RUGBY TOWN: Daventry derby on Boxing Day

Town manager Dave Stringer
Town manager Dave Stringer

and trip to North Greenford on Saturday as Town round off an excellent 2013

Rugby Town will look to round off an excellent calendar year with a victory over local rivals Daventry at Butlin Road on Boxing Day and then likewise from the trip to Calor League Central Division strugglers North Greenford strugglers this Saturday (28th).

Valley’s game at Potters Bar last Saturday was called off following a morning pitch inspection, meaning Town went into Christmas in second place in the table – three points behind leaders Dunstable, but seven points clear of Barton in third.

2013 has certainly been one to remember for Dave Stringer and his youthful squad, with numerous club records smashed last season and in total 32 wins and 3 draws from the 43 regular Southern League games they have played across the year to-date.

Sandwiched in the middle of that impressive record was the disappointment of a promotion play-off final defeat at the hands of Biggleswade in front of a bumper 1,126 crowd back in May, but the first half of the new season bodes well for at least a repeat of a place in the play-offs this time round too.

Of course Stringer would dearly love to avoid what he describes as “the lottery” of the end-of-season knock-out competition. However with injury problems continuing to mount up and his side seemingly struggling in head-to-head games against their fellow challengers at the top of the table, the automatic promotion spot at the division’s summit could well be beyond them.

All four of Rugby defeats so far this season have come against other clubs in the top six – Daventry, Slough, Dunstable and Royston – all of whom are more physical and direct propositions than Town. Even more worrying was the scale (5-0, 4-0 and 3-0) and manner of the defeats against the first three of those listed – with Town easily brushed aside in each game.

There have been plenty of positives this season though, not least the way the team have managed to continue to grind out results without – as Stringer concedes – showing the same fluidity and quality displayed in the last campaign.

51 goals in the 21 league games so far means they are well-placed to challenge the club record Southern League tally established last year of 103, with striker David Kolodynski also closing in on Danny Conway’s all-time goalscoring record.

Kolodynski also currently heads the divisional scoring chart with sixteen goals, after narrowly missing out on top spot last season to Burnham’s Ryan Bird – who made a summer move to football league club Portsmouth as a result of his exploits.

Boxing Day’s derby clash gives Town the chance to avenge for that heavy defeat at Daventry back in August. Whilst Rugby have consistently struggled to master the unique demands of the Communications Park set-up, their form against their neighbours at Butlin Road has been more encouraging in recent times – enjoying three consecutive victories, including a 2-0 success on New Years’ Day 2013.

Darren Foster’s side are currently fourth in table, although their successful FA Cup and FA Trophy runs mean they have a number of games in-hand on all of the teams around them.

Daventry have so far enjoyed a perfect home record with nine wins from nine league games, but their away form has not been quite so impressive – with just three victories in seven.

A number of ex-Valley players could feature for the Northamptonshire club in Boxing Day’s 3pm kick-off, with Ross Oulton, Luke Keen, Marcel Simpson, Scott Cross and Ashley Robinson all appearing in last Saturday’s 4-0 home win over Aylesbury FC.

Saturday’s opponents North Greenford are still managed by ex-Premier League star Neil Shipperley, whose career saw him play for five clubs (Chelsea, Southampton, Crystal Palace, Nottingham Forest and Sheffield United) in the country’s highest division.

The Middlesex club finished in 19th place in 2012/13, and are currently one place lower than that this time out, with just one victory from their last eleven league matches.

The two clubs played out a 2-2 draw – Rugby’s only one of the campaign so-far – in the reverse fixture back in August, with Town coming back from a two goal deficit thanks to strikes from Sam Belcher and Justin Marsden.

Belcher and Marsden are now two of Stringer’s long term absentees, as part of a general injury crisis which has severely restricted options over the past few weeks.

The squad was boosted by the arrival last week of Jared Cunniff though. Cunniff is an attack-minded midfielder, who joins from fellow Central Division side St.Ives – having impressed against Valley earlier in the season.

# The club coach for North Greenford leaves Butlin Road at 11.00am. For latest information regarding availability of places, contact Tony Mann on 07970 691366.

# Town will open their 2014 fixtures with the visit of Aylesbury United on Saturday 4th January, having already fulfilled their originally scheduled New Year’s Day match at Barton earlier in the campaign.