Four goal blitz by last season’s champions ends fine run

Richie Allen
Richie Allen
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Pre-season friendly: Rugby Town 0 Brackley Town 4

Rugby’s run of good performances in their friendly fixtures came to an end on Tuesday evening, when last season’s Southern League Premier champions Brackley ran out easy winners at Butlin Road, writes Jon Venner.

The damage was done by four Saints’ strikes within a twenty minute spell near the start of the second half – after Valley had held them in a goal-less opening period.

It was an understrength Rugby line-up on the night, with keeper Dave Bevan and striker Seb Lake-Gaskin unavailable, and a number of other probable first choice players rested to the bench to protect their injuries.

Valley old-boy Paul Shepherd filled in for Bevan between the sticks, and Josh Ruff made a first pre-season start in midfield, and it was Ruff that had the first chance of a generally uneventful first half when he sent his volley well wide of the target after twenty minutes.

The game was played at a tempo and intensity not seen previously in Town’s warm-up campaign, with the Brackley players clearly trying to impress their manager Jon Brady enough to win a place in the club’s first ever Conference fixture next weekend.

The visitors’ best two chances of the half fell to Steve Diggin. First he headed Tom Winters’ curling cross wide of the target, and then his close range strike drew a fine two handed save from Shepherd.

The opening opportunity of the second period fell to the home side though, when Seb Hamilton shot straight at Billy Turley, after his strike partner Tyrone Fagan had played him in.

However Rugby were soon behind, when on 49 minutes Diggin stroked home a penalty after Robbie Banks had clipped Will Green in the box.

Diggin scored his second penalty of the evening seven minutes later, after Ed Booth had handled Winters’ goalbound strike on the line, with Winters then making it three shortly after - firing low into the corner after Richie Allen had given the ball away in his own half.

Brackley’s fourth came when Gary Mulligan skipped past Alex Gudger, before striking the ball through Shepherd’s legs from distance on 68 minutes, and Mulligan could have added to his tally when he lifted the ball over the bar from the edge of the area.

Valley’s chance of a consolation came when substitute Rob Foster’s free-kick was also handled in the penalty area by the defending wall, but Banks’s spot-kick cannoned back off the crossbar instead.

Richard Blythe also went close in the game’s closing stages, when his deflected shot was just turned over the top by replacement keeper Chris Zyricki.

Rugby line-up: Shepherd, Austin, Kelly, Miller (Booth), Gudger, Ruff, Blythe, Allen, Fagan (Foster), Hamilton (Williams), Banks (Koriya). Sub not used: Evangelinos.

Brackley line-up: Turley, Omoabei, McDonald, Solkhon, Grimes, Hatswell, Green, Verma, Diggin, Robinson, Winters. Subs: Mulligan, Clifton, Story, Walker, Zyricki.