Darrell Clarke returns to his role as Port Vale first-team manager and will lead the team at Exeter tomorrow.

The 44-year-old has made a gradual return from compassionate leave after suffering a near personal loss in February. He is ready to return and thanked the club and the fans for their support while he was away from the touchline.

Speaking about his comeback, he said: “First and foremost, I feel ready to do this. This is the first thing. I would like to thank everyone for the love and the support, the support that I received from the football club, the board, Carol, David Flitcroft and the supporters. They have been absolutely exceptional. The main thing is that I feel ready, I feel ready to come back. They are my staff , they are my players, so I am ready to lead the group.

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He added: “I don’t want to go into too much detail about my personal life, but I want to be up front. I want to be ahead of the pack. We have assembled this group. It’s always been a “we”, it’s always been a united front.

“Going into the final game of the season at Exeter…we all know it’s a huge game and it’s up to us as a group to respond to that. I can not wait to be there.”

Vale goes into the final day of the regular season at Exeter knowing he could end the day promoted, in the play-offs or out altogether. They have lost their last three games to give themselves only an outside chance of automatic promotion, but had won eight and drawn one of their nine games before.

Clarke paid tribute to his assistant Andy Crosby who served as interim manager. He said: “Absolutely exceptional. I think we all have to be a bit honest that in the last three games the players haven’t performed as well as they could. I didn’t feel that around the training ground.

“Andy Crosby has done an incredible job. He’s a talented guy. I think we work very well together as a team and he worked very well to bring the troops together, which was in incredible circumstances. I think the way the club, the fans and everyone handled my personal situation… I can’t thank them enough for that. Crosser and my back office team did an outstanding job.

A Vale victory tomorrow would only be enough to clinch the automatic third and final spot if Northampton, Bristol Rovers and Mansfield all fail. But a draw would secure a place in the play-offs and they could still make the play-offs with a loss if Swindon fail to get a point at Walsall or Sutton fail to win at Harrogate. Exeter are already promoted but need a win to be certain of winning the league.

Clarke added: “I’ve been successful in those situations before, so I have a lot of experience dealing with different scenarios, as does my coaching staff. We will prepare our players as best we can for a colossal task.

“We could find ourselves in the automatic, we could find ourselves in the play-offs or we could find ourselves out of the play-offs. There will only be three scenarios after the game and we have to be prepared for each of them and make sure we prepare as best we can, as we have done all season.