RUGBY TOWN: Season starts with trip to Gresley
Manager Jepson quietly confident of good campaign
Town start their second season in the Northern Premier League structure this weekend with a trip to Gresley, before Stamford then come to Butlin Road on Tuesday for the first home fixture of the campaign.
Recently-installed Valley boss James Jepson is raring to start his management career, after spending the summer attempting to build a squad capable of returning to step three of the non-league football pyramid at the seventh attempt.
Jepson took over from the departing Dale Belford in May, after the ex-Tamworth manager had guided Town up into a ninth place finish in the Evostik-sponsored NPL South Division, and whilst unwilling to make rash predictions with regards to their 2016/17 destiny, Jepson was quietly confident that it would be a good season for the club.
He said: “We can’t wait to get going now. We know it is going to be a tough challenge, but we are determined to be competitive and we know where this club wants to be in the pyramid, which is why we have brought in a number of players who are used to playing at a higher level.
“Of course having to put together a virtually brand new squad makes it more difficult, so we have to be patient, but I’m hoping we can be there or thereabouts come the end of the season.”
Jepson was hoping to add one more player ahead of the weekend kick-off, although he is also sweating on the availability of apparent first choice keeper Louis Connor, with the ex-Tamworth and Halesowen stopper needing international clearance before he is able to feature in a competitive match.
He continued: “A wide player I rate has become available and the board have backed me in trying to sign him, so we are actively trying to push that through in time.
“Louis needs clearance from the States as he played there last season, and hopefully that will be completed for Saturday too. But if not, we have two other keepers registered in Ben Heath and young Ashley Bodycote, and I’m confident in their abilities if we need them.”
Valley rounded off their pre-season schedule with a 5-2 home defeat to NPL Premier Grantham last Saturday, although Jepson did rest a number of his likely upcoming first choice eleven for the warm-up game – including central defensive duo Jason Lee and Jamie Tank.
In hot conditions at Butlin Road, Grantham raced into a 3-0 lead within just thirteen minutes, with Lee Shaw, Stefan Galanski and Curtis Burrows all firing past Connor.
Town recovered a little though, and Louis Hamilton pulled one back before half-time with a composed finish to skipper Andy Gooding’s neat through ball.
Gooding was again involved in the thick of it just after the restart, when he was taken out in the penalty area, giving Aron Wint the opportunity to step up and stroke home from the spot.
However two further goals from the visitors killed off Rugby’s comeback hopes, with Rhys Green also scoring a penalty and Jack Beckett then beating substitute keeper Heath before the final whistle.
Jepson was unworried by the defeat, and went on to focus on his first competitive opponents instead.
He said: “We’ve only got a relatively small squad, so we rested a few for the final friendly mainly as a precaution, but they should all be available for Saturday.
“Gresley are one of my old teams, so that adds a little extra spice. I had a great time there and was part of a title winning side, and I still have a number of friends still involved at the club.
“They will have pretty much a new side too, and they will be at home, so the pressure may be more on them than us.”
Town completed the double over the Moatmen last season, following up a 2-1 home success in their first ever home game in the NPL with a 3-1 victory at the Moat Ground in February.
Tuesday’s visitors Stamford were relegated from the league’s Premier Division at the end of last season, and Jepson included them in his list of potential promotion challengers this time round.
He explained: “Stamford should be a tough proposition. They have a good manager in Graham Drury and seem to have signed some decent players over the summer.”
Jepson also picked out two other clubs he featured for last season as possible threats: “Rushden and Diamonds are likely to be up there too, and Bedworth have kept most of last season’s squad together, when they only narrowly missed out on keeping their place in the Southern League Premier.
“Basford appear to be going for it again this year, and Leek always have a strong side. I don’t know too much about Shaw Lane yet, but they only just missed out on the title last time round, so I guess they will be a threat this year too.”
# Following their 3-0 win at fellow Midland Football League Division One side Heath Hayes in the FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round, Bromsgrove Sporting will be Valley’s opponents in the Preliminary Round of the competition on Saturday, August 20.
# The draw for the (Integro) League Cup has also been made, and for the second season running, Town will host Ilkeston in its First Round, with the game scheduled to be played on Tuesday, November 15.
# Town have held admission prices at the same levels for a ninth successive season, with entry to Butlin Road set at just £8 for adults and £4 for concessions.
Season tickets also remain at last season’s price of £140 (and £70), with a new junior membership scheme also being launched in conjunction with the recently-formed supporters club.
# The coach to Gresley will leave Butlin Road at 12.15 pm. For latest information, contact Tony Mann on 07970 691366.