2001-02 Cheltenham v RDFC Play Off

By Steven

Rushden & Diamonds have suffered play-off heartache this afternoon but they can be mightily proud of their performance as the fell to a 3-1 defeat at the Millennium Stadium.

It was brave performance from Brian Talbot’s team but at the end of the day, Cheltenham created the better chances and are now promoted into the Second Division.

The players could still be proud of a marvellous effort and at the final whistle the Diamonds fans done their club proud by cheering the lads at the full-time whistle, something they thoroughly deserved.

There was sunshine in the air prior to kick-off as they fans poured through the turnstiles. The roof was open and the players went out for their pre-match warm-up.

Brian Talbot was forced to make one change to his side that beat Rochdale on Tuesday evening. Stuart Gray, who has not started a first-team game since February, was recalled to the starting line-up with Andy Burgess out through suspension.

Despite being forced off during the 2-1 win over Rochdale, captain Paul Underwood was fit while Scott Partridge and goal scoring machine Onandi Lowe started in attack.

For Cheltenham, they included Julian Alsop and Tony Naylor in attack while experienced striker Neil Grayson was named amongst the substitutes.

The atmosphere was electric as both teams began their pre-match warm-ups. There were, understandably, more Cheltenham fans but the Diamonds support made sure they made their voices heard.

There was plenty of build up to the game with a mini penalty shoot out between the teams, an opera singer and music and fireworks. Both sets of players were introduced to the match sponsors, Nationwide and Football League officials prior to the match.

So all the talk was over and the match got underway. Cheltenham seemed to have made the brighter start, as they looked confident on the ball putting the Diamonds defence under some early pressure.

But Diamonds slowly got into their stride and Onandi Lowe showed his power and strength to get past two Cheltenham defenders however his shot was blocked.

There was a nasty moment for Diamonds on six minutes when a long through ball over the top meant Martin Devaney ran towards goal and clattered into goalkeeper Billy Turley.

Diamonds were now starting to open the Cheltenham defence and Tarkan Mustafa’s shot across the face of the goal had to be dealt with and the Robins cleared their lines.

But Diamonds created their best effort on 12 minutes. A delightful through ball by Lowe put Hall in the clear and after skipping past two defenders he scooped his shot over the bar from inside the six-yard penalty area.

After 15 minutes: Diamonds 0 Cheltenham 0

Cheltenham created their best chance of the match of 16 minutes when Devaney skipped past Mustafa but saw his shot go inches past Turley’s right hand post.

On 20 minutes, Lowe headed a free-kick past the post from Hall’s delivery as this match continued to be evenly contested.

The Diamonds thought they had taken the lead on 25 minutes when Hall delivered a beautiful cross into the penalty area but Stuart Wardley, who slid into the penalty area, saw his effort saved by Cheltenham goalkeeper Steve Book.

But the deadlock was broken on 27 minutes as Cheltenham took the lead. Devaney skipped past Mustafa on the right flank to squeeze the ball past Turley from an acute angle.

But that lead lasted just one minute as Diamonds got themselves back on level terms. Hall picked up the ball in the middle of the field and skipped past three defenders to lift the ball over Book.

The place erupted and Diamonds were back in the game. On 30 minutes, Devaney nearly had a second when he headed at the far post but Turley was equal to his effort.

After 30 minutes: Diamonds 1 Cheltenham 1

Both teams were now enjoying the open space of the Millennium Stadium pitch and Gray’s effort from 30-yards went inches over the crossbar.

This was an exciting game and Diamonds were slightly edging the better chances than their opponents, although Cheltenham were looking strong in attack.

Diamonds continued to look strong and on 42 minutes, Gray fired a free-kick straight into the arms of Book.

Tillson saw a header well saved from the Cheltenham goalkeeper a minute later and although both teams had chances towards the end of the half, a draw was a fair reflection.

At half-time: Diamonds 1 Cheltenham Town 1

Cheltenham started the better side in the second-half as they put early pressure on the Diamonds defence as they attacked the goal towards where their fans were situated.

Cheltenham began to carve openings in the Diamonds defence and on 49 minutes Alsop had the easiest job to tap home from close range after Tillson failed to clear his lines.

The goal sent the Cheltenham fans wild and it was a disastrous start for Diamonds. Brian’s team reacted strongly to that incident and Lowe nearly fired a header on target.

Cheltenham should have extended their lead on 52 minutes when Alsop’s powerful header flew past the post.

After 60 minutes: Diamonds 1 Cheltenham 2

Steve Cotterill’s side began to put more pressure on Diamonds and Alsop went close one more time but Turley reacted quickly to stop the danger.

Partridge fired over on 67 minutes and that was going to be his last action of the game as he was substituted and replaced by Brett Angell. Jon Brady replaced Gray also.

Brady nearly marked his appearance with a goal as he sent a curling free-kick towards goal but Book done well to stop the danger.

The pressure was on now for Diamonds to produce the goods and on 74 minutes Wardley should have connected with Hall’s cross but the ball rolled harmlessly to Book.

After 75 minutes: Diamonds 1 Cheltenham 2

But despite all the pressure, Cheltenham extended their lead on 79 minutes and had almost certainly booked their passage into the Second Division. A thunderbolt shot from Grayson struck the post but John Finnigan was on hand to curl the ball past Turley.

It was a fantastic goal and Turley had no chance but to their credit, Diamonds continued to push everybody forward and Lowe’s presence was causing some confusion.

Wardley should have got Diamonds back into the game on 87 minutes but somehow managed to drag a shot past the post – it certainly wasn’t Diamonds’ day.

Diamonds continued to throw men forward but the season ended on a flat note when Cheltenham were confirmed as the winner at the full-time whistle.

At full-time: Diamonds 1 Cheltenham 3

Diamonds: Turley, Mustafa, Underwood, Peters, Butterworth, Partridge (Angell 69), Gray (Brady 69), Hall, Wardley, Lowe, Tillson.

Subs not used: Pennock, Setchell, Hunter.

Bookings:

Cheltenham: Book, Duff, Victory, Yates, Griffin, Walker, Devaney (Grayson 75), Alsop, Naylor, Williams, Finnigan.

Subs not used: Howarth, Muggleton, Lee, Tyson.

Bookings:

Referee: Mr Tony Leake.

Attendance: 24,368

See here for a Video of Paul Hall’s goal.

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