CHRIS Birchall says nothing but his best will be good enough if he's to have a chance of keeping his place in Micky Adams's exciting new Port Vale team.
Birchall is set to line up for the Valiants at Oldham tonight (7.45pm) having impressed on the right of midfield in Saturday's 3-1 win at Doncaster.
The 30-year-old has hardly put a foot wrong in his two appearances of the campaign, having also started in last week's 6-2 demolition of Hartlepool in the Capital One Cup.
However he is well aware there is fierce competition for places out wide after manager Adams brought in Mark Marshall, Colin Daniel and Byron Moore during the summer.
Marshall and Birchall did an excellent job on the left and right respectively at Doncaster, but Daniel is fit again after an ankle injury and Moore is also getting close to a call-up to the squad having missed pre-season on compassionate grounds following the death of his brother Louis.
Birchall said: "I am happy to have the shirt, but I am not kidding myself. I think if Byron was fit and had done all of pre-season then he would be the one out there playing and I would be fighting to get into the team.
"But I feel like I had a good pre-season. I played well and got my fitness and the manager has seen that.
"I am enjoying playing, but I know that I have to play exceptionally really to keep my place.
"Sometimes that can be frustrating, but it is just the nature of it here at Port Vale.
"There are a lot of players trying to take the shirt because we have good competition here."
Despite his modesty, there's no doubt Birchall has been doing an important job for the team.
The Vale youth graduate is more of a right-sided midfielder than a winger, but his intelligent and hard-working performance was important as Vale impressed just as much defensively as they did going forward.
The victory was Vale's first away from home since Birchall performed a similar role on the right in the 2-0 victory at Walsall in November.
He's likely to have an important job again tonight at an Oldham side whose left-winger Jonathan Forte has been their best player of the season so far.
Mind you, the Valiants will also be hoping to give Oldham plenty to worry about having scored 10 goals in their opening three games.
Birchall is delighted Ben Williamson has added goals to his game, netting four so far to match strike-partner Tom Pope's tally.
He said: "The potential has always been there with Willo. He has so much pace, is strong and you think to yourself that he has all the attributes to be a top striker.
"Sometimes he hasn't got as many goals as he should, but he couldn't have made a better start this season.
"Whoever is playing out wide, we have to keep getting crosses into the box and give our strikers service because they are thriving on it at the moment."
FORMER Vale midfielder Anthony Griffith is back training with the club as he regains fitness following a hip operation.
The 27-year-old was released by the Valiants at the end of last season, but Adams has been happy to help the combative midfielder get in shape to find a club.
Griffith played through injury for Vale for much of last season, dedication which hasn't been forgotten by the Vale management.
Coach Mark Grew said: "The manager is always ready to help someone like Griff who has been such a good servant to the club.
"Griff rang up to see if he could come in and the manager was happy to help. It is important we look after the players who have looked after us."