First time ever for club in Extra Preliminary Round sees trip to Coventry United
Rugby Town kick-off their 2017/18 term for real this weekend, after completing their pre-season schedule with a 1-1 home draw against a Nuneaton Town XI.
First up for Valley is an FA Cup tie at fellow MFL Premier Coventry United, with Town competing in the Extra Preliminary Round of the competition for the first time ever following their relegation out of Step Four of the non-league pyramid last time round.
Returning Rugby boss Dave Stringer reflected on a busy two and a half months back at Butlin Road, whilst also looking forward to the start of the competitive action.
He said: “It’s been pretty much non-stop since I took over.
“There was a lot of work and meetings held to convince players to come here and commit, and then came the hard graft of preparing the new squad for what we know will be a tough season.
“We have achieved a great deal so far and I am relatively happy with what we have been able to bring together and where we are with them right now, but we know there is still plenty more to be done.”
Monday evening’s draw with a youthful Nuneaton line-up also containing a few first team squad members meant it was just one defeat from eight warm-up outings for Stringer’s new charges.
This included last Thursday’s single goal victory against UCL side Lutterworth Athletic after the game was inserted into the schedule at late notice.
The victory in Leicestershire came after Liam Holt finished off an excellent cross from the left by Craig Kelly, with the hosts rarely troubling keeper Niall Cooper at the other end throughout.
Nuneaton’s Charlie Chechlacz gave the visitors a 27th minute lead on Monday with a low strike after defensive uncertainty, but Valley were soon level when Alan Zuqolli put Chadd Birch’s low centre past his own keeper.
Rugby’s Harry Holloway had struck the crossbar early in the game, with James Dance then smashing one off the upright after the interval and David Kolodynski also saw his effort come back off the woodwork later in the second half.
Stringer reflected on the friendlies played: “Overall it’s been a pleasing pre-season campaign in terms of both performances and results. The only defeat came against what I consider to be a very good Banbury side, who I believe will be up there challenging at the top of the Southern League Premier this season.
“Obviously we are still very much a side that is work in progress as it takes time for a new team to properly gel together, but we have seen lots of positive signs in the games played.”
Looking forward to the short trip to United’s new home at the Butts Park Arena they now share with the Coventry Rugby Club, he continued: “We know it’s going to be different proposition and a totally different type of game on Saturday.
“They are a clearly a decent side who did well last year in our league, and then have strengthened again in the summer.
“It’s strange both for me and the club to kick things off with an FA Cup tie as that usually happens when you’re two or three games in, but it certainly means we will have to hit the ground running due to the intensity playing in this competition inevitably brings with it.”
Coventry United were only formed in 2013 in reaction to Coventry City moving from the Ricoh Arena to Northampton Town, and they went on to enjoy three successive promotions in their first three seasons, before achieving a seventh place 2016/17 finish in Town’s new divisional home.
Their current squad includes six players who have featured for Rugby in their last two NPL campaigns in the shape of Kevin Thornton, Mitchell Piggon, Lewis Rankin, Tom Glasscoe, Aron Wint and Lewis Hudson.
They also have three others from years prior to these - Josh O’Grady, Avun Jephcott and Richard Morris - also signed on for the club.
Rugby Town go into Saturday’s FA Cup tie at Coventry United with a few injury concerns though, after Craig Kelly, Mason Rowley and Chadd Birch all left the field prematurely on Monday evening.
Stringer had mixed news on the affected players: “Mason should be ok, but Craig will be out for at least a month with a nasty one on the ankle – although fortunately the x-ray the following morning showed it was not broken.
“Chadd is touch and go with his hamstring, but it was only a tightening not a tear, whilst Ruben (Wiggins-Thomas) should be ok after we rested him for the past couple of games after he pulled his groin last week against Banbury.”
Josh Thornton should also be back in the fold after he returned from holiday, with Stringer also hoping to complete the signing of fellow midfielder Ben Ashby ahead of the weekend.
However Tevin Shakespeare will be missing through holiday and Trey Brathwaite is another likely to miss out as the injury problems that have restricted him to just two appearances in the warm-up games continue.
# If Saturday’s game at United ends all-square, then the replay would take place at Butlin Road on Tuesday (8th) evening with a 7.45 pm kick off.