WHATEVER the final five games of Rugby Town’s pioneering NPL Southern League campaign throw up, the club will start the 2016/17 season with a new man at the helm after the announcement this week that current boss Dale Belford will leave his post at the end of the month.
Belford’s decision to step down came following Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at Leek and it will bring to an end a successful seven month spell at the club which has seen Valley rise up the table away from the relegation places.
“I’ve talked things through with the club and now that the primary objective of my appointment has been attained, we have concluded that a different direction would be best in the longer term,” said Belford.
“I was tasked with keeping the club in this level of the non-league pyramid, and this has been achieved.
“As I have said before, it has been the most challenging job that I have ever had in football, but it has been thoroughly enjoyable one too and I thank the club for giving me this opportunity to get back into the game.
“I can assure everybody that despite this announcement, my full focus is on achieving as high a finish as we can in the division and hopefully this will mean a place in the play-offs and success beyond that.
“My staff, the players and the fans have been fantastic throughout my time here, and I would like to express my absolute gratitude for this.”
Belford inherited a squad from former boss Gary Mills with the club struggling near the foot of the table in their first season within the Evostik NPL structure.
He has since presided over an impressive climb up the Division One South listings and following their Tuesday evening 3-1 home local derby success against Daventry, Town go into the final five games still with an outside chance of achieving a play-off berth.
After losing three of his first four league games in charge, Belford and his assistant Steve Farmer gradually transformed the make-up of the playing line-up and went on to suffer just five more defeats in the subsequent 26 league outings, including a nine match unbeaten run around the turn of the year.
His side also came within a whisker of a place in the final qualifying round of the FA Cup for the first time in 21 years.
Rugby Town director Neil Melvin thanked Belford for his contributions and said he had done a good job during his short spell at Butlin Road.
He added: “When he took over we were in a precarious position in the table and whatever happens now he has surpassed any expectations.
“By announcing the decision at this point, we hope that it eliminates any uncertainty and distraction ahead of what could still be the completion of a great turnaround in fortunes on the pitch.”
Rugby’s midweek three point haul lifted them back up into seventh, where they have a game in hand over the two current favourites for that final play-off place – Chasetown (6th) and Lincoln (5th).
However Chasetown and Lincoln do also enjoy a respective six and seven point differential over Belford’s side, although with Valley still due to visit both clubs before the end of the season, anything is still possible.
Town’s run-in starts with the visit to Butlin Road this Saturday of Sheffield FC – the world’s oldest independent football club.
The two sides met in the reverse fixture in South Yorkshire in October, when a late spectacular strike by David Kolodynski earned Valley a point from a 1-1 draw.