensured a 3-1 victory.

It was certainly not an easy three points to pick up from Bonner's perspective that day though. And he says he has been surprised to see them go on to struggle in the bottom half of the table since.

"They were really good that night," he said. "It was a really good game and we felt a really good result.

Mark Bonner is confident he has had the right approach with getting the best out of Wes Hoolahan Picture: Simon Lankester
Mark Bonner is confident he has had the right approach with getting the best out of Wes Hoolahan Picture: Simon Lankester

"And for whatever reason their form spiralled a little bit as the season has gone on and they find themselves in a position now that I would have never have called then.

"Port Vale was a team at the time I expected to be higher up than they are because they have got some really good players.

"And sometimes just a little loss of confidence or players being out can dictate that."

In terms of team news he said there were no fresh concerns over his squad with 38-year-old midfielder Wes Hoolahan set to return after being rested once again for a mid-week match.

But with a number of their worst results having been when the former Norwich City player has not been included, he does not regret resisting the temptation to use him more.

"It's not difficult at all because if you do that (include him every game) you won't get the performances that you have got on the weekend so it's a really easy comfortable decision to make," he said.

"We've lost a few games in the last batch and he hasn't been there for them but we've also taken quite a lot of points without him.

"So we're a different team when he doesn't play and any team would miss him but you miss (Paul) Digby, you miss (Harim) Boateng, you miss any players that have been or are missing. But you find ways of getting points out of a game."

Despite this he has said he believes U's fans will see him used in some mid-week matches between now and the end of the season.

While Boateng returned from injury from the bench in Tuesday's defeat to Cheltenham he said he is not yet ready to start a game.

Bonner also confirmed fellow midfielder Digby will not be seen for at least the next few games and quite possibly longer.

A scan has revealed the former Ipswich Town player had suffered a problem with a tendon in his foot.

"He is running and ball striking but hasn't got to full speed or changing direction yet," he said.

Following Saturday's game, the U's return to home comforts next Tuesday with the visit of Scunthorpe United, who are only a point better off than Port Vale in 16th spot.

Read more: All the latest Cambridge United news



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