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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