Rushden & Diamonds 0 Oxford United 2

By Steven Dove
The last game of 2002 finished on a flat note for Rushden & Diamonds as they suffered only their second league defeat at Nene Park this season against an impressive Oxford United outfit.

Dave Savage and a wonderful strike from David Oldfield helped give Oxford maximum points but the hero of the day was goalkeeper Andy Woodman and he spoilt Diamonds’ day with some breathtaking saves.

The United shot-stopper denied Diamonds on a number of occasions and was influential in Oxford’s win, which the visitors thoroughly deserved despite a second-half onslaught from the home-side.

Stuart Gray was recalled to the starting line-up, replacing the injured Gary Mills who tore his hamstring during the Boxing Day point claimed at Scunthorpe United.

Andy Burgess was also recalled to the substitute bench after missing the match against Scunthorpe meaning David Bell kept his place on the left side of midfield.

Oxford United, who claimed an impressive 3-0 victory over Bournemouth on Boxing Day, made two changes to their side. Oldfield and Savage both started whilst James Hunt missed out through injury.

Diamonds started brightly and Barry Hunter’s header flew over the Oxford crossbar after Gray had delivered an inch perfect free-kick deep into the visitor’s penalty area.

The deadlock was nearly broken on three minutes when Bell’s corner was powerfully headed toward goal by Mark Peters only for him to see Woodman acrobatically save the effort.

Diamonds continued to attack the Oxford goal and Lowe’s powerful shot was heading goal bound only for it to take a wicked deflection off David Waterman.

Oxford, who had made slow start to the game, surprisingly took the lead on 12 minutes when Savage skipped past three challenges to slot a ball past Billy Turley and into the corner of the net.

After 15 minutes: Diamonds 0 Oxford United 1

Diamonds’ response was positive and Lowe was unfortunate not to have been granted a penalty when he was sandwiched between two Oxford defenders on 21 minutes.

Savage was causing all the problems for Diamonds and Bignot had to be alert when the former Northampton midfielder was put in the clear.

But on 29 minutes, Oxford extended their lead when Oldfield, who was having a quiet game, hit a fantastic strike to beat Turley from 25-yards out.

After 30 minutes: Diamond 0 Oxford United 2

Oxford continued to carve open the Diamonds defence and Oldfield sneaked around the back of the back four only to be stopped in his tracks by a determined Underwood.

Diamonds, who were slowly losing the momentum to their play, which was so evident in the opening 15 minutes, were struggling to attack the Oxford goal although Bell dragged an effort wide of the target.

The home-side continued to throw the pressure on and Bell’s driven shot was well held by Woodman as Diamonds went in two goals down at the interval.

HALF-TIME: DIAMONDS 0 OXFORD UNITED 2

Hunter fired a header towards the Oxford goal on 46 minutes as Diamonds started the second-half positively.

Steve Basham’s turn and shot drifted over Turley’s crossbar on 49 minutes but Bell went closer for Diamonds shortly after when his snapshot rolled wide of the Oxford post.

On 50 minutes, Peters hit a shot, which Woodman tipped over the crossbar, and moment later Lowe hit a header towards the Oxford goal.

A powerful run from Paul Hall let Darby fire a shot which was deflected by the Oxford defence as the home-side looked promising in the opening stages of the second half.

Diamonds continued to control the second-half and a low drive from Gray was well saved by Woodman, who was looking impressive in the Oxford goal.

After 60 minutes: Diamonds 0 Oxford United 2

Lowe should have reduced Oxford lead when his point blank header from Darby’s cross was unbelievably stopped by Woodman.

Bignot wasted a golden opportunity to grab a goal for Diamonds when Darby headed a ball down for the defender only for him to fire high into the stands.

After 75 minutes: Diamonds 0 Oxford United 2

Burgess, who was introduced to the action replacing Gray, flashed a header across the face of the Oxford goal as time slowly began to tick away.

Hunter saw a header cleared off the goal line and Lowe also went close but despite throwing bodies forward, the home-side couldn’t find a way through the Oxford defence and more importantly the impressive Woodman.

