RUGBY TOWN: Leaders Shaw Lane at Butlin Road on Saturday

Chris Sterling against Belper last weekend PICTURES BY MARTIN PULLEY
Chris Sterling against Belper last weekend PICTURES BY MARTIN PULLEY

Top v bottom clash as Valley fight to escape relegation zone

Rugby Town enter the final two-month stretch of their season as their battle to preserve their Step Four non-league pyramid status intensified following their loss at Belper last weekend.

An early chance for David Kolodynski against Belper

An early chance for David Kolodynski against Belper

Valley boss Gary Moran’s fledging managerial career will therefore be tested to the full over the coming few weeks, and Town start their ten match run-in with the toughest of challenges when Evostik NPL South Division’s 2016/17 star performers Shaw Lane visit Butlin Road this Saturday.

The Barnsley-based club have lost just twice in the league this season and sit at its summit – three points ahead of Witton, who Rugby also face twice before the month of March is over.

Having just missed out on promotion last season after being narrowly pipped to the automatic top spot by Stafford and then losing to Coalville in the play-off final, Lane have bounced back to maximum effect this time round – undoubtedly galvanised by the sad death of Dan Wilkinson after the young defender collapsed with a heart attack during a League Cup game earlier in the campaign.

A run of 18 matches unbeaten (incorporating only one draw) in all competitions from the beginning of October to mid-February followed shortly after the tragedy, and it included Town’s biggest defeat of the season when they succumbed 5-0 in the reverse fixture in South Yorkshire.

Levi Rowley in last week's 3-0 defeat

Levi Rowley in last week's 3-0 defeat

Moran’s men had acquitted themselves well enough in the first half of that November encounter - limiting the hosts to a single strike, before the home side showed their clinical nature after the break, and Moran will be looking for an improvement on this and also from last Saturday’s defeat, when Rugby were deservedly beaten by the Derbyshire club.

Having kept an unchanged team for an (unprecedented-this-season) three games in a row prior to the Belper clash, Moran finally made one change there – recalling Mitchell Thomson to his opening eleven, and there will be at least one more switch this weekend with player/coach Scott Hadland likely to be unavailable due to work commitments.

A potential replacement for him in the starting line-up is Aaron Moses-Garvey, who returned to action from the bench at Belper after a five game absence, having also been linked with a move away from Butlin Road in the interim period.

The status quo at the bottom of the table was maintained last weekend despite Valley’s defeat, with 20th placed Loughborough also losing at home to Witton and basement club Northwich’s match falling foul of a waterlogged pitch.

The Vics were themselves due to host Shaw Lane yesterday (Wednesday) ahead of the weekend fixtures which see Northwich travel to 10th placed Bedworth and Loughborough visit Leek (in 7th).

Following this weekend’s home outing, Rugby are back on the road the week after for the relatively short trip to Romulus, before they finish the month with back-to-back fixtures against high flying Witton – who moved within touching distance of this Saturday’s visitors after their midweek success at Stocksbridge.

April’s schedule includes the two potential destiny deciding games against Loughborough and Northwich – the latter of which has now been set for Wednesday, April 5.

# The specially-arranged viewing session for the club’s past and present players, officials and supporters of the ‘Our Sporting Life’ exhibition will take place this Saturday at the Rugby Art Gallery and Museum on Little Elborow Street from 10 am to 12 noon, with a gathering at the nearby William Webb Ellis pub following straight after.

The exhibition as a whole looks back at clubs and individuals who have taken part in sports in the Borough over the years, and will include many items from Valley’s six decade history.