RUGBY TOWN: Gripping end to the season

Richard Blythe in Town's win at Marlow (picture Martin Pulley)
Richard Blythe in Town's win at Marlow (picture Martin Pulley)
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Town three points ahead at top of the league

The 2103/14 Calor League Central Division is certainly shaping up for an exciting conclusion, with Rugby Town still in with a great chance of grabbing the title following an intriguing set of events over the past week, writes Jon Venner.

Table-topping Town had just ended a run of four games without a win with last Saturday’s impressive 6-2 success at Marlow, when boss Dave Stringer reflected on who he considered the biggest danger from the teams currently below his side.

He said: “It’s a tricky old league this year, and I honestly don’t know who will emerge from the pack.

“It’s certainly going to be very close and all of the top six teams will probably think they still have a decent chance.

“Generally everyone up there has been pretty consistent, so it’s important we keep our heads and keep grinding out the results from our final eight matches.”

Stringer’s uncertainty was certainly well-founded after the subsequent midweek schedule threw out some unexpected outcomes, with arguably the three biggest threats to Valley’s title bid - Dunstable, Daventry and Kettering - all dropping points.

Most notably Daventry’s 2-1 defeat at bottom club Ashford meant it was just one point from the last nine for Town’s local rivals, with Potters Bar’s added-time equaliser against Dunstable ensuring Rugby have a three point lead over them at the top.

Valley welcome 10th placed Egham to Butlin Road for their first time in their history this weekend, while all the other top teams face fixtures against bottom half opposition.

Rugby then travel to Aylesbury next Tuesday (25th) before ending the month at Northwood a week Saturday (29th).

Stringer was of course relieved that his side’s mini-blip had come to an end in such emphatic fashion at Marlow.

He explained: “It’s been a bit of a mixed bag over the past month. It all started with the home draw against Aylesbury United where we dominated and really should have won.

“Individual errors have cost us at times since then, but we played some very good football again on Saturday, and hopefully we can move forward from that now.

“It’s also important to remember whilst we went four games without a win, we only actually lost once in that spell too.

“Over the last couple of years we have become so used to winning games all the time. However we shouldn’t forget how well this young side have done and hopefully they can finish the job off this time round.”

Both upcoming opponents are in reasonable form themselves, with Egham enjoying six wins and two draws from their eight league matches in 2014 and Aylesbury also unbeaten in their last five.

An understrength Rugby drew the reverse fixture against Egham last December thanks to a late own-goal, and Stringer rates this Saturday’s visitors highly.

“Although we were short of a few players, I thought they set themselves up well and played some decent football at their place.

“They’ve had some great results recently winning at both Slough and Dunstable, and also getting a draw at Royston, so we know it will be a tough test for us.”

Tuesday evening will represent the third attempt at playing the Aylesbury game, after the fixture was twice postponed due to the waterlogged Haywood Way surface.

Rugby’s record at the ground is good though, with consecutive victories in 2011, 2012 and 2013. The hosts are currently in 19th place, although their run of four draws and a win in their last five matches has at least diminished any potential relegation threat.

Valley will be without one of last Saturday’s hat-trick heroes Jared Cunniff against Egham, although Stringer is hopeful that both Seb Lake-Gaskin and Aaron King will return to the squad – after they missed the Marlow trip through a neck strain and a minor operation respectively.

Recent signing Ben Gallant may also be back in contention, after a calf injury meant he was another to miss out last weekend.

# Cunniff and David Kolodynski’s double hat-trick against Marlow was only the second time that Rugby had achieved such a feat in nearly 31 years of Southern League fixtures – matching the efforts of Sam Youngs and Kolodynski against Guildford last season.

Kolodynski has also now pulled level with Danny Conway’s total of 124 goals – the club record for its time playing senior football.

# The coach to Aylesbury will leave Butlin Road at 5.00 p.m. For latest information, contact Tony Mann on 07970 691366.