NEILL Collins ‘can’t wait’ to take charge of Barnsley for the first time against his former club Port Vale and his former coach Andy Crosby.

The Reds head coach played seven games on loan to Vale – who visit Oakwell from 3pm – from Sheffield United in 2015.

Collins told the Chronicle: “It was great. I was going through a tough spell at Sheffield United.

“Right on deadline day, Robert Page took me to Port Vale.

“I had a difficult start because I hadn’t played for five or six months.

“But I grew into the season, we stayed up and I really enjoyed it.

“It was a positive experience.”

Vale finished 18th in League One last season, four points clear of the relegation zone, after winning the League Two play-off final.

The Staffordshire club, whose director of football is former Barnsley manager David Flitcroft, sacked manager Darrell Clarke in April with four games left.

He was replaced by Crosby on a caretaker basis but he has been given the job permanently for this season.

Crosby was Nigel Adkins’ assistant manager at Sheffield United during Neill Collins’ final season at Bramall Lane.

On Crosby, Collins said: “I know a little bit about him and how good a coach he is. It will be nice to shake his hand and say hello.

“I have respect for him and he was very good at what he did. It’s no surprise that he’s a head coach.”

On Vale in general, Collins said: “There is always an unknown before you play the first game. But I know them as well as any USL opponent because we have done a lot of research.

“They have signed new players so it may change how they approach it.

“We hope our players rise to the occasion in front of our fans.”

Collins is looking forward to his first game.

He said: “We all miss football.

“The off-season is good for a few days then we want the excitement of looking forward to a game. That’s what builds anticipation for the first game. Winning the first game feels more exciting and losing it feels worse but then you get into it. For us it’s important to focus on playing the game and performing.

“I can’t wait. I am sure the fans will be full of anticipation.

“It will be the first chance to get behind the team since Wembley.

“I can’t wait to see the stands packed and hear the faithful in full voice.”

After a nine-game winless run against Vale, the Reds have triumphed in three of the last five league meetings.

They drew 1-1 in September last year, with Liam Kitching’s opener being cancelled out by Ellis Harrison which was the only equaliser scored at Oakwell last season by either Barnsley or any of their visitors.

The Reds then visited Vale Park for a 2-1 loss in the EFL Trophy in November but returned on Valentine’s Day to win 3-1 in the league with goals by Luca Connell, from outside the box in the first minute, Kitching again and Adam Phillips. Vale have only lost one of their last six games at Oakwell, in January 2015, while they won 2-1 later that year as well as in 2004.

They have won ten of their 57 visits to Barnsley in total, losing 35.