Loughborough one point ahead but Valley have better goal difference if teams finish level
Rugby Town go into their final game of the season this Saturday knowing that failure to better Loughborough Dynamo’s result will mean a bottom two drop-zone finish for them in this year’s Evostik NPL South Division.
Town host 12th placed Kidsgrove whilst their Leicestershire relegation rivals are at home to 13th placed Market Drayton, as the fight for non-league step four survival goes to the wire.
Valley lost control of their own destiny after only picking up one point from their two Easter fixtures, whilst Loughborough’s 1-0 win at Gresley on Monday afternoon saw them sneak ahead of Gary Moran’s side by a point to set up the tense campaign finale.
Rugby had slipped to their 18th single goal margin defeat of their troubled 2016-17 term at home to Gresley on Saturday, before drawing at Bedworth two days later, with Town boss Moran reflecting on the highs and lows of the past couple of weeks:
He said: “Having secured such a pleasing victory at Northwich with a real gritty display, it was such a disappointment to not be able to follow that up against Loughborough.
“It was a total off-day and we just didn’t turn up. Perhaps the pressure got to the lads and they were overfocused on the occasion, but we certainly failed to put in the required level of performance.”
The subsequent Gresley 2-1 home defeat meant that Town are still without a Butlin Road win this calendar year, and Moran bemoaned the terrible start to the game which saw the visitors storm to a two-goal lead within seven minutes: “We gave ourselves a mountain to climb and that’s so frustrating. We created enough chances to get something from the game after that though, but just weren’t clinical enough.”
Valley’s failings in front of goal also cost them dearly at Bedworth on Monday where Chris Sterling’s strike was soon levelled up by the hosts.
Moran continued: “I felt there was only one team in the game on Monday, but as has been the case many times this season we just didn’t get the rub of the green when we needed it.
“I was disappointed with the goal we conceded, as we really should be shutting up shop at that point, and then the real blow comes with the news that Loughborough grabbed a late winner in their game.”
Dynamo’s winner at Gresley came in the third minute of stoppage time and extended their excellent end of season winning run to three games, after they followed up on their 1-0 win at Butlin Road a fortnight ago with a 5-1 success at Northwich - who are now certain to finish in bottom place after another heavy defeat to Witton on Monday.
Rugby’s vastly superior goal difference means that a Loughborough defeat and a Town draw this weekend would be enough for Valley to escape the drop zone, but Moran is targeting a victory whilst hoping his rivals fail to complete what would represent a remarkable perfect concluding quartet for them.
He said: “For the first time for a while it’s out of our hands, but we’ll be going for it this weekend and hope things go our way elsewhere. Loughborough are the team under pressure now and that might affect their mindset and performance. They are up against a Market Drayton who are a real in and out side, so I guess it’s down to which one of those turns up on the day.”
Market Drayton’s Easter Monday home victory meant it was two wins and two losses for them in April, having got a similar return from their four March outings - although they did end last month on the back of a 9-0 defeat at Sheffield.
Valley’s weekend opponents Kidsgrove have lost all four of their April league fixtures, and Rugby will be looking to complete what would be their only double of the season after they recorded a rare early campaign away victory in Staffordshire thanks to a particularly heroic display by keeper Louis Connor.
Win, draw or lose and safe or down, Moran insists his first taste of football management has not put him off: “I knew it was going to be a tough job when we took things on especially with the squad we inherited. We have lost out far too regularly by the odd goal, and that’s often been down to switching off at crucial stages in the game.
“But this has not scared me at all. I’m a competitive person and experiences like this make you stronger. I know it’s no compensation to the fans, but being in situations like this probably make you learn quicker and hopefully things go our way this weekend and we can keep the club at this level.”
On the subject of his Town future, Moran - who took over the reins in September to kick off a third spell at his hometown club - concluded: “If the opportunity is there to continue next season, I would love another crack at it. But for now, we need to focus on doing the job on Saturday first and see where that leaves us.”