Loughborough Dynamo Saturday’s visitors
Despite just missing out on a perfect return from a busy Christmas and New Year schedule, Rugby Town boss Dale Belford was still understandably pleased with the recent progress of his side.
Whilst last Saturday’s 2-2 draw at Newcastle ended a run of three straight wins for Town, it is still only one defeat from the last eight outings for them, as Belford continues to repair the damage done in the season’s opening month before he took charge at Butlin Road.
He said: “I am absolutely delighted with the way we have acquitted ourselves over the holiday period. We’ve generally been solid defensively and also created a lot of chances and got our just rewards for this.
“However it’s important to stress that we haven’t lost sight of what the objectives are and we will continue to work hard in training to make sure we maintain the upward momentum.”
Prior to the Newcastle point, Valley had enjoyed victories over Market Drayton, Daventry and Basford before and after the festivities, with the Daventry success particularly well-received by all at the club.
Belford continued: “I was reminded constantly ahead of the Daventry game how important it was that we finally did ourselves justice at Communications Park, and we certainly put in a performance to remember there on Boxing Day.
“The players are really enjoying it at the moment. I have never been able to fault their effort throughout my time here, but now they appear to be playing with genuine confidence too.
Town will have to do without Kevin Thornton for this weekend’s home game against Loughborough Dynamo though, as the in-form Irishman is away on pre-arranged trip.
Thornton scored both Rugby’s goals at Newcastle, taking his total for the club to ten – seven of which have come in the last eight games.
Belford acknowledged Thornton’s recent contributions: “Kev’s been great for us since he arrived – both on and off the pitch. He’s a smashing lad to have around the dressing room, and his goals and numerous assists show what he given us on the field too.”
21st placed Loughborough come into the game after opening their 2016 with a 3-2 defeat at home to Dave Stringer’s Chasetown, although three victories in December had at least turned round a miserable run for the Leicestershire which had included a 9-1 battering in the reverse fixture against the Scholars.
Town suffered a thrashing of their own in the club’s NPL debut game back in August against Dynamo, with the home side romping to a 6-1 win at the Nanpantan Sports Ground.
Valley’s line-up this weekend will be very much different from the one that received that rude awakening to life in their new league, with only four of the starting line-up from then taking to the pitch for kick-off at Newcastle.
Mason Rowley’s departure last week to NPL South Division rivals Basford completed the clean sweep of the 2014/15 end of term squad, with the defender completing his third spell at the club having featured in more than 150 games in all competitions.
Belford was disappointed that the centre-half had decided to leave so soon after he had been left out of the starting eleven.
He explained: “We decided that Mason wasn’t on his best form, so we took him out of the firing line for the game before Christmas. I would have hoped that he would hung around a bit longer and fought for his place back in the side, especially as I know how much of a fans’ favourite he has become here, but unfortunately it wasn’t to be.
“Sometimes you have to make tough decisions about who plays and who doesn’t , and in this case it worked out well as we went on to win three games and only concede once in them.”
Town’s draw at Newcastle saw them slip a place in the Evostik NPL South Division to 15th, although the gap between them and 7th placed Chasetown is only three points – with a further two point jump to the play-off zone.
# Nuneaton winger Ryan Smith has returned to his parent club after his one-month loan spell at Town expired, whilst Sam Warburton has completed his permanent move to Butlin Road after the full-back had been released by Northampton Town.
# Rugby were the winners of their divisional Fair Play Award for the month of December, and will receive their prize ahead of Saturday’s game.