FULL TIME: DIAMONDS 0 OXFORD 2

Diamonds: Turley, Underwood, Hunter, Peters, Wardley, Darby, Gray (Burgess 74), Bignot, Bell, Hall, Lowe.

Subs not used: Talbot, Sambrook, Duffy, Dempster.

Bookings: Underwood (14)

Oxford: Woodman, McNiven, Savage (Louis 61), Crosby, Waterman, Robinson, Bound, Ford (Whitehead 78), Oldfield, Basham (Scott 75), Hunter.

Subs not used: Steele, Sall.

Bookings: Crosby (9)

Referee: Mr I Williams

Attendance: 4,891 (1,221 from Oxford)

Diamonds’ MOTM: Stuart Wardley (Hard working)

Scunthorpe United 0 Rushden & Diamonds 0

By Steven Dove

Rushden & Diamonds boss Brian Talbot was given a late but perfect Christmas present as he watched his side go top of the Third Division table following a 0-0 draw against Scunthorpe United.

Following Hartlepool’s 2-0 defeat at the hands of Hull City, Diamonds’ point at Glanford Park was enough to see the Northamptonshire side leapfrog the long time league leaders.

But Diamonds could have certainly taken all three points and were only denied by some fine goalkeeping from Tom Evans plus a solid defensive display from captain Nathan Stanton.

Stuart Wardley went close on two occasions for Diamonds and Onandi Lowe also hit a free-kick just over the Scunthorpe crossbar in a scrappy affair which was largely spoilt by the match referee.

Scunthorpe also had their fair share of chances and Steve Torpey went close for the home side in the second half when he dragged an effort past Billy Turley in the Rushden & Diamonds goal.

Duane Darby was recalled to the starting line-up for Diamonds after serving his one match suspension whilst Turley, who has been struggling with a calf injury in recent weeks, continued in goal.

With Adam Sollitt fracturing his wrist in last weeks 1-1 draw against Carlisle United, Brian was unable to name a substitute goalkeeper although Stuart Gray, who had been missing because of a knee injury, was recalled to the substitute bench.

Scunthorpe United boss Brian Laws made two changes to his starting line-up from the one that began proceedings against Carlisle United. Lee Featherstone was given the responsibility on the left flank of midfield whilst Alex Garcia started in the centre of midfield.

Things didn’t start too well for the Diamonds as they were made to make an early change. On seven minutes, Gary Mills fell in the centre circle clutching his hamstring and was quickly replaced by Gray.

However, Diamonds did create the first opportunity of the game when, on eight minutes, Marcus Bignot’s cross fell to Darby whose shot from six yards was parried by Evans.

Diamonds continued to enjoy much of the early possession but as the game flowed the home-side began to find gaps in the visitors defence. On 15 minutes, Lowe tested Evans from long-range.

With the match referee stopping this encounter for the smallest of incidents, the Glanford Park crowd were beginning to get restless and on 21 minutes Steve Torpey hit a shot wide of the Diamonds goal.

Barry Hunter was shown the yellow card on 28 minutes after conceding a free-kick in a dangerous area. It nearly proved costly for Diamonds as Matthew Sparrow hit the resulting kick, which Turley flung himself at to make a vital save.

On 34 minutes, Wardley should have put Diamonds in front but Evans showed great reflexes to stop the midfielder from inside the six-yard penalty area.

Moments before the half-time whistle, Lowe’s strong and powerful run nearly brought the opening goal but after beating three defenders, his low drive was saved by the impressive Evans.

Scunthorpe started the second-half much brightly than Diamonds but on 52 minutes; Bignot’s drive forward resulted in him firing an effort straight into Evans’ arms.

Moments later, Bignot carved open another effort which, once again, Evans was equal to. David Bell also drove a shot wide of the target after he impressively held off two Scunthorpe defenders.

It was now Scunthorpe’s turn to enjoy the possession and during this spell they created their best effort of the game when Torpey beat Mark Peters to turn and shoot narrowly wide of Diamonds’ goal.

Martin Carruthers, who has surprisingly had a quiet game for the home side, forced a full stretch save from Turley on 71 minutes before he was substituted just eight minutes later.

Both sides created good opportunities in the closing stages of the game and Lowe could have won it for Diamonds moments before the final whistle but Evans displayed some fine goalkeeping.

