RUGBY TOWN: League leaders Coleshill visit on Saturday

Sam Belcher in midfield against Bewdley last weekend   PICTURES BY MARTIN PULLEY
Sam Belcher in midfield against Bewdley last weekend PICTURES BY MARTIN PULLEY

League Cup game at home on Tuesday too against Coventry Sphinx

Rugby Town will face the biggest test of their MFL Premier Division campaign to-date when current leaders Coleshill visit Butlin Road on Saturday.

Jamie Hall battles on the left wing in last Saturday's FA Vase win

Jamie Hall battles on the left wing in last Saturday's FA Vase win

However, Dave Stringer’s men should go into the game buoyed by their displays over the past week, after they recorded comfortable wins over Bewdley and Rocester in the FA Vase and league respectively.

The 4-1 win at Bewdley last Saturday earnt Valley a Second Qualifying Round tie at Smethwick on September 23, whilst their 4-0 success at Rocester on Tuesday lifted Town up into the top half of the table.

Stringer reflected on the opening month and a half of the new season which has seen his side win five, draw two and lose four of the 11 games played in all competitions so far.

He said: “We have been inconsistent for sure, but it is a new evolving team and there was always going to be a gelling period for them.

Ben Ashby challenges against Bewdley

Ben Ashby challenges against Bewdley

“We know that we are still some way short of where we need to be, but there have been some encouraging signs over the past couple of weeks and we will be trying to continually improve.

“We have some horrendous injury problems, with a number of long-term ones added to the usual niggles and strains which has meant it has been difficult to put out a settled side, but that is not an excuse for how we played in a couple of games in particular.

“However I thought we were excellent on Tuesday at Rocester and dominated for long periods, and we are still very much in touch with the top end of the table.”

A Ruben Wiggins-Thomas’ hat-trick helped ease Rugby up to 10th in the MFL Premier, whilst Saturday’s visitors Coleshill were dropping their first points of the season in a 3-3 draw at Worcester.

Managed by Stringer’s assistant at his previous club Chasetown - Cameron Stuart, the North Warwickshire team had opened their league campaign with six straight victories prior to this, with the Valley boss fully aware of the strength of the upcoming opponents – whose squad includes midfielder Joe Halsall, who captained Town during his thirteen game stint at the club in 2016.

He continued: “They are very good side, especially going forwards, but we believe there is also an opportunity to get at them at the other end and if we can play like we did on Tuesday then hopefully we can keep our unbeaten run going.”

Stringer continues to have his plans disrupted by injuries though, with Josh Thornton the latest to be struck by the defenders’ curse after he limped out of the Bewdley Vase win last Saturday.

Thornton had moved back from his midfield role to fill the gap created at centre half by injuries to Mason Rowley, Kyle Rowley and Brad Harris over past weeks, with James Dance forced to make the same positional shift at Rocester in Thornton’s subsequent absence.

Stringer commented: “Sean (Castleton) has been excellent since he came into the team and James was outstanding at the back on Tuesday, but with all the injuries at the moment we may also have to bring in a player or two for cover.

“On the positive front, Niall (Cooper) is close to being fit again and could be available over the coming week, but to be fair Lewis Gwilliams has come in and done really well in goal in his absence.”

Craig Kelly and Harris both continue to struggle to return to full fitness from their ankle injuries, whilst Kyle Rowley’s hamstring is still causing him problems. However Trey Brathwaite did feature in both of the recent victories after missing the start of the season through injury.

# Rugby have a further home game on Tuesday (19th), when Coventry Sphinx make a quick return to Butlin Road in the First Round of the MFL League Cup.

Valley and Sphinx played out a full-bloodied 0-0 draw in the league on September 5 in a game overshadowed by the broken leg suffered by Town’s Mason Rowley – an injury which is expected to keep him out of action until early 2018 at the earliest.

# Rugby’s Birmingham Senior Cup First Round tie at AFC Wulfrunians has been rearranged to Tuesday, October 31.