FOOTBALL: RUGBY Town’s battle to beat the drop out of the Northern Premier League received a huge boost last Saturday when they unexpectedly returned from the trip to promotion-chasing Witton with all three points.
Having secured a 4-3 victory thanks to stoppage time winner at the Cheshire club, Valley now face up to the same outfit this weekend in the return fixture at Butlin Road.
Town had been given little hope of joy against a team that had lost only three league games all season, but their second consecutive away win coupled with midweek defeats for Rugby’s two main relegation rivals means the Evostik South Division table now makes markedly better reading for the Valley faithful.
Town Head Coach Martin Sockett was understandably brimming with pride after the Witton success: “We knew it was going to be an extremely tough fixture, but we had competed well and only lost by the odd goal against (league leaders) Shaw Lane a couple of weeks back, so we tried to stress to the players that if they could be at their best for the whole match, there was a chance of getting something from it.
“It must have been a great game for any neutral supporter watching, as it was a real toe-to-toe affair. But we worked very hard and showed a true togetherness, and were rewarded with four decent goals.
“Perhaps earlier in the season, we may have crumbled after they took the lead early in the second half, but the character of the squad shone through and I’m delighted for them and also for the fans who had something to celebrate on the long trip home.”
The victory cemented Rugby’s position in 20th above the two team drop zone, with Loughborough’s 4-0 defeat at Shaw Lane and Northwich’s by an identical scoreline at Stamford ensuring the gap between Town and the two other clubs is now four points and seven points respectively.
Witton warmed up for the second leg of the doubleheader with a 2-1 win at Leek on Tuesday evening, a victory which keeps their hopes of the automatic promotion spot alive.
Sockett acknowledged the oddities of the scheduling which sees a quickfire rerun of the fixture between the two clubs:
“It’s certainly an unusual occurrence, and one that brings a number of conundrums as to the best way to approach it – especially as we came out on top in the first game.
“Of course I don’t want to give anything away, but for certain we will be giving it a real go again from the off. I just don’t think this set of players has the ‘park the bus’ mentality.”
Looking beyond Saturday’s encounter, Sockett was still confident that the drop into level five of the non-league pyramid could be avoided. He continued: “We know we need to keep working hard, as it’s going to be a tough run in.
“It was nice for a change to be on the receiving end of a bit of good fortune at Witton, he added. “There’s been so many times this season when we have competed well, but just lost out by single goal margins and for once we achieved this ourselves.”
Kyle Rowley was taken off partway through the second half with another leg injury, having only just returned to the starting line-up following a swollen ankle.
If the defender fails to recover in time for the weekend, Sockett was hopeful that the experienced Anthony Charles would be available to slot into the back-line. He also confirmed that midfielder Charlie Faulkner’s injury is progressing well and he could soon be in line for a return to the squad.