RUGBY TOWN: First of four games against top sides

Lewis McBride celebrates against North Greenford last week  (picture by Martin Pulley)

Lewis McBride celebrates against North Greenford last week (picture by Martin Pulley)

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Hanwell Town visit Butlin Road

Although the Southern League campaign has not yet reached the halfway stage, the next three weeks of it could have a significant influence on Rugby Town’s destiny, as Valley test their play-off credentials against the four other current main contenders for promotion to the Premier Division.

Town start this crucial period by welcoming 4th placed Hanwell to Butlin Road this Saturday, and in between this and the New Year’s Day trip to table toppers Kettering, they will also face up to Aylesbury and Bedworth – who sit in 3rd and 2nd respectively.

The run of games following these seem more inviting for Rugby though, with only of one their subsequent eight opponents (10th placed Egham) currently residing in the top half of the table.

Club captain Robbie Banks – who recently returned to action after a 20-month absence – confirmed the importance of the upcoming schedule.

He explained: “It will be a test for us. If we can come out of those four games and we are sitting nicely in the play-off places it’s a good start for us to go into the New Year.”

The midfielder is not worried about the fixtures though, he continued: “We need to beat everybody but it’s always nice to beat the teams around you. I don’t think we have anyone to be scared of in this league at all. I don’t think anything will faze us.”

Town had started the season in decidedly indifferent form, but last Saturday’s comfortable 4-0 victory over struggling North Greenford eased Valley back up again into the play-off zone and Banks believes they have more than enough in their squad to complete the job.

He said: “I don’t think there’s anyone to touch us technically, but at times we have been naive. We’ve got to make the play-offs, that is the minimum return.”

Saturday’s opponents Hanwell will provide a tough challenge though, having lost only once in their nine away league games this season. However Town did easily brush them aside in the reverse fixture at Reynolds Field in September, with six different Rugby players on the scoresheet in a 6-1 win.

Goals have been flowing for Valley recently too despite the departure of leading scorer David Kolodynski to Central Division rivals Kettering.

Town have managed twelve in their last four league outings without him, and whilst Banks acknowledged the contribution of his ex-team mate, he did not believe his loss would derail their promotion ambitions.

He said: “Kolo was fantastic for us, he scored a lot of goals but with the amount of chances we create and the strikers and attacking midfielders we have, we will never struggle to score.”

Banks’s manager Dave Stringer had previously called on the rest of the squad to ‘muck in’ on the goals front, and they seem to have taken up the challenge.

Midfielders Richard Blythe and Lewis McBride have both registered their first strikes of the season in the three weeks since Kolodynski’s departure, with recent signing Lewis Rankin also on target three times in that time.

Blythe missed the North Greenford victory, but may be back in contention this weekend, with Seb Lake-Gaskin also pushing for a place in starting line-up after he returned to action from the bench last Saturday.

Banks has sat out Town’s last two games as an unused substitute, but nevertheless is delighted to be back in the action again after suffering a horror double leg break in an away game against Royston Town in February 2013.

“There was a point where I thought I’d never play again,” explained the 26-year-old painfully. “I’m just really, really pleased to be back with the team and playing football again.”

By Jon Venner and Anthony Bruce