RUGBY TOWN: Crucial weekend ahead

Niall Cooper punches the ball away in Town's win over St Ives
Niall Cooper punches the ball away in Town's win over St Ives

Easter games against teams above and below in promotion race

The Easter weekend’s fixtures will have a massive influence of Rugby Town’s fate this season, as they face the sides currently immediately above and below them in the Calor League Central play-off zone within three days.

Jamie Towers, robust on the right wing

Jamie Towers, robust on the right wing

Valley first travel to 3rd placed Slough on Saturday, before hosting 5th placed Barton on Easter Monday – with only a trip to Hayes the following Saturday (26th) then left in the regular campaign.

Rugby will need to be in better form than they have been over recent weeks in this crucial double match-up, if they are to secure a berth in the end-of-season knockout competition – in which they cruelly lost in the 2012/13 final against Biggleswade.

Victory in all three remaining league games would of course still give Town an outside chance of automatic promotion as champions, but following another home success on Tuesday evening which gave them a two point lead at the top of the table with two games in-hand, local rivals Daventry are now firm favourites for the gong.

Therefore Town’s target is as high a final placing as possible in the play-off zone, with 2nd or 3rd slot giving them home advantage in any semi-final.

Just a win against Barton on Monday would in itself all but guarantee participation in them, whatever the results are before at Slough and then after at Hayes.

However 6th placed Kettering are poised and in-form after quick fire back-to-back wins – including toppling the then-leaders Dunstable last weekend, and if Rugby continue to stutter and struggle as they have of late, they could easily miss out totally.

After having looked likely to break their record for goals in a Southern League season for a second successive year, Town have struggled to find the net recently, with just two strikes in their last four outings – both from Seb Lake-Gaskin, including last Saturday’s game winning penalty at home to St.Ives.

Fortunately at the other end, Niall Cooper has been in more impressive form – with the keeper registering three clean sheets in four matches now.

Saturday’s opponents Slough are level on points with Town, but head them on goal difference. The Rebels made light work of Rugby in the reverse fixture earlier in the season with a 4-0 victory – the same score as the previous game between the two teams (also at Butlin Road) towards the end of the 2012/13 campaign.

However, in Valley’s last game against them at Holloways Park, Dave Stringer’s side did well to dig in with ten men and record a 3-2 success thanks to a David Kolodynski brace and one from Lake-Gaskin.

Town still edge the overall head-to-head record with four victories to three, although the hosts have revitalised their promotion bid with a run of six straight victories – so it will be a tough ask for Rugby to return with all three points.

Barton have developed into the season’s surprise promotion contenders, and are just three points beneath Town having played the same amount of games.

Rugby’s 4-1 victory at Sharpenhoe Road maintained their excellent competitive record against Rovers though, with four wins and three draws in an unbeaten seven game series.

Stringer will be without the services of Justin Marsden and Richard Wesley at Slough, although both should be back for the Barton fixture – as will Greg Kaziboni, who serves the final match of a three match ban on Saturday.

# The coach to Slough will leave Butlin Road at 11.30am. To ensure your place on this – if not already done so – contact the clubhouse on (01788) 844806.

# Club founder Keith Coughlan has advised of the sad passing of former Valley boss John Bettles, aged 77. Bettles was joint manager at the club alongside Lee Smith just ahead of the arrival of Jimmy Knox at Butlin Road in 1981. He also managed Racing Club Warwick and his home Sunday league side Long Itchington, with his son Ian playing for him in all three teams.

John’s funeral was held on Wednesday 16th April at Long Itchington’s Holy Trinity Church.