New this season - sin bin punishments and a chance of promotion for two teams
PICTURES BY MARTIN PULLEY
Rugby Town’s new season kicks-off for real on Saturday with a rare opening day home fixture for the club, when Cogenhoe United are the visitors in the United Counties League Premier Division.
Having finished third in the same division last season following their switchover from the Midland Football League, Town will be looking for a return to Step Four of the non-league pyramid at the third time of asking.
And boss Carl Adams has spent the summer reshaping his squad for the campaign ahead.
Seven new players have arrived at Butlin Road, although one – ex-Stamford man Ryan Seal – did not feature in Valley’s pre-season schedule, which was wrapped up over the past week by back-to-back victories over two sides who will operate a level higher than Rugby in the coming season.
These games saw a 4-0 success at Evesham followed up by a 2-1 home one against Bedworth.
Adams had been keen to stress recently that results were not the main focus of the warm-up matches, but he will have undoubtedly been encouraged by the way his new-look line-up acquitted themselves over the final three games in particular, with last Tuesday’s 2-0 victory over a Coventry City Under 23 development squad previously in the bag.
The Evesham win saw Town take an early lead through Jazz Luckie, with further goals after the interval from academy striker Lewis Padmore, Charlie Evans and Kieran Fitzgerald, whilst defenders Liam Francis and Lee Thomas were on-target against the Greenbacks at Butlin Road on Saturday.
Adams started with Padmore’s fellow academy prospect Caine Elliott against Bedworth for a second time in pre-season and the youngster put in assured performance in a defensive midfield role, with Padmore again featuring from the bench for a fourth time in Town’s six practice matches.
Seal is still not back from a trip to America in time for Rugby’s first competitive game on Saturday, with Luckie the main injury doubt with a hamstring strain.
Adams has now confirmed another new recruit in the shape of Omar Recci – younger brother of club captain Loyiso – but with limited game time under his belt the ex-Hednesford, Nuneaton, Redditch and Boldmere defender is unlikely to feature in Valley’s opening series – which also sees a trip to newly promoted Anstey Nomads next Tuesday evening (August 6) .
This Saturday’s game comes just short of 50 years on from the club’s first ever game in the UCL structure, with the August 9, 1969 Division Three away game at Geddington Montrose ending with Valley returning home from the Corby area on the back of a 1-0 defeat.
This weekend’s visitors Cogenhoe finished a respectable seventh in the final table last season, and come back to Butlin Road less than four months on from a 1-0 victory there.
Valley were particularly woeful that April afternoon in front of a bumper 400+ crowd, although the United team they will face this Saturday will be a much changed one after manager Jake Stone left Cogenhoe in the summer to move to Wellingborough - taking a majority of his players with him.
Cogenoe’s UCL season started a week earlier than most of the rest of the clubs in the division, when they hosted Loughborough University as part of the annual groundhopping initiative. The student side returned home with a 1-0 win, whilst elsewhere Rothwell were defeating another newly-promoted side Lutterworth Town.
Tuesday’s trip into Leicestershire sees Town face a Nomads side playing at this level for the first time, and is then followed by an FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round tie at Sporting Khalsa next Saturday (August 10).
# Rugby will be part of the new FA sin bin initiative in grassroots football this season, whereby referees will be able to send players from the pitch for a ten-minute period as a punishment for dissent.
# The promotion criteria from Town’s division also varies from last season, when only UCL Premier title winners Daventry earnt themselves a place at the next level.
For the 2019/20 term only, a runner-up berth could also secure an advancement - either automatically or via a play-off game, depending on the runner-up’s final points per game ratio.
# The Cogenhoe fixture is the first time that Rugby have faced a home game on the first day of a season since 2011. For the record, Town beat Chertsey in the Southern League Central Division thanks a solitary strike from Richard Wesley in their first game back down at that level following their relegation from step three of the pyramid at the end of the 2010/11 campaign.