Daventry visit for New Year’s derby

Town boss Dave Stringer
Town boss Dave Stringer

Having seen the first of their four scheduled games in ten days over the holiday period postponed due to a waterlogged pitch last weekend, Rugby Town were then due to visit Aylesbury yesterday (Boxing Day) – before rounding off their busy schedule with a trip to Biggleswade on Saturday and the New Year’s Day local derby at home to Daventry.

Last Saturday’s planned home game with Ashford was called off after a 10am pitch inspection concluded that the Butlin Road surface was unplayable due to the large amount of puddles that had already formed – with further heavy rain forecast ahead of kick-off.

The Ashford postponement meant that Valley’s attempt at breaking the 30-season club record for consecutive Southern League victories was carried over to the Boxing Day game at the Affinity Stadium in Buckinghamshire instead.

However, with the wet weather also ruling out all the other fixtures in the Evostik Southern League – Central Division at the weekend, at least Town could celebrate Christmas with the knowledge that they still topped the table by a two-point margin.

Rugby boss Dave Stringer was understandably pleased with this mid-season achievement, after a run of eight straight wins had lifted his side up eight places since the home defeat against Burnham in early November.

However, Stringer also included a note of caution in his assessment of the team’s current lofty status.

He said: “Things are going well at the moment but no-one is taking anything for granted.

“We are determined to maintain our place at the head of affairs. The work ethic and spirit among the squad is first class, although the next two weeks are crucial.

“You can’t win the league over Christmas and New Year but you can go a long way towards losing it.

“It would be great to come out of the holiday period still at the top of the league and with a new club record to our name.

“However, I’ve pointed out to the lads that no trophies or medals are won at this stage of the season.

“We must continue in the same vein over the next couple of weeks as we have some tough fixtures awaiting us.

“However, if we show the same qualities as we have done recently then I really do fancy us to go all the way.”

Town’s position at this stage of the season is in marked contrast from the same point last time out, when they were tenth at Christmas – slipping a further place following a 2011 Boxing Day defeat at Bedworth.

Saturday’s opponents Biggleswade currently sit just outside of the play-offs in sixth place, having lost just three times in their 18 matches to date.

The Waders have regularly featured near the top of the table over recent seasons – ending up in eighth in 2011/12 and reaching the play-offs with a fourth place finish the previous year to that.

However, Town have yet to lose to the Bedfordshire side in five outings in the Southern League, and they did the double over them last season – including a 1-0 victory in the corresponding fixture at the Carlsberg Stadium, thanks to a 47th minute Luke Keen penalty.

New Year’s Day gives Rugby the chance of revenge over their nearest neighbours Daventry, after the 4-1 defeat at Communications Park on August Bank Holiday Monday.

Three second-half goals did the trick for the hosts that day, after Seb Lake-Gaskin had got Valley back on level terms before the interval.

Daventry have had the edge in the recent games between the two sides with four victories to Rugby’s two, since the recommencement of fixtures in 2010 after a 47-year gap.

Like Biggleswade, Daventry sit on the cusp of the play-off zone in eighth place – 11 points behind Stringer’s side, but having played two games less.

Town went into the Christmas period with only one main injury concern – namely Michael Williams’s long term ankle problem that has restricted him to just three starts all season.

Stringer was fairly pessimistic about the prospects of him making a swift return: “It looks likely Michael will be out for the long term.”

He continued: “He’s due to see a specialist in the near future and while I’m hoping for good news and that he could play a part in our promotion bid, at this moment in time that looks doubtful.”

n The club’s Christmas raffle that was due to take place at the Ashford game, will now be drawn at the Daventry one instead. The club’s 2013 calendar, in aid of Leukaemia research, will also be available in the VS Bar on New Year’s Day.

n The coach to Biggleswade on Saturday will leave the clubhouse at 12.15pm. For further information on availability of places, contact Tony Mann on 07970 691366.