RUGBY TOWN: Last chance to grab top spot

Richard Blythe ran the midfield against Barton (picture by Martin Pulley)
Richard Blythe ran the midfield against Barton (picture by Martin Pulley)

Trip to AFC Hayes for final game before play-offs

With at least a place in the end of season play-offs now guaranteed after two wins in three days over Easter, Rugby Town face their final game of the campaign this Saturday - still with an outside chance of scooping the Calor League Central title and with it automatic promotion to the Premier Division, writes Jon Venner.

However Valley boss Dave Stringer did accept the odds are stacked against that eventuality, as he looked back at the 2-1 and 2-0 victories over Slough then Barton on Easter Saturday and Monday respectively.

He said: “Things went well for us at last, and we scored the goals that we have been struggling to get in the previous few matches.

“Especially considering the pressure we were under going into the game, I thought that our performance at Slough was arguably our best of the season.

“And again on Monday against Barton, we were in total control in the first half and got ahead through another excellent strike from Seb (Lake-Gaskin). They understandably threw everything at us late on, and there were a few jittery moments, but overall we look in good form going into the real business end.

“It’s been one of those seasons, so you never know what could happen elsewhere, but we just need to do our job on Saturday and wait and see.

“Perhaps things will go our way, and others will slip up, but personally I think Daventry will just get over the line in first place.”

Town’s double Easter success saw them move back up two places into second – just a point off leaders Dunstable and ahead of third placed Daventry on goal difference only, with Kettering only a further point back in fourth, and the two sides just downed by Town – Slough and Barton – left to fight out the final play-off place.

However Daventry were due to play their final game in hand last night (Wednesday) at Egham, ahead of the final set of fixtures this weekend which see Dunstable host Uxbridge, Rugby travel to AFC Hayes, Daventry at home to Chalfont and Kettering visit North Greenford.

Of the opponents to be faced by the top four, only Uxbridge currently sit in the top half of the table and are also in the best form – with three successive victories.

Hayes are struggling in 18th place, although two wins of their own over the Easter weekend at least halted a run of nine straight league defeats.

Rugby’s record at Farm Park is good though, with two wins and a draw from their three competitive matches there, and Town also came out on top in the reverse fixture between the two sides at Butlin Road earlier in the season – thanks to a Josh O’Grady strike and a Lake-Gaskin penalty.

Assuming results do not go Valley’s way and they just miss out on the title for the second year running, then the play-offs would commence next Tuesday (29th) – with 2nd hosting 5th and 3rd at home to 4th in a one-off semi-final tie, ahead of a final on Bank Holiday Monday May 5th.

Stringer is adamant he does not mind who he is up against in any required play-off fixture and likewise where it is played.

He explained: “I have absolutely no preferences whatsoever, as long as we can take the form we have showed in the past couple of games into the play-offs.

“I have heard some people that we would want to avoid Kettering, but I do not understand why, as we beat them at their place and then only lost out on the double in the home game in the last minute, despite us not playing that well that day.

“As for having to play away from home, it’s often been the case that we have played with extra freedom at times when doing so.”

Stringer does not expect any fresh injury concerns ahead of the Hayes trip, although midfielder Jared Cunniff may miss out on all or part of the play-off campaign due to an impending move to Australia.

# The coach to Hayes will leave Butlin Road at 11 a.m., and with increased interest in the game, anyone wishing to travel who has not already confirmed, should contact Tony Mann on 07970 691366.

# With regards to any potential play-off semi-final, information regarding the game (and coach travel, if applicable) will be posted as soon as available on the club’s website www.rugbytownfc.com and twitter feed @fcrugbytown