Rudge rallies his Vale troops

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The Independent Online
John Rudge will take Port Vale into their First Division game against their Midlands rivals, Wolves, tomorrow by telling his team: "This is our Cup final."

Vale have never been so close to the top flight but their play-off hopes will be under threat if they fail to beat Wolves at Vale Park. "I doubt if the club has ever had a more important game," said Rudge, who saw Vale's promotion hopes dented by last Sunday's 2-0 defeat in the Potteries derby at Stoke. "We know we have to take all three points and we'll have to go for it from the off," he added.

Wolves' chances of claiming the second automatic promotion place suffered a setback on Wednesday when they were held to a 1-1 draw by Grimsby. But their manager, Mark McGhee, aware that the sides could meet again in the play-offs, is determined to prevent Vale gaining a psychological advantage.

"We don't want to lose and give them a confidence booster ahead of a possible play-off meeting," he said. McGhee is hoping either Stephen Froggatt or Michael Gilkes will be passed fit to play.

The Northern Ireland manager, Bryan Hamilton, has allowed the winger Jon McCarthy to report late for a World Cup qualifier in Armenia, freeing him to face Wolves, who will be without Don Goodman, who has a hamstring problem.

Crystal Palace welcome Dougie Freedman back for their visit to struggling Swindon and will be looking for a win to boost their play-off hopes while Queen's Park Rangers and Tranmere, who could both still make the top six, meet at Loftus Road.

The Second Division leaders, Bury, need a point at Watford to seal a second successive promotion under Stan Ternent.

Bury were languishing near the foot of the Third Division and in danger of dropping out of the Football League when Ternent took over 18 months ago - but he steered them to promotion last season and is poised to do so again despite only a modest outlay on players.

The Third Division spotlight will be on the bottom club, Brighton, who must beat Doncaster in their final game at the Goldstone Ground if they are to have any chance of preserving their League status. Second-from- bottom Hereford, who are three points above Brighton, travel to Leyton Orient today and face the Seagulls at Edgar Street in a week's time.