After 90 minutes: Scunthorpe 0 Diamonds 0

Scunthorpe: Evans, Stanton, Dawson, Jackson, Byrne, Sparrow, Brough (Parton 67), Featherstone, Carruthers (Graves 80), Torpey, Garcia.

Subs not used: McCombe, Kilford, Collins.

Bookings:

Diamonds: Turley, Underwood, Peters, Hunter, Wardley, Mills (Gray 7), Hall, Bell, Lowe, Darby.

Subs not used: Sambrook, Setchell, Duffy, Dempster.

Bookings: Hunter (30), Gray (53), Bignot (63), Underwood (90) 

Referee: Mr C Boyeson.

Attendance: 4,096

Diamonds’ MOTM: Barry Hunter.

Rushden & Diamonds 1 Carlisle United 1

By Steven Dove

Carlisle United defended in numbers and they did enough to gain a valuable draw although the visitors should have stolen maximum points after squandering a chance in the final stages of the game.

Onandi Lowe cancelled out Craig Farrell’s strike on 11 minutes to notch his eighth goal of the season. But Farrell should have wrapped things up for the visitors with just four minutes remaining but pushed a glorious opportunity wide of the target.

Rushden & Diamonds boss Brian Talbot was forced to make one change to his starting line-up from the one that began proceedings against Macclesfield Town last week.

With Duane Darby suspended, Robert Duffy partnered Lowe in attack while Gary Mills, who had been struggling with an ankle injury, started in the centre of midfield.

Andy Burgess, who had been out of action for Diamonds since mid-September, was also welcomed back to the side as he was drafted onto the substitutes bench. Billy Turley was also named as a substitute, replacing Stuart Naylor, who had picked up a slight back injury.

Carlisle United included potential danger man Richie Foran in attack although boss Roddy Collins went into this encounter with no recognized substitute goalkeeper.

Diamonds carved open the first opportunity of the game when Paul Hall’s cross was nearly powered home by Lowe but the Jamaican international saw his header go over the Carlisle crossbar.

But on four minutes, Lowe went even closer when he powered a free-kick against the underside of Matthew Glennon’s crossbar, which somehow bounced away from danger.

However, against the run of play, Carlisle United took the lead on 11 minutes with their first attack of the game. Jon McCarthy cut in from the right flank and picked out Craig Farrell who calmly slotted the ball past Adam Sollitt.

Mark Peters was unfortunate not to see his header from David Bell’s corner go on target shortly after Carlisle took the lead.

After 15 minutes: Diamonds 0 Carlisle 1

But Carlisle’s lead lasted only four minutes when Lowe rose above the visitors defence to power home Hall’s right-wing corner and send a header past a stranded Glennon.

Diamonds were controlling this contest although Carlisle continued to look dangerous on the break and were enjoying their fair share of possession.

Lowe, who was continuing to cause havoc in the Carlisle defence, displayed superb power and pace to shrug off two defenders and smash an effort past Glennon’s right-hand post.

After 30 minutes: Diamonds 1 Carlisle United 1

On 36 minutes, Duffy sent an excellent ball into the Carlisle United penalty area but Lowe couldn’t direct a header towards Glennon’s goal.

Moments later, Duffy collected an excellent long ball from Bell but the young Diamonds striker dragged his shot wide of the target and past Glennon’s left-hand post.

Diamonds continued to attack the visitor’s goal and although Paul Underwood hit a long-range effort wide of the target, the home-side had to be satisfied with going into the interval on level terms.

At half-time: Diamonds 1 Carlisle United 1  

Carlisle created the first opportunity of the second-half when Lee Maddison should have done better to guide a shot on target when he was given freedom in the Diamonds penalty area.

On 49 minutes, Lowe sent a glancing header the wrong side of the Carlisle goal after Marcus Bignot had made a darting run down the right flank.

Foran hit a 30-yard effort on 54 minutes but the Carlisle striker couldn’t keep the shot down and it was never going to trouble Sollitt.

After 60 minutes: Diamonds 1 Carlisle United 1

Lowe’s turn-and-shot on 61 minutes forced a good reaction save from Glennon as Diamonds continued to push forward at every opportunity.

