Stockbridge Park Steels are Saturday’s visitors
It is just one defeat in seven league outings for Rugby Town now following last weekend’s 1-1 home draw with play-off contenders Spalding.
Valley are back at Butlin Road again this Saturday when Stocksbridge Park Steels are the visitors, with Town looking for revenge over the South Yorkshire side following a cruel 1-0 defeat there two and a half months ago.
Rugby had acquitted themselves well against the then third placed opponents in Dale Belford’s first game in charge at the club, before a 95th minute winner by Steels’ Richard Patterson secured the hosts the victory.
It will be a decidedly new-look Town line-up that will take to the field this weekend though, with only four players who started in that September match-up also in the opening eleven of the Spalding draw.
Belford has steadily transformed the squad he inherited from Gary Mills, including three more new signings who featured last Saturday.
Midfielders Matt Curley and Ryan Smith were joined in the starting line-up by the club’s ninth goalkeeper of the campaign – Sam Andrew.
Whilst last Saturday’s game marked Andrew’s Valley debut, he had bizarrely also played in the club’s previous fixture too, coming on a substitute for the red carded Goole keeper Thomas Beaurepaire in Town’s 4-3 success there.
Andrew’s signing was fast-tracked following that match, with Belford hoping he has now solved his problem position with the arrival of a player he knows from their time together at Tamworth.
In a further twist, the much-travelled keeper actually started the 2015-16 season at this weekend’s opponents Stocksbridge, and in fact will continue to train there too in the immediate term.
Curley signs from fellow NPL South Division Romulus, where he has been a regular member of their side – including the Roms’ 2-0 win at Butlin Road in Mills’ last game before he resigned the Butlin Road hotseat.
Ex-Coventry City academy prospect Smith has joined on a loan arrangement from National League North Nuneaton until the New Year, having played in the majority of the club’s games last season until falling out of favour with the incoming manager in the summer Kevin Wilson.
This weekend’s opponents have steadily dropped down the table since that last gasp win over Rugby in September, having won only one more of their subsequent six league matches. Their fall to 13th place is also partly due to their prolonged participation in the FA Trophy, which has seen them reach the competition’s First Round Proper – following last weekend’s 2-1 victory at the current Trophy holders North Ferriby.
As a result of their Trophy run, they do now have games in hand of all of the other teams in the division – having only played fourteen times in the league. Rugby are just two points adrift of them – albeit from four more outings, although the Spalding draw did not improve their own position of 19th.
Town are however now six points clear of the division’s relegation zone, and with ninth placed Sheffield just four points ahead of them, a good run in a busy December could easily see them challenging in the top half of the table.
Belford welcomes Rob Parker back to the squad this weekend, after he missed the Spalding game through suspension.