Sheffield and Coalville opponents this week
Whatever the final five games of Rugby Town’s pioneering NPL campaign throw up, the club will start the 2016/17 season with a new man at the helm after they announced that current boss Dale Belford will leave his post at the end of the month.
The announcement was made after last Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at Leek, and Belford’s departure will end a seven month spell in charge at a club for which the one-time goalkeeper was also a player in the late 1980’s.
Both parties were keen to stress the mutuality of the split, with Belford explaining: “I’ve talked things through with the club and now that the primary objective of my appointment has been attained, we have concluded that a different direction would be best in the longer term.
“I was tasked with keeping the club in this level of the non-league pyramid, and this has been achieved.
“As I have said before, it has been the most challenging job that I have ever had in football, but it has been thoroughly enjoyable one too and I thank the club for giving me this opportunity to get back into the game.
“I can assure everybody that despite this announcement, my full focus is on achieving as high a finish as we can in the division and hopefully this will mean a place in the play-offs and success beyond that.
“My staff, the players and the fans have been fantastic throughout my time here, and I would like to express my absolute gratitude for this.”
Belford took charge with the team struggling near the foot of the table in their first season within the Evostik NPL structure.
He has since presided over an impressive climb up the Division One South listings and following their Tuesday evening 3-1 home local derby success against Daventry, Town go into the final five games still with an outside chance of achieving a play-off berth.
After losing three of his first four league games in charge with the squad inherited from previous boss Gary Mills, Belford and his assistant Steve Farmer have gradually transformed the make-up of the playing line-up – going on to suffer just five more defeats in the subsequent 26 league outings, including a nine match unbeaten run around the turn of the year.
His side also came within a whisker of a place in the final qualifying round of the FA Cup for the first time in twenty one years – denied at the death by a late equaliser at National League Brackley, before losing the Butlin Road replay.
Rugby Town Director Neil Melvin thanked Belford for his contributions: “Dale has done a great job for the club.
“When he took over we were in a precarious position in the table and whatever happens now he has surpassed any expectations.”
He continued: “By announcing the decision at this point, we hope that it eliminates any uncertainty and distraction ahead of what could still be the completion of a great turnaround in fortunes on the pitch.”
Town’s run-in starts with the visit to Butlin Road this Saturday of Sheffield FC – the world’s oldest independent football club.
The two sides met in the reverse fixture in South Yorkshire in October, when a late spectacular strike by David Kolodynski earnt Valley a point from a 1-1 draw.
Sheffield have generally had a disappointing 2015/16 campaign though, and with just one win from their last six outings, they currently sit in 18th spot in the NPL South Division table.
Rugby’s midweek three point haul lifted them back up into 7th, where they have a game in hand over the two current favourites for that final play-off place - Chasetown (6th) and Lincoln (5th).
However Chasetown and Lincoln do also enjoy a respective six and seven point differential over Belford’s side, although with Valley still due to visit both clubs before the end of the season, anything is still possible – especially as the last set of fixtures of the season sees Lincoln at home to Chasetown.
Valley are also in action next Tuesday (12th) when they travel to Coalville to face a side who cemented their own place in the play-offs with a midweek home win over title chasers Shaw Lane.