New season starts at Ashford

Manager Dave Stringer
Manager Dave Stringer

Rugby Town boss Dave Stringer is going into the club’s new Southern League campaign full of optimism, despite a disappointing end to the pre-season friendly schedule.

Town’s 3-0 weekend defeat at Loughborough came on the back of a 4-0 one at home to Brackley on the previous Tuesday, as Stringer reviewed the final two warm-up matches.

He said: “The Brackley loss didn’t overly worry me. We were short of a few key players that night and were up against a very good side. Some of those we played hadn’t had too much football pre-season, and whilst we battled hard and held them for the first half, we ran out of the steam a bit in the second.

“Saturday’s game was more concerning though. Defensively we were lapse and the goals we conceded were poor. On the bright side, even though we didn’t play that well, we still created a number of chances in the first half and we could have put the game to bed early as a result.

“We will be working on our shape and defensive co-ordination in training this week to try and cut out the errors that we saw at Loughborough.”

Looking ahead to the new season which kicks-off for Town this Saturday at Ashford, Stringer remains full of positivity that his side can improve on two consecutive sixth place finishes – which have seen Valley narrowly miss out on a play-off spot both times.

He explained: “Our aim is automatic promotion this season. I believe that we if get off to a good start, then momentum is a powerful force in football.

“We’ve got a talented squad of players at the club, although I am still looking to bring in one or two new faces to try and beef things up a little – especially in the middle of the park.

“I think we are exciting offensively and create a lot of chances, but we need to be more clinical in front of goal than perhaps we have been over the past couple of seasons.”

Town will be without the services of Michael Williams for both the Ashford opener on Saturday and the club’s first home league game of the season next Tuesday (21st) against Biggleswade, with fellow midfielder Richie Allen also away for Saturday’s fixture and defender Ed Booth missing against Biggleswade.

Stringer is also concerned about the fitness of last season’s stand-out performer Robbie Banks, who twisted his knee in the defeat at the weekend.

He said: “Robbie is struggling at the moment, but we will be working on his injury this week and it will probably go down to the wire as to whether he makes it, but hopefully he will, as he is such an important player for us.”

Stringer describes summer signing Rob Foster as “far from 100%”, as the striker continues to struggle with a shoulder injury, although the Valley boss did hope to complete the signing of full-back Ellis Myles from Brackley – after the 19 year old impressed him at Loughborough.

He continued: “Ellis had twenty plus games for a side that won the Southern League Premier last season and he will be a good addition to the squad. Rob is still worried that his shoulder could pop back out at any time, but hopefully he can put that to the back of his mind and make the contribution we know he is capable of.”

Town’s first two opponents both managed top half finishes last season with Tuesday’s visitors Biggleswade ending up in 8th and Ashford one place below.

Valley managed the double over the Waders in 2011-12, but fell to the same fate to the Middlesex-based side.

Stringer concluded by assessing the Southern League Central Division as a whole: “We’ve been at this level for two years now, so we know what it’s all about.

“It’s a tough league, where all games are difficult, but the key to success is consistency – which Bedworth proved last season.

“All the so-called ‘money teams’ appear to have gone now, but I expect Slough to be up there again. The likes of Beaconsfield and Uxbridge - who both did so well last time out - will probably be there too, and Biggleswade are always a threat.

“One team always seems to come from nowhere too, but I’m confident that we can be up there challenging in the top six or seven that will emerge as the season progresses.”

n The club coach to Ashford on Saturday will leave Butlin Road at 11am.

Availability on this is now limited, and anyone who has not already secured a place on this should contact Tony Mann on 07970 691366 for latest information. Tuesday evening’s home game with Biggleswade kicks-off at 7.45pm.

n Town will play Studley in their opening round of the F.A.Cup next Saturday, after the Midland Alliance won their Extra Preliminary tie against Bloxwich last weekend.

The draw for the first round of the Birmingham Senior Cup has also been made, and Rugby will host Nuneaton in this – date to be confirmed.