League leaders going for ninth win
Rugby Town will be out to smash a club record on Saturday, as they search for a ninth consecutive Southern League victory when Ashford visit Butlin Road.
Valley’s win last weekend at Hayes equalled the two previous longest winning runs – once in 1987 by the side that went on to secure the league’s Midland Division and prior to that in 1984 in the club’s first season within the Southern League structure.
Town boss Dave Stringer realises the sense of importance of the weekend fixture, whilst also remaining level-headed about matters.
He said: “It is of course just another game and another opportunity for us to get points on the board, but it should also act as an incentive to the lads.
“It gives us the chance to get this group of players in the club record books, and that would be a great achievement considering the strength of some of the sides that have represented the club in its thirty years in this league.”
Stringer also admitted that the Hayes win was not one his side’s finest displays of the season.
He continued: “I accept that we didn’t play that well, but in such a tough league we’re not going to be able play well every week.
“However we dug in, and did what was necessary – which should be a good sign for things to come.”
Rugby stretched their lead at the top to two points over the chasing pack, and Stringer is expecting a difficult game against Ashford – despite their current mid-table status.
He explained: “They appear a strange side and have had some strange results, but they clearly are capable of beating anyone on their day. They have scored a lot of goals so far, but have also conceded more than their share too.”
Ashford’s total of 41 league goals is just three short of Rugby’s, although the Middlesex side have conceded 40 at the other end.
Stringer – who will be forced to sit in the stands for Saturday’s game as punishment for his recent dismissal at Slough - expects to have a near full-strength squad to choose from, with only Alex Austin – who missed the trip to Hayes with an ankle injury – and long term absentee Michael Williams likely to be out of contention.
Valley opened their season at Ashford in August with a 4-1 success thanks to two goals apiece from Seb Lake-Gaskin and Richard Blythe – co-incidentally the two central figures against Hayes, after they provided significant impetus from the bench.
Midfielder Blythe notched his fourth league goal in just six starts and Lake-Gaskin his first in a month, after Stringer had opted to stick with the side that had won the previous game at home to Royston.
Stringer reflected: “It certainly was a big dilemma whether to change things after such a great performance midweek, and I’m not necessarily a manager that keeps the same side for the sake of it.
“I just thought that everyone had done enough on the Tuesday evening to deserve another chance, although I accept it didn’t go quite to plan.
“Fortunately we have such a strong squad at the moment, and the players that came off the bench made a difference.
“We know it’s going to be difficult keeping everyone happy, because we have now have a squad of players – all of whom are worthy of a place in the starting line-up.
“It’s easier when you are winning games of course, because it keeps a buzz around the dressing room that everyone wants to be part of. Also we are coming up to a very busy time of the season, so it’s more than likely that we will need everybody at some point.”
Stringer also paid tribute to the club’s supporters, who have really got behind the team’s record equalling exploits.
He said: “They have been magnificent recently. They were so vocal against Royston and continued this last weekend.
“It really does make a difference to the players when they receive that kind of support from the crowd. They are a young and eager bunch, and I know that they get a lift from it.
“Of course it would be great, if we could get a few more through the gate as the season progresses.
“I appreciate that it is a difficult time of the year, and the weather doesn’t help, but I truly believe that we’ve got a genuine chance of winning something this season and it would be great if we could do this in front of as big as an audience as possible.”
# Following on from Saturday’s game, Town will travel to Aylesbury on Boxing Day and then to Biggleswade on Saturday, December 29, before hosting Daventry in the local derby at Butlin Road on New Year’s Day.