If Rugby Town are to return to the Southern League Premier Division after a three year absence, they will have to do it via the play-offs, after Burnham’s 3-2 victory over Guildford last weekend virtually sealed them the title.
Following Godalming’s midweek defeat, Valley are guaranteed to finish at least as runners-up though, and they will face a play-off semi-final at Butlin Road next Tuesday April 30 (coincidentally 30 years to the day of the club’s famous Wembley FA Vase triumph) – barring a freak set of results on Saturday, with Town needing to make up an 11 goal differential on the Berkshire side.
A Rugby victory in the semi would also see the final played at Butlin Road – on Monday May 6 – by virtue of the club’s second placed finish.
Boss Dave Stringer was understandably disappointed not to seal an automatic promotion spot, but was determined to round-off the record breaking season with success in the play-offs.
He said: “Obviously this isn’t how we wanted it to go, but the last couple of weeks have been a real up and down time.
“Injuries have caught up with us at the wrong time, and with up to five key players missing, we haven’t been able to put out the side we would have wanted to in certain games.
“Everyone is still confident though and there is no lack of self-belief, and hopefully we can achieve what we deserve.
“It’s been very competitive at the top of the table and in most other seasons our record would have been enough to have won the division comfortably.”
Town’s opponents in the semi-final will be one of Beaconsfield, Biggleswade, Royston or Slough – although a win for the Waders last night (Wednesday) at Guildford would have knocked Slough out of contention ahead of this weekend’s final set of fixtures.
Stringer claims to have no preference which team he faces next Tuesday.
He explained: “The play-offs are a bit of a lottery at the best of times, and can easily be settled by a particular incident or decision. We have developed a winning mentality this season though, and that could be what gets us through.”
Town have already achieved the double over both Beaconsfield and Royston this season – the latter in controversial circumstances.
Biggleswade are one of just two sides that Valley have failed to beat though, and another match-up with Slough would come hot on the heels of last Thursday’s heavy home defeat to them.
First Town must play-out the remaining fixture of the main season at Chalfont on Saturday.
The Buckinghamshire side have slipped to 16th place, having recently suffered a 15 point deduction for fielding an ineligible player. However their midweek defeat at North Greenford was their first in six outings.
Valley top scorer David Kolodynski will return to the squad after he missed last Saturday’s Hayes win due to his wedding, and midfielder Steve Palmer may also have recovered from a groin injury.
Stringer will be without both Sam Belcher for the remainder of the season, who joins Craig Kelly and Robbie Banks on the sidelines.
He said: “Sam’s knee is very swollen and can’t be properly diagnosed at this point, so hopefully it’s all ok for next season because he has been a very important player for us.”
Stringer was hoping that Richard Blythe would be available for the semi despite the work commitments that have often ruled him out of midweek games, and was also hoping to arrange for striker Tyrone Fagan to be part of the play-off squad.
Fagan left to join recently-crowned Midland Alliance champions Stratford last October, but the club still hold his Southern League registration.
# Saturday’s coach to Chalfont leaves the clubhouse at 11 a.m. For latest availability information contact Tony Mann on 07970 691366.