League runners-up for the second successive year
A week on from Rugby Town’s semi-final exit in the Southern League promotion play-offs, Valley boss Dave Stringer was left to reflect on the disappointment of the 3-0 defeat against Slough - as well as the 2013/14 campaign as a whole.
He said: “Of course it’s bitterly disappointing to miss out again, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the achievements of the season and the progress we are making in general.
“We’ve ended runners-up for the second successive year and also had a decent cup run, but unfortunately we just couldn’t get over the line in the league.”
Town’s second place finish to Dunstable came a year on from the one to Burnham in 2012/13, but once more it was a lower placed side that progressed into the league’s Premier Division, with 5th placed Slough going on from their Butlin Road victory to then triumph over Kettering in Bank Holiday Monday’s play-off final – coming back from a two goal deficit to record a 3-2 win.
Stringer is clearly no fan of the play-off system: “I can’t abide it. It seems such an unfair way to determine who gets promoted and I don’t understand the need for it at this level.
“You start the season with the aim of getting as many points as possible in the league, and come the end of it, I just don’t feel that this is properly rewarded.
“I understand that higher up in the game there’s a commercial revenue element to having play-offs, but that surely can’t be the reason for us. I guess the only thing is that it keeps the season alive longer for some clubs.
“To make it worse, it comes down to just a single game at the semi-final stage, and unfortunately we just didn’t do ourselves justice last Tuesday.
“I have lost count of the number of managers that have told me that we were the best footballing side in the division, including Slough’s Jon Underwood who told me he was gutted for us – despite his joy at winning in the final.”
Looking back over the season, Stringer picked out his side’s patchy form in midweek games, as a potential factor in their failure to secure top spot in the division.
He continued: “We often struggled with player availability for many Tuesday evenings. We also lost a number of key midfielders - Sam Youngs, Sam Belcher, Andrew Spencer and Lewis McBride for example - throughout the campaign for various reasons, and it proved difficult to replace them adequately.
“Conceding late goals in a couple matches and the failure to win at places like Ashford and Aylesbury also clearly had a major impact, but I guess all clubs near the top can point to lack of success in individual games come the end of the season.”
Stringer confirmed that he is looking forward to having another crack at promotion next season, after confirming his availability to Chairman Brian Melvin at a meeting earlier this week.
“I really want to get the job done this time. Hopefully I can keep the nucleus of the squad together, and I will be talking to the players over the next couple of weeks to try and convince them to stay.
“We know that with only one team automatically promoted that it’s going to be tough again, and if we remain in this league it will be another competitive season – especially with the likes of Daventry, Kettering and Royston there in the mix too.”
Finally Stringer acknowledged the contribution of the Valley supporters, after a campaign which saw the average attendance at Butlin Road rise by over a hundred from the previous year (from 201 in 2012/13 to 303 in 2013/14).
He said: “The fans have been brilliant throughout – both home and away, and hopefully we can continue to build on that next season and keep attracting the youngsters through the gate.”
# The club’s annual presentation evening will be held tonight (Friday, May 9th) in the VS Bar. The event will start at 7pm. and it will include the awards for both the first team and youth team squads. The presentation ceremonies will be followed by a Race Evening, with a buffet also available. All are welcome to attend.