On 65 minutes, Bell burst through the heart of the Diamonds defence but his touch let him down when he had a clear sight of the Carlisle goal.

But this game was hanging in the balance for Diamonds as Sollitt was stretched off the field after falling awkwardly in a 50-50-challenge meaning the unfit Turley was called into the action.

After 75 minutes: Diamonds 1 Carlisle United 1

In the closing stages of the game, Carlisle were looking the more likely side to score and they tried to put pressure on the Diamonds goal.

Both sides pushed forward in the closing stages but it was Carlisle United who should have taken all three points when Farrell dragged a glorious effort wide of the target.

At full-time: Diamonds 1 Carlisle United 1

Diamonds: Sollitt (Turley 74), Underwood, Hunter, Peters, Wardley, Bignot, Mills, Bell (Burges 83), Duffy, Hall, Lowe.

Subs not used: Talbot, Sambrook, Dempster.

Bookings:

Carlisle United: Glennon, Maddison, Shelley, Murphy, Hudson (Baldacchino 86), Foran, Kelly, McGill (Osman 63), McCarthy (McDonagh 55), Sumerbell, Farrell.

Subs not used: Robinson, Taylor.

Bookings:

Referee: Mr G Cain (Merseyside)

Attendance: 4,355 (388 from Carlisle)

Diamonds’ MOTM: Marcus Bignot (Outstanding in defence and going forward)

Macclesfield Town 0 Rushden & Diamonds 1

By Steven Dove

Rushden & Diamonds huffed and puffed and they thought it would never come but with ten minutes remaining, they stole all three points when Onandi Lowe struck his seventh goal of the season.

But the goal came from a mistake in the Macclesfield defence and Duane Darby deserved all the plaudits when he unselfishly squared the ball across to his strike partner who slotted home into an empty net.

Rushden & Diamonds boss Brian Talbot was forced to make one change to his starting line-up from the team that began proceedings in the disappointing performance against Exeter City.

Stuart Gray, who picked up a knee injury in that defeat at St James Park, was missing from the starting line-up, meaning David Bell switched from right to left. Paul Hall kept his spot on the right flank.

Barry Hunter was welcomed into the starting line-up after serving his one-match suspension meaning John Dempster was dropped to the bench. Andy Sambrook was also included amongst the substitutes.

Colin Little gained his first start for Macclesfield after completing his one-month loan spell from Crewe Alexandra only 24 hours prior to kick-off. Kyle Lightbourne, scorer of seven goals this season, started in attack with manager Dave Moss going with a 4-3-3 formation.

Diamonds started very brightly and, in the opening stages, were looking dangerous on the break. Lowe nearly connected with a header after three minutes but the Macclesfield defence cleared the danger.

A weak header from Chris Priest was the best effort Macclesfield could muster in the opening seven minutes of the half as Diamonds looked comfortably in control.

Little was forced to go off for Macclesfield after only eight minutes following a challenge from Hall.

Macclesfield were now starting to gain more of the possession and a mighty error from Adam Sollitt was nearly capitalized on by the home side but Hunter sparred his blushes by clearing a shot off the goal line.

After 15 minutes: Macclesfield 0 Diamonds 0

Diamonds nearly took the lead on 16 minutes when Darby done superbly to drag the ball back to Lowe whose effort was stopped by two Macclesfield defenders on the goal line.

This was certainly better football from Diamonds after the defeat against Exeter City and it looked only a matter of time when the visitors would break the deadlock.

There were plenty of handbags been thrown as Lowe began putting himself about and when a scuffle broke out on 24 minutes the match referee remarkable decided not to caution the Jamaican international or Steve Macauley.

After 30 minutes: Macclesfield 0 Diamonds 0

Lowe out jumped the Macclesfield defence on 36 minutes when he connected with a Hall free-kick. However, the effort went straight into the arms of Macclesfield goalkeeper Steve Wilson.

Lowe was causing Macclesfield all kinds of trouble and on 42 minutes he once again rose above the Macclesfield defence only to see a header go over the crossbar.

Diamonds thought they had taken the lead a minute into stoppage time when Lowe’s flicked header from Underwood’s delightful chipped pass went inches past the wrong side of a post.

