Rushden & Diamonds 2 Exeter 1

By Steven
Diamonds held on to three valuable points against Exeter City this evening as they extended their unbeaten home record to 16 games in a 2-1 victory at Nene Park.

Diamonds seemed to be coasting to victory when Andy Burgess struck in the first-half and Ritchie Hanlon fired home from the penalty spot but Exeter hit back in the second-half.

However the visitors were reduced to ten-men when Barry McConnell was sent-off and it proved too much as Diamonds held on to a well deserved and valuable three points.

Diamonds boss Brian Talbot made two key changes prior to the game with Tarkan Mustafa and Hanlon both being recalled to the side in place for Andrew Sambrook and Garry Butterworth respectively.

Scott Partridge and Onandi Lowe retained their place in attack as Duane Darby kept his place on the substitute bench along with Butterworth, Jon Brady, Gary Setchell and Adam Dowell.

For Exeter, Sean McCarthy started while Alex Watson was recalled to the starting line-up after serving his one-match suspension.

Exeter made the brighter start out of the two sides, enjoying the better possession and spreading the ball around the park as Diamonds struggled to create an attack.

Chances were few and far between inside the first ten minutes and Hanlon cracked a shot from outside the penalty area but it hit the unfortunate Partridge on the back of the head and went out for a goal-kick.

Exeter were certainly playing the better football in the early stages and although goalkeeper Billy Turley had yet to be tested it was certainly an encouraging start for the visitors.

On 13 minutes, Diamonds created their first chance of the game. Burgess and Paul Underwood did well on the left-flank and Lowe managed to direct his free-header on target but Exeter goalkeeper Arjan Van Heusden held onto his effort.

After 15 mins: Diamonds 0 Cheltenham 0

Diamonds were struggling to keep possession and chances remained few and far between as neither team looked threatening with both goalkeepers having little to do.

The game was certainly a scrappy affair and each time the Diamonds moved forward Exeter were equal to every cross and cleared their lines.

On 27 minutes, Stuart Wardley arrived late into the penalty area to direct a header towards goal but Van Heusden was again equal to the midfielder’s effort.

After 30 mins: Diamonds 0 Cheltenham 0

But on 30 minutes the game struck into life when Burgess gave Diamonds the lead, breaking away from the Exeter defence to side-foot home Hall’s right wing cross.

And the Diamonds had the perfect opportunity to extend their lead when they were awarded a penalty after Lowe was sent tumbling in the area by Chris Curran and Hanlon made no mistake from the spot as the home-side doubled their advantage.

Diamonds may have not deserved a two-goal advantage but it certainly livened up the game and Turley was called to make a spectacular save on 37 minutes when he acrobatically tipped over Alex Watson’s close-range header.  

Exeter continued to push forward and Andy Roscoe ballooned a shot over the crossbar and into the stands from 30-yards out.

At half-time: Diamonds 2 Exeter 0

Diamonds made an excellent start to the second-half and certainly set out their stalls early in the second-half as the home-side looked bright on the attack.

Hanlon went close to adding his second of the game when Exeter failed to clear their lines and the Diamonds midfielder struck from outside the penalty area but it went straight into the arms of Van Heusden.

After 60 mins: Diamonds 2 Exeter 0

Exeter should have reduced the lead on 61 minutes when they carved open their best opportunity of the game. Roscoe broke clear of the Diamonds defence but his shot was saved by the legs of Turley.

But that chance was soon forgotten as Exeter reduced the lead on 64 minutes when McCarthy managed to get a header onto a long throw and the ball found the top corner of the Diamonds net.

This was going to be a testing period for the Diamonds. Exeter was now looking the more dangerous team as they were finding gaps in the home-sides defence.

But Exeter’s chances of grabbing a point were dealt a serious blow on 74 minutes when they were reduced to ten-men as McConnell was shown the red card, for which looked like foul and abusive language.

After 75 mins: Diamonds 2 Exeter 1

Partridge had an excellent chance to restore the two goal advantage when he found himself in space outside the penalty area but his run and shot fizzled against the side netting.

Exeter were now struggling as the one-man advantage to Diamonds looked to prove too much for the visitors.

It was a frantic finish as the visitors tired to grab a vital point but Diamonds were excellent in defence and deserved their three points which kept the club firmly in touch with the play-off contingent.

At full-time: Diamonds 2 Exeter 1

Diamonds: Turley, Mustafa, Underwood, Peters, Partridge (Darby 79), Burgess, Hall, Hanlon, Wardley, Lowe, Tillson.

Subs not used: Dowell, Butterworth, Setchell, Brady

Bookings: Tillson (50), Underwood (68)

Exeter City: Van Heusden, Power, Curran, Ampadu (Buckle 59), McCarthy (Tomlinson 81), Roscoe, Breslan (Flack 54), McConnell, Watson, Cronin, Roberts.

Subs not used: Whitworth, Fraser.

Bookings: Curran (33), Watson (88)

Sent-off: McConnell (74)

Referee: Mr F Stretton

Attendance: 3,343

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