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Size is no issue for in-form Rob Rice
IN A LEAGUE where height is one of the first attributes managers look for when recruiting centre-backs, Rob Rice and David Ray are truly bucking the trend.
Looking around the Blue Square Bet South, you would probably find that most central defenders are at least 6ft 2in, with a fair proportion over 6ft 5in.
However, the Basingstoke Town pair of Rice and Ray are showing that height is not the be all and end all when it comes to defending.
Leaking goals has been Town’s problem throughout the season, with the Camrose club conceding 54 goals in their first 31 games of the campaign, keeping just two clean sheets.
Having seen his side let in three goals at home to struggling Billericay, Town boss Jason Bristow took the decision to pair Rice and Ray together for the first time three days later – when Basingstoke travelled to high-flying Salisbury.
It turned out to be an inspired decision as Town claimed an excellent 2-0 win – and goalkeeper Ashley Bayes has been beaten just once in the two games since.
Both Rice and Ray are less than 6ft tall, but both jump well and more than make up for their lack of height with excellent positional sense.
They also communicate well, not only between themselves but also to their full-backs and the midfielders in front of them, making Town seem a much more solid unit.
Rice said: “It’s great playing alongside David. It seems to be a good partnership. He has really helped me and together we have helped the team start to keep clean sheets.
“It’s one of those things that most centre-backs are a lot taller than us but it seems to be working. David is very good in the air and between us we manage to win our fair share of headers.
“David’s a good footballer as well and all of the lads in the back four have been working hard, getting in the right positions and doing their bit. We are defending well as a unit and the whole team is playing their part.”
Despite having just turned 24, Rice is something of a Town veteran. He is coming to the end of his fourth season at the club and has been a regular the whole time, playing more than 30 games every year.
The former Wycombe man came to the Camrose as a right-back but has shown his versatility over the years, filling in both at centre-back and as a holding midfielder.
“It’s difficult to say whether I prefer right-back or centre-back because I like both of them,” Rice said. “I’m quite happy playing wherever the manager wants me to play.
“I always look forward to playing on a Saturday, wherever that may be. I have been at the club a while, have enjoyed my time here and hope it continues.”