By Tony Leighton
A month of back-to-back fixtures against teams around them in the npower League 2 table could decide Exeter City's fate as they look to clinch promotion at the first attempt following last season's relegation from League 1.
Ahead of their Tuesday evening visit to second in the table Port Vale, the Grecians are lying in seventh place but are only four points below the automatic promotion positions and have a game in hand.
They kicked off a run of four away trips in five games on Saturday, when their tremendous recent record on the road - seven wins and a draw in their previous eight outings outside their Devon home - was abruptly ended at Burton Albion.
A 4-2 defeat slightly tarnished what is a club record of 10 away wins in a season. But, says experienced midfielder Matt Oakley, when they step out at Vale Park on Tuesday night the aim will solely be on taking their away-day successes to 11.
Former Southampton, Derby County and Leicester City player Oakley, a promotion winner with both the Rams and the Foxes, told football-league.co.uk: "It was very disappointing to lose at Burton, but we have to bounce straight back.
"If we can beat Port Vale that would mean three points from two away games and we'll take that - and we'd won our two games before Saturday, so if we can make it three wins out of four we should be satisfied.
"We've been in excellent form away from home so we can't let Saturday's defeat get to us, particularly as we've got so many away games coming up in a very congested fixture list over the next few weeks.
"If you take the Burton game into account we're in a run of eight matches in four weeks, five of them against teams in the top six and those games are vital if we're going to finish the season with promotion.
"Starting with a win at Vale would be great, but it's going to be tough because they're in good form and I think that them and [top of the table] Gillingham will probably take the two automatic promotion places - but we're aiming for third.
"We're right in the mix and if we win our game in hand then we'll only be a point behind third place. So if we play well and get the points we want against those top teams we can get ourselves promoted - and I believe we can do it."
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