The visitors continued to finish strong but they couldn’t find a way past the Macclesfield defence and Brian’s side had to be content with a goalless first-half.

At half-time: Macclesfield 0 Diamonds 0

Macclesfield started the second half sharply and Michael Welch nearly broke clear after just two minutes but the onrushing Sollitt blocked him in his path.

A Lowe free-kick on 51 minutes went the wrong side of a post but it was the home side who were looking stronger in this second half.

Lowe’s dominance of this game continued and on 57 minutes the Jamaican should have given Diamonds the lead when Mills’ delightful ball in between the Macclesfield defence carved them open.

However, after completing the hard work of rounding the goalkeeper, Lowe saw his shot stopped on the goal line from Hitchen.

After 60 minutes: Macclesfield 0 Diamonds 0

Lee Hardy drilled a low shot through the heart of the Diamonds defence on 64 minutes but Sollit got down low to fingertip the ball around his left-hand post.

Diamonds continued to push forward at every opportunity and Hall should have done better when he was given freedom down the right, only to deliver a poor cross into the penalty area.

After 75 minutes: Macclesfield 0 Diamonds 0

Diamonds were throwing everything at Macclesfield and Mills saw his low drive trickle the wrong side of a post.

The game looked as if it would be heading to a draw but Diamonds finally got the breakthrough with ten minutes remaining. A mistake from Hardy let Darby turn toward goal and square a perfect ball to Lowe who couldn’t miss a completely empty net.

Now it was back to the walls for Diamonds as they tried to soak up the pressure. But, to their credit, Diamonds held their nerves continuing to push forward at every opportunity.

Darby had a late effort saved by Wilson but Diamonds showed great spirit to hold off any Macclesfield threat and claim a fantastic away victory.

After 90 minutes: Macclesfield 0 Diamonds 1

Macclesfield Town: Wilson, Hitchen, Adams, Tinson, Lightbourne, Priest, Little (Hardy 8, Brackenridge 83), Welch, Macauley, Munroe (Abbey 65), Eaton

Subs not used: Martin, Askey.

Bookings: Hardy (36)

Diamonds: Sollitt, Bignot, Underwood, Hunter, Peters, Wardley, Darby, Bignot, Mills, Bell, Hall, Lowe.

Subs not used: Naylor, Talbot, Sambrook, Duffy, Dempster.

Bookings: Bell (56), Lowe (67)

Referee: Mr Eddie Ilderton

Attendance: 1,839

Diamonds’ MOTM: Duane Darby (His best performance for months)

Exeter City 3 Rushden & Diamonds 1

By Steven Dove

In what can only be described as a ‘below par performance’, Rushden & Diamonds crashed out at the second round of the FA Cup as Exeter comfortably strolled to a 3-1 victory at St James Park.

Diamonds never seemed to get out of the block and despite Onandi Lowe hitting a goal for the visitors, Exeter always looked in control of this game and were certainly worth their victory.

But the game was hit with some kind of controversy when Mr Ross, the match referee, awarded Exeter a penalty during a crucial stage of the game, that gave the home-side a 2-0 lead.

Rushden & Diamonds, who went into this match with an eight game unbeaten run to protect, were without Barry Hunter and Billy Turley prior to the match so changes were expected from manager Brian Talbot.

Adam Sollitt and youngster John Dempster were both included in the starting line-up as expected while Robert Duffy, scorer of three goals from four appearances, kept his place in attack.

That meant Duane Darby remained amongst the substitutes whilst Stuart Naylor, the goalkeeping coach at Nene Park, also occupied the bench with Turley missing through a calf injury.

Exeter boss Neil McNab was without trio Gareth Sheldon, Glenn Cronin and goalkeeper Kevin Miller all through suspension. That meant youth goalkeeper Stuart Fraser was handed his first start of the season.

The Grecians, who had disposed of Forest Green Rovers in the First Round, had been suffering a poor run of form since Diamonds’ last visited St James Park in October, winning only three games from a possible 11.

The home-side started brightly and in the first minute James Coppinger gave Sollitt an early tester by hitting a ball straight across the face of the goal

Steve Flack, scorer of seven goals this season, was already looking dangerous for Exeter as his flicked headers started to carve open Diamonds’ defence.

