RUGBY Town’s eventful participation in this season’s FA Cup finally came to an end on Tuesday evening after a goal in each half by National League Brackley meant they missed out on a place in the final qualifying round of the competition.
Valley had more than held their own in the two games against the side struggling near the foot of their league’s North Division (two levels higher than Valley), and were left lamenting what could have been at the end of the tie.
In Saturday’s original game, Valley came within a minute of holding onto to Callum Powell’s lead, with the hosts snatching a dramatic equaliser in the seventh minute of an extended period of stoppage time.
David Kolodynski’s missed penalty in the return game at Butlin Road then denied them an equaliser of their own as part of a particularly impressive first half performance from Dale Belford’s men, but as the replay progressed the visitors began to assert their authority before confirming their victory with a second strike.
Belford gave debuts to new midfield signings Jon Adams and Sean Wilkins, with Craig Kelly also back in the starting line-up after a three game absence through injury.
Saturday’s first half was a relatively uneventful affair, although the hosts arguably shaded it with a couple of headers from striker Steve Diggin just missing the target, and Rugby keeper Raaj Gill doing well to keep out a Sam Whittall effort from close range.
The game sprang to life nine minutes into the second half, when Gill rushed from his line to deal with a ball into the box, upending David Moyo in the process- an act which prompted the referee to award Brackley a penalty.
A lengthy delay followed whilst Gill’s battered head was patched up, with the keeper then getting up to save Diggin’s well-struck spot-kick to his right.
Valley went ahead on 64 minutes when Powell showed great tenacity to chase down a poor back pass and he blocked Crane’s efforts to clear and diverted the ball across the line in the process.
Kolodynski had a great chance to extend the margin but his chipped effort over Crane agonisingly hot the crossbar.
The home side left Valley rueing that missed effort when Diggin made space for himself and lifted the ball into the roof of the net for a late equaliser to force a replay.
So it was back to Butlin Road for the replay on Tuesay and Valley’s mettle was truly tested when the visitors took the lead after just four minutes through Richard Batchelor.
Town responded well to the early setback with Crane at full stretch to keep out a strike from the edge of the box by Wilkins, and Mason Rowley flicked a header just wide of the target.
Wilkins had a second chance to bring the scores level when he ran onto a Powell assist, but he dragged his shot wide, before Kolodynski went down in the box to secure the second penalty of the tie.
However as for the first, the keeper was equal to the resulting strike, with Kolodynski’s stuttered run-up failing to fool Crane.
Once again Brackely made Rugby pay and after Diggin, Whittall and Moyo had all gone close, Diggin intercepted a short back header by Steve Towers to coolly slip the ball beyond Gill’s reach to confirm the visitors’ win.
Valley’s focus will now be firmly back on their efforts to move up the NPL South Division table and now have a couple of games to try and put their league campaign back on track.
First up is a trip to league leaders Stafford this Saturday, followed by another away fixture next weekend at Sheffield FC – who are currently in third spot in the table.
Town currently languish in 21st – one point and one place ahead of bottom-placed Tividale, although Dale Belford’s side do have games in hand over most of the teams immediately above them as a result of their prolonged journey in the FA Cup.