RUGBY Town’s preparations for the new season took a knock after they were easily brushed aside 5-0 by Southern League Premier side Banbury on Tuesday evening at Butlin Road, writes Jon Venner.
Three days previously, Valley had extended their unbeaten pre-season run to five games with a creditable performance in the 1-1 home draw against another higher level club – Romulus – on the astro pitch, but the switch to the main stadium emphasised United’s superior status, especially in the second half when the visitors scored three times in just nine minutes shortly after the restart.
Town had just about held their own in the opening period, although they did go behind in the 34th minute when Tom Winters wrong-footed Rugby keeper Niall Cooper with a free kick into the bottom corner from 20 yards.
Cooper went on to atone for this before the break with two good saves to deny Jack McKnight, with the hosts’ best opportunity seeing a Ruben Wiggins-Thomas shot blocked.
Banbury introduced five fresh players for the start of the new half though and two of them combined for the second goal when Ravi Shamsi’s strike came back off the upright to allow Sam Humphreys to help home the rebound.
McKnight’s header to Winters’ corner made it three and then Town’s new signing Brad Harris was soon slicing another Winters’ centre into his own net, with Humphreys rounding off the scoring with 15 minutes to go when he delicately lifted one over Cooper.
To their credit, the home side continued to plug away, with Harry Holloway going closest to a consolation with an on-target shot from the edge of the area which was deflected away for a corner.
With Josh Thornton missing on holiday, Rugby boss Dave Stringer took the chance to have a look at midfielder Ben Ashby in the two friendlies over the past week.
The 27-year-old ex-Bedworth, Nuneaton Griff and Atherstone man started both matches in a defensive midfield role, whilst Harris has ended a more than 200-appearance spell at AFC Rushden & Diamonds to return to his hometown club.
The versatile Harris can play in a variety positions across defence and midfield and he became the tenth player to sign a one-season contract with the club for whom he made four starts ten years ago for then manager Billy Jeffrey after starring in the youth and reserve set-ups.
Another ex-Valley youth-teamer Holloway had also signed a contract earlier in the week after making a positive impact in the warm-up campaign and the 19-year-old will be hoping this kick-starts his Town career after making his initial first team bow two seasons ago under Gary Mills.
Stringer has just one friendly fixture remaining now, when National League North Nuneaton send a side to Butlin Road on Monday, before the competitive season starts at Coventry United in the FA Cup extra preliminary round on Saturday, August 5.
Trey Brathwaite made a first pre-season appearance against Northern Premier League Romulus at the weekend, when a fine strike from distance by David Kolodynski in the second half levelled the score for Town after they fell behind to Kyle Rowley’s early own goal.
Brathwaite did not feature against Banbury though, with winger Chadd Birch also missing both games through injury.