Stafford Rangers and Coalville Town at Butlin Road
Rugby Town’s potential play-off credentials will be well and truly tested over the coming few days, with the top two sides in their division – Stafford Rangers and Coalville – visiting Butlin Road in quick succession.
Having stretched their current unbeaten stretch to nine games last weekend with a draw at Kidsgrove, Valley will host NPL South leaders Stafford this Saturday before another home game next Tuesday (1st March) against Coalville – who head up the Rangers’ chasing pack.
Town boss Dale Belford shrugged off the disappointment of more dropped points against ten-man opposition at Kidsgrove to focus on the positives instead. He said: “I’m just delighted to keep the run going. At this stage of the season, I’m happy to take any result, and whilst it’s nice to have the performances as well, continuing to accumulate points has got to be most important thing.”
For the fourth time in less than two months, Rugby found themselves a man to the good and once more they failed to take advantage of this – letting slip a goal lead at Kidsgrove, as they had done previously at home to Tividale.
Having also drawn against ten man Newcastle at the start of January, in addition to a disappointing second half performance in victory over a Loughborough side a player short, Town have yet to fully exploit an opposing side’s indiscipline.
Looking forward to the home games against the top two, Belford continued with his upbeat theme though: “A while back, the prospect of facing Stratford and Coalville within such a short space of time would have been a worrying one.
“However with the way we are playing and the atmosphere around the club at the moment, we can look forward to the games and go into them with a much more relaxed attitude.
“That is not to say we won’t be fully focused on winning them, but the pressure is all on the opposition – especially after Stafford’s defeat last weekend.”
Rangers lost only their fourth game of the league campaign to-date in front of just over 1,000 spectators at their Marston Lane ground, going down to a single goal by division dark horses Shaw Lane – who Town must also face twice before the end of the season.
Belford continued: “It should be a good day on Saturday. It’s rumoured that they could be bringing a couple hundred (or more) supporters down to Butlin Road, so it would be good if we can get a decent local contingent in for the game too.
“The fans have been magnificent since I came here, and I truly believe that the success we have had on the pitch is in no small part due to the contributions and encouragement from the terraces.”
In the reverse fixture between the two sides in mid-October, the hosts ran out comfortable 4-0 winners, although since that game tenth placed Rugby have gone on to lose only twice more in seventeen outings.
Stafford enjoy a thirteen point advantage over Valley’s opponents on Tuesday Coalville – who themselves have also lost only four times in the league this season, with the Leicestershire club having three games in-hand over the leaders.
Belford is hoping to have a full squad to select from at the weekend, with his only slight doubt concerning Kevin Thornton - who limped off towards the end of the first half at Kidsgrove.
The Valley manager explained: “Kev felt a bit of tightness in his hamstring, so we felt it was best not to risk it any further. I spoke to him at the start of the week though and he says it feels okay now, so hopefully he will be fine for the weekend.”