Still top of the table
Rugby Town have strengthened their position at the top of the Calor League Central Division over the past week, despite seeing both of their scheduled games postponed due to the persistent wet weather.
With Valley trips to Ashford’s Robert Parker Stadium and Aylesbury’s Haywood Way ground both falling foul to waterlogged pitches, they were boosted when their nearest rivals in the table Dunstable slipped to a third successive league defeat on Saturday – this time losing 2-1 at Marlow, meaning Town now hold a two point advantage over the Bedfordshire side from the same number of games (28) played.
Whilst it is of course too early to conclude that the division is a two-horse race between Rugby and Dunstable, the two sides have established a significant gap between them and the seven strong chasing pack over recent weeks.
However it is still conceivable that someone – possibly Slough, Kettering or Daventry - could emerge from there to also challenge for the champions spot which brings automatic promotion to the league’s Premier Division.
The top two are scheduled to meet at Butlin Road on the 8th of March for what might prove to be the pivotal fixture of the campaign, with Valley looking to make amends for one of their poorest performances in recent years in the 3-0 defeat at Creasey Park.
Before that crucial match-up, Rugby must first host 18th placed Leighton this weekend – with another home game next Tuesday against Aylesbury United (currently in 10th). Town then travel to 16th placed Uxbridge a week Saturday.
Dunstable have a much tougher run-up to the vital game though, facing games against three of those teams still in with a decent shout of a play-off place – Slough, Beaconsfield and Barton – starting with a trip to Holloways Park on Saturday to face a Rebels side looking to extend a run of four straight wins.
Rugby manager Dave Stringer was adamant that his side would not take their upcoming games lightly though.
He said: “It’s important that we don’t lose our intensity at this point in the season. It may be the classic cliché, but we have told the players that we face fourteen cup finals between now and its conclusion.
“Even before Dunstable’s latest defeat, we knew that if we won them all, we would win the league, and we shouldn’t prepare any differently for teams in the bottom half than we do for those up there with us at the top.”
Stringer will be without the services of defender Nathan Haines for the Leighton, Aylesbury and Uxbridge games, following his recent sending off against Royston, although he and his assistant Ady Fuller were hoping to use their contacts to bring in a stop-gap centre-half to cover for Haines’s three match suspension.
# Saturday’s opponents Leighton have struggled again this season, having registered just four league wins so far – with only one of those coming from their last thirteen games.
Their 2013/14 record is better than last season’s efforts though, when they were often the whipping boys of the division conceding 127 goals throughout the campaign – including five in the corresponding fixture between the two clubs at Butlin Road last April – and they were only spared ending up in bottom place by Woodford’s record breaking worst ever Southern League tally.
Valley also won the reverse fixture at Bell Close earlier this season, thanks to Seb Lake-Gaskin’s solitary strike in November.
Whilst David Kolodynski has understandably been making most of the goalscoring headlines this season, Lake-Gaskin has also been in prolific form and is now up to fourth in the Central Division scoring charts with 17 goals behind Kolodynski (27), Dunstable’s Lee Roache (21) and Northwood’s Niko Muir (18).
Following his recent brace against Royston, Lake-Gaskin has now also made it into the top ten of Rugby’s scorers in nearly thirty one years of Southern League fixtures – which is again headed by Kolodynski.
Rugby will also be looking to do the double over Tuesday evening’s visitors Aylesbury United, following on from their opening day of the season 2-0 victory – with predictably Kolodynski and Lake-Gaskin once more on-target.
Town have the edge on games against the Ducks over the years, with seven wins and five draws from the sixteen fixtures completed – dating back to Rugby’s first ever match in the Southern League in August 1983, when a Derek Owen strike and a John McGinty penalty secured them the points from a 2-1 victory.
United are on a decent run at the moment though, with only one defeat in their last eight games, confirmed by the 2-0 midweek scalp of in-form Beaconsfield – which ended a thirteen match unbeaten series for the Rams.
# The postponed Ashford game from last weekend has already been re-arranged, with Tuesday 11th March earmarked for the trip to Middlesex.