DELIGHTED manager Peter Jackson today saluted skipper Efe Sodje and backed him to lead a victory mission at Port Vale on Saturday.
The 31-year-old defender returned in style against Hull City after being dropped to the bench in the previous match at Doncaster.
Attacking the ball with venom, Sodje helped thwart many Hull raids before they started and has set himself a high standard for the rest of the Coca-Cola League I campaign.
"When Sodje plays like he can, we don't lose many games," said Jackson, who had illness victims Nathan Clarke and John McAliskey playing 90 minutes in the Reserves against Scunthorpe today.
"Efe is a key player for us and he knows I've been disappointed with his form this season.
"That's why I gave him a bit of a reminder at Doncaster that he's not guaranteed a first-team place and he responded exactly how I expected with an outstanding display against Hull.
"I thought Steve Yates and David Mirfin were excellent as well and the clean sheet was a credit to everyone at the back.
"They know we have given away a lot of stupid goals this season, but when Sodje comes and attacks the ball like he did on Sunday, there aren't many better centre-backs around at our level.
"He gave the whole team a lot of confidence by winning his headers and getting his foot in quickly for every tackle and that's the Sodje we want to see all the time."
Apart from his suspension for the final two matches of last season, Sodje hadn't missed a start before Belle Vue since last November.
He will have the job of marking Steve Brooker on Saturday, providing the five-goal frontman, who is the subject of a £200,000 bid from Bristol City, hasn't left Martin Foyle's third-placed squad by then.
"I was positive with all the players after what happened at Doncaster because I knew they would respond," added the manager.
"People were saying all sorts about the players and myself, but I was always totally confident about facing Hull because I know what we are capable of.
"When we play like we can we are as good as anyone in this division, we went in with an attacking formation and we showed real quality in our play.
"As I've said, confidence came from the back line playing as well as they did, the midfield were very lively and the front two did their bit as well. If we keep clean sheets, we win games - it's as simple as that."
Akpo Sodje was due to play his first full 90 minutes in the Reserves today following his signing on a three-month trial contract from non-League Erith and Belvedere.