The game was certainly not the most exciting encounter in the opening ten minutes as the ball was pinged down both ends of the field with some scrappy play.

On 12 minutes, Coppinger nearly got a sight of goal but Dempster’s sliding tackle was timed to perfection as the ball rolled through to Sollitt – unharmed.

After 15 minutes: Exeter City 0 Diamonds 0

With 17 minutes played and no shots registered, it was a sign that both teams were struggling to find any pattern to their play, with sloppy passes not finding their intended targets.

But finally the brake through arrived and on 20 minutes, Exeter took the lead. A strong run from Coppinger gave the Exeter striker freedom in the box to deliver a ball that found Barry McConnell who stroked home past Sollitt

McConnell nearly added a second on 25 minutes when a ball from the left flank found it’s way to the Exeter midfielder whose drilled effort was stopped by the feet of Sollitt.

After 30 minutes: Exeter 1 Diamonds 0

Diamonds, who had not registered a shot of any description in the opening 30 minutes, were certainly struggling and Exeter were trying their best to play some kind of entertaining football.

Coppinger was proving a handful for Diamonds and his darting run nearly produced a second goal for Exeter when Flack nearly got onto the end of his cross into the penalty area.

Andy Roscoe hit a free-kick over the Diamonds crossbar on 38 minutes as Exeter continued to dominate first-half proceedings.

Underwood showed great bravery to head a Justin Walker effort off the goal line on 40 minutes as Diamonds continued to struggle.

The referee brought Diamonds’ awful first-half to a close, without registering a single shot on goal and Brian was certainly going to give a half-time rollicking to his players at the interval.

At half-time: Exeter 1 Diamonds 0

It was little surprise when Darby was thrown into the action for the second-half, replacing an out-of-sorts Duffy, who had made little impact during the opening 45 minutes.

Just like in the first-half, Diamonds made a slow start and although they were enjoying more of the possession in the opening five minutes they still had not registered a shot.

After 60 minutes: Exeter 1 Diamonds 0

Amazingly, the referee pointed to the penalty spot on 61 minutes when McConnell was sent tumbling down in the area by Peters. It looked a fair challenge and the referee was certainly not going to give a spot kick but his assistant signalled to award a foul had been committed.

Despite vast protests from the Diamonds players, the referee stuck to his guns and Walker stroked home the penalty past Sollitt, who had dived the wrong way.

Against the run of play, Diamonds reduced the lead when, on 71 minutes, Darby laid off the ball to Lowe who drilled a shot past Fraser and into the corner of the net.

Lowe should have quickly got Diamonds back on level terms moments later when Bell’s strong run down the right flank produced an excellent cross but the Jamaican international failed to get his effort on target from three-yards out.

After 75 minutes: Exeter 2 Diamonds 1

Diamonds were pushing everybody forward in the closing stages and Lowe drilled an effort on 80 minutes which was saved by the feet of Fraser.

Bell produced a stunning volley on 81 minutes which flew agonisingly wide of the target in Diamonds best spell of the entire game.

But this tie was put beyond doubt with six minutes remaining as Reinier Moor, with his first touch of the game, slotted a ball past Sollitt after some sloppy Diamonds defending.

Diamonds huffed and puffed in the closing stages but they were unable to find a way through in this sloppy performance that never warranted a place in the prestigious Third Round.

After 90 minutes: Exeter 3 Diamonds 1

Exeter City: Fraser, Walker, Ampadu (Lock 76), Hiley, Gaia, Pilkington, Pettefer, Coppinger (Moor 83), Flack, Roscoe, McConnell.

Subs not used: Rice, Breslan, Power.

Bookings: Walker (43)

Diamonds: Sollitt, Underwood, Peters, Wardley, Gray, Bignot, Mills, Duffy (Darby h/t), Hall (Bell 48), Dempster, Lowe.

Subs not used: Naylor, Setchell, Talbot

Booking: Underwood (58), Darby (62), Dempster (66)

Referee: Mr J Ross

Attendance: 2,277

Diamonds’ MOTM: Stuart Wardley (The best of a bad bunch)

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