Football: Francis ready for Vale's tall order: Phil Shaw looks forward to today's Autoglass final between familiar foes at Wembley

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FAMILIARITY breeds contentment in the case of both Port Vale and Stockport County, who have reason to relish their reunion in today's Autoglass Trophy final above and beyond the delight any lower-division club feels on reaching Wembley.

The teams are meeting for the third time in seven days, Vale having prevailed by the narrowest of margins in the previous 180 minutes to reach the Second Division play-off final. Their first taste of the twin towers in a 117- year history will thus be ideal preparation for the second, against West Bromwich Albion a week tomorrow.

Stockport are veritable Wembley veterans; today's lucrative consolation for another near-miss season on slender resources is their third visit in 12 months. Last year, curiously, they faced Stoke City three times in a week, winning the play-off semi-final before losing in the Autoglass and to Peterborough United in the game to decide a First Division place.

Danny Bergara, Stockport's Uruguayan manager, hopes the return of the 6ft 7in Kevin Francis will tilt the balance his team's way. The former Derby striker, who has 38 goals this season, missed the recent encounters with Vale because of suspension.

Vale share the goals around more. Ian Taylor, a gangling midfielder coveted by Sheffield Wednesday, leads the way with 19 in his first season since John Rudge ended his dual career in forklift truck-driving and Beazer Homes League football. Coincidentally, Taylor and Francis played together for Emerald Social under-11s in Birmingham.

Form points to the silverware staying in the Potteries. Vale finished 17 points ahead of Stockport as well as beating them in the play-offs, and expect their passing game to tell as players tire on the large pitch. The question may be whether Stockport - one win in 11 games - can get their noses in front before then.

Last year's final drew a crowd of 48,400, some 10,300 down on 1991 and 33,000 less than Wolves and Burnley attracted in 1989. While today's figure is likely to be smaller still, Vale's following will be three and a half times their 8,000 average. Whatever the turn-out, it will be no thanks to British Rail who, in their wisdom, chose this weekend to close both Stoke-on-Trent and Wembley Central stations for repair work.

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