RUGBY TOWN: Belford still buoyant after opening losses

New striker Jake Healy   PICTURES BY MARTIN PULLEY

FA Cup game at home to Lincoln United on Saturday

New Valley boss Dale Belford was still in upbeat mood, despite opening his managerial account with back-to-back league defeats at Stocksbridge and Market Drayton.

Rugby's Star Man Callum Powell

Rugby's Star Man Callum Powell

Belford took over the Town reins last weeks after previous manager Gary Mills resigned from the role, and he is raring to go after a year out of the game.

He explained: “It’s great to be back involved in football, but I know it’s going to be a tough challenge here – which is no reflection on the previous management by the way.

“I fully understood the remit when I agreed to take the job and I’ve been in similar situations previously. When I took over at Atherstone they were in a precarious position, and at Tamworth it seemed like every season in the Conference National was a firefighting exercise – so I know what needs to be done and we will be working hard to turn things round.”

Reflecting on the respective 1-0 and 2-1 reverses over the past week, Belford continued: “I really feel for the players. They are clearly an honest and hardworking bunch, and they have been done by a cruel goal deep into stoppage time on Saturday and then just couldn’t sustain things on Tuesday after playing really well in the first half.

Substitute striker Charlie Whiteside

Substitute striker Charlie Whiteside

“Whilst I am looking to change the playing style a little, and hopefully that has been evident in the first couple of games, we also know that we need to grind out a few results in the league in the coming weeks too.”

In his first week at the club, Belford has already brought in striker Jake Healy and defender Spencer Smith, whilst also securing an extension to the loans of Northampton Town duo Danny Clifton and Sam Warburton.

He added: “First and foremost we needed to boost the squad as it was a little light in numbers so I called in a couple of favours to get Jake and Spencer, but in the short term I want to give everybody the opportunity to prove they want to be at the club, and then we’ll take it from there.”

Healy was with Belford at Tamworth – having also previously featured for Corby, Loughborough and Sutton Coldfield, and he opened his Valley account with the opening goal at Market Drayton on Tuesday, whilst Smith started both games over the past week after signing from Barwell.

Rob Parker clears late in Saturday's game at Stocksbridge Park Steels

Rob Parker clears late in Saturday's game at Stocksbridge Park Steels

Both new recruits are eligible for Saturday’s F.A.Cup Second Qualifying Round tie against Lincoln United at Butlin Road, with David Kolodynski also available again – after the club’s leading scorer missed the last two matches.

Belford focused on the big cup game: “I’m really looking forward to the match. I’ve had good luck in the competition over the years, having reached the third round proper a couple of times and it’s time this club had a decent run in it too.

“It’s a favourable draw in terms of it being at home and against a team from our own division, but I’m sure that Lincoln will be looking at that last factor in the same way.”

The two teams have already met in the Evostik NPL South Division already this season, with honours even in a 1-1 draw at Butlin Road at the start of this month, when a Kolodynski second half strike cancelled out United’s opener just before the interval.

Spencer Smith in Saturday's game

Spencer Smith in Saturday's game

Lincoln have reached this stage of the competition after victories over two teams below them in the non-league pyramid – South Normanton and Clipstone.

Meanwhile Valley’s cup adventure this year has been eventful to say the least, with Mills’ resignation coming just 24 hours ahead of their excellent victory at higher level Ilkeston in the First Qualifying Round, after the rookie manager’s own plans were also thrown up in the air late in the day in the Preliminary Round, when then first choice keeper Scott Dutton refused to play against Coventry Sphinx – meaning an emergency call-up for youth team goalie Ashley Bodycote.

Belford describes centre-half Tom Ryan as “touch and go” for the tie, after he missed the two recent defeats with a quad injury, but expects to have everybody else available at the weekend.

Unless a cup replay is required, Town then are due to travel to Carlton for another league fixture next Wednesday (30th). The Nottingham based club are currently two places and two points ahead of bottom-but-one Rugby in the table.

# The coach to Carlton will leave the clubhouse at 4.45 p.m. For latest information contact Tony Mann on 07970 691366.

# At Saturday’s tie, Town will play host to the representatives of the campaign “Liam & Mel’s Road to Wembley”, a charitable initiative in support of the fight against pancreatic cancer. The campaign kicked off at the Extra Preliminary stage at Cleethorpes, and will continue on through each round to the cup final in May.