LEE NOVAK would love the chance of taking part in a knockout showdown against Premier League opposition.

But the Geordie frontman accepts that to put themselves into the draw for the second round of the Carling Cup, Town need to smarten up their act.

Port Vale provide the barrier between Lee Clark’s side and a place in the hat on Thursday night (the pairings will be made after the televised tie between Sheffield Wednesday and Blackpool).

And Novak knows tonight’s Burslem tie is likely to provide a tough test.

Both sides go into the contest on the back of opening-day draws, with Town held 1-1 by Bury and Vale 2-2 by League II newcomers Crawley.

While it took a stoppage-time leveller by Louis Dodds to rescue the team from the Potteries, Town led through Gary Roberts, only to concede an equaliser in their League I clash.

“We were all disappointed by the performance and the result,” admitted Novak, who came off the bench in the 52nd minute.

“We didn’t play the way we wanted to or the way we were told to, but we had chances and should have put more of them away.

“We managed to get the breakthrough goal, but weren’t at our best and Bury capitalised on that by grabbing an equaliser.

“Now we need to improve against Port Vale, and we know we’ll have to be fully focused, because they will want to hit back after Saturday as well.”

Novak watched from the bench when Town played his boyhood favourites Newcastle in the second round of the Carling two years ago and had to make do with a substitute’s appearance at the same stage of the same competition at Everton last season.

“We all want to do well in every competition we take part in, and the beauty of the Carling Cup is that there are some big names in the second-round draw,” he added.

“But we aren’t there yet, and at this stage, the only game in our minds is against Port Vale.”

Jordan Rhodes’ absence on Scotland Under 21 duty (they play Norway in Paisley tomorrow) means a frontline berth is up for grabs tonight.

“I want to start as many games as possible, and that’s what I’m working towards,” added the 22-year-old former Gateshead man.

“I was pleased to get on against Bury and pleased to be able to make an impact by having a hand in our goal (he crossed for Roberts to convert).

“There’s plenty of competition for places here, but that’s the way it needs to be.”