Rushden & Diamonds 2 Darlington 0

By Steven Dove
Rushden & Diamonds made it three wins on the spin this afternoon but were made to work for their victory after disposing a struggling Darlington side at Nene Park.

A great individual goal from Onandi Lowe and a bizarre own goal from Matt Clarke were enough for Diamonds to seal the three points but it was still a below-par performance from Brian Talbot’s team.

Diamonds were given a massive boost ahead of kick-off when Talbot named Paul Underwood, who was expected to miss the game through his heel injury, in the starting line-up.

And Diamonds also welcomed Stuart Gray, who had been missing since the 1-1 draw with Hull City, back into the starting line-up with young David Bell moving out to play at right midfield with Paul Hall away on international duty.

Gary Setchell was dropped onto the substitutes bench meaning Tarkan Mustafa missed out altogether whilst Marcus Bignot continued his role at right-back after impressing in recent weeks.

Darlington brought a strong line-up to Nene Park as they looked to extend their unbeaten run to four games. Barry Conlon, who had fired six goals this season, started in attack and was likely to prove the biggest danger.

Diamonds made a bright start to the first half and nearly took the lead inside the first minute. Gray delivered a perfect cross into the heart of the Darlington defence, which Lowe met with a powerful header, but Darlington goalkeeper Andy Collett made a reflex save to deny the Jamaican striker.

Darlington’s first effort of the game arrived on five minutes when Clark Keltie fired a shot from 25-yards over Billy Turley’s goal.

And the visitors continued to throw the pressure on Diamonds when Conlon dragged his shot wide of the target after some good build-up play from Mick Tait’s side.

After 15 minutes: Diamonds 0 Darlington 0

A glancing header from Barry Hunter after a perfect delivery out on the right flank from Bell’s nearly produced a goal but the ball trickled across the face of the goal despite a vain effort from Duane Darby to get a vital touch.

Diamonds were certainly creating chances but were failing to test the Darlington goalkeeper, who was having a relatively quiet game.

On 24 minutes, Bell, who was looking impressive on the right flank for Diamonds, teed up Gray for a long-range effort but the former Celtic midfielder saw his effort go inches wide of the target.

After 30 minutes: Diamonds 0 Darlington 0

Darlington nearly took the lead on 33 minutes when Simon Betts delivered a cross on the right flank that Conlon met with a powerful header but he could only see his effort go wide of the target.

The visitors continued to push forward and a minute later a weak header from Underwood failed to reach its intended target. It enabled Neil Wainwright to nip through but Turley did enough to prevent the midfielder from getting on the score sheet.

Underwood was, somewhat, fortunate to stay on the field on 41 minutes when he seemingly brought down Wainwright as the midfielder was heading towards goal. But the referee spared his blushes as he was only shown the yellow card.

Diamonds threw on the pressure towards the visitors in the closing stages of the first-half but they couldn’t find their way past a solid Darlington defence.

Half Time: Diamonds 0 Darlington 0

It was an evenly contested opening to the second-half as Diamonds’ first effort came on 49 minutes when Mills made a powerful run through the heart of the Darlington midfield to fire an effort straight into the arms of Collett.

On 51 minutes, a pass from Wardley found Darby outside the visitors penalty area but his turn and shot went flying over the Darlington crossbar.

Attacks from the visitors were rare but on 57 minutes Wainwright should have given his side the lead. However, the midfielder failed to control a bouncing ball after breaking between the Diamonds defence and Turley was able to make a comfortable save.

After 60 minutes: Diamonds 0 Darlington 0

Diamonds were struggling to get themselves in this encounter, as chances from both sides were rare in an evenly matched contest.

Richard Hodgson tried a special effort on 67 minutes but his volley from 40-yards failed to trouble Turley whilst moment later Darby had a rare effort for the home side.

Lowe fired a free-kick on 70 minutes over the Darlington crossbar which failed to trouble Collett but Darlington should have taken the lead a minute later but Turley came to the rescue.

Conlon burst through the Diamonds defence showing his power and pace but the striker was stopped in his tracks by a fantastic one handed save from the Diamonds goalkeeper to keep the scores level.

After 75 minutes: Diamonds 0 Darlington 0

On 75 minutes, Darby showed great strength to get past the Darlington defence but after delaying his shot for a vital second, Stuart Whitehead produced a vital tackle to keep his side on level terms.

But with the game heading towards a draw, Diamonds finally broke the deadlock on 78 minutes. With his back towards goal, Lowe turned past the Darlington defence to drill a shot past Collett, who stood no chance.

Hunter had to make a vital header on the goal line when Turley missed a Keltie cross into the penalty area as the visitors continued to push forward.

But on 84 minutes, Diamonds had sealed the three points in bizarre circumstances when Clarke, under pressure from Lowe, saw his back pass go straight through the legs of an unfortunate Collett and into the back of the net.

To their credit, Darlington kept battling until the end but they couldn’t find a way past Turley, who had made a number of vital saves in keeping his side in the match.

At full-time: Diamonds 2 Darlington 0

Diamonds: Turley, Underwood, Hunter, Peters, Wardley, Darby, Gray, Bignot, Mills, Bell, Lowe

Subs not used: Sollitt, Setchell, Talbot, Duffy, Dempster.

Bookings: Underwood (41), Lowe (44), Mills (65)

Darlington: Collett, Valentine, Betts, Liddle, Conlon, Hodgson (Ford 86), Wainwright (Clark 86), Keltie, Clarke, Nicholls, Whitehead.

Subs not used: Naylor, Porter, Rundle.

Bookings: Keltie (65), Clark (69), Ford (90)

Referee: Mr A Hall (West Midlands).

Attendance: 3,911

Diamonds’ MOTM: David Bell (Done a solid job in right midfield)

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