NEWPORT County AFC defender Kyle Howkins is relishing today’s battle with former teammate Tom Pope as the Exiles aim to keep a sixth successive clean sheet in League Two.

Veteran striker Pope is expected to lead the line for Port Vale at Rodney Parade and Howkins knows all about his strengths having enjoyed two loan spells with the Valiants.

Pope has scored just once in eight appearances so far during this campaign – in the opening day draw at Colchester United – but he netted 14 times last season and 19 the year before.

Howkins, who is 6ft 4ins tall, spent time on loan at Vale Park during both those seasons - playing against County in February 2018 (below) - and he’s looking forward to the physical challenge of keeping 6ft 2ins Pope quiet this afternoon.

“I had a decent time at Port Vale, especially last year when I managed to get a good run of games,” said the former West Bromwich Albion centre-back, who moved to Newport in the summer.

“I was there again earlier this year and I didn’t manage to get as many games as I wanted, but I still enjoyed my time there.

“I’m still in touch with a couple of the lads and it will be a tough test for us.

“They’ve got a lot of new faces now, but it will be nice to see some familiar ones.

“They’ve got Tom Pope up top and they like to utilise him as much as possible because he’s quite good at holding up the ball.

“I like playing against big strikers and having a battle with them, rather than little ones who can run about and get past you.

“But they’ve got a few new players as well and they’ll give us a tough game.”

South Wales Argus:

Howkins is confident that County can put Wednesday’s crazy 5-4 defeat to West Ham United under-21s to one side and extend their club-record 16-game unbeaten run in regular-season league games with a win over 10th-placed Vale.

“The team is looking really strong and hopefully we can keep that run going and get another win,” said the 23-year-old.

“We’ve come up against a few good teams and we’ve managed to get results against them, so I don’t see why we can’t be up there again and even go for automatic [promotion]. We’ve just got to keep working hard.”

Midlander Howkins has hit the ground running on the pitch for Michael Flynn’s men and he’s also settling in to life in Wales off the pitch.

“I didn’t know a lot about the club, really,” he said. “Obviously, I knew they got to the play-off final last year so I knew they had a good team and they wanted to build on that.

“And, so far, it’s been really good. I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve bought a house down here now in St Mellons and I’m moving in at the end of the month with my girlfriend so that will help me settle in even more.

“Flynny’s been great, he’s really good to work with and I’m looking forward to the next couple of years here.”

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