Oxford United 3 Rushden & Diamonds 0

By Steven Dove
Rushden & Diamonds slipped to their first defeat of 2003 following a below par performance at the hands of promotion-chasing Oxford United at the Kassam Stadium.

It was the club’s first away league defeat since September and Diamonds could have no complaints after an Andy Crosby penalty and a brace from Dave Savage settled the difference between the two clubs.

It was an unchanged side from the one that thrashed Cambridge United last week for manager Brian Talbot ahead of the game meaning Andy Burgess and Andrew Sambrook kept their spots in midfield.

Paul Hall, scorer of four goals in the last two games, was again named as a striker, partnering Onandi Lowe whilst David Bell kept his spot on the right flank.

Gary Mills, who was rated doubtful prior to kick-off because of a hamstring injury, was named amongst the substitutes whilst Robert Duffy was also on the bench after completing his one match suspension.

Oxford boss Ian Atkins introduced Christian Edwards to the starting line-up for his home debut whilst Steve Basham, scorer of two goals in the last three games, continued in attack.

It was the home side that started this contest sharper and after a mix up in the centre of Diamonds’ defence Matthew Robinson nearly capitalised with a floating effort, which dipped over Billy Turley’s goal.

But Diamonds soaked up much of the home-side’s early pressure and nearly took the advantage when Lowe drilled an effort straight at the feet of Oxford goalkeeper Andy Woodman on seven minutes.

Oxford continued to bombard the visitor’s goalmouth and moment later James Hunt struck a free-kick which would have certainly tested Turley had the Diamonds wall not stood firm.

After 15 minutes: Oxford 0 Diamonds 0

On 16 minutes, Andy Scott’s cross from the left flank nearly put the Diamonds defence under pressure but Basham’s header was comfortably dealt with by Turley.

Few chances were now being created in this see-saw battle although the home side continued to look more dangerous on the break and put the Diamonds defence under pressure.

After 30 minutes: Oxford 0 Diamonds 0 

Lowe was booked on 31 minutes after scuffling inside the penalty area with Crosby whilst waiting for a corner. The resulting booking means the Jamaican will serve a suspension.

Scott tried his luck from long range on 36 minutes in one of few chances for either side. Hall also had a good effort for Diamonds moments later but saw his shot fly wide of the target.

Bell was beginning to threat down the right flank for Diamonds and it was his clever cross on 40 minutes, which nearly gave Lowe a sniff at the Oxford goal.

But despite the bight opening to the game, this disappointing half was brought to an end with neither side able to find the net although Basham saw a good effort float over Turley’s goal.

HALF TIME: OXFORD 0 DIAMONDS 0

Oxford came out for the second half rejuvenated and had the perfect opportunity to open the scoring when the referee pointed to the spot after Barry Hunter was adjudged to have brought down Basham.

Crosby made no mistake from the spot when he sent Turley diving the wrong way from 12-yards to open the scoring and set up a hard battle for the visitors.

Hall should have done better for Diamonds on 53 minutes when he picked up a short ball from Stuart Gray only to fire wide of the target.

After 60 minutes: Oxford 1 Diamonds 0

The home side continued to play tidy football, and it was them who were looking more likely to grab the next goal. And Roy Hunter nearly found it on 63 minutes when his volley crashed against the crossbar.

Diamonds attacks were rare and it was Hall who was creating opportunities for the visitors but the Jamaican midfielder couldn’t find a way past Woodman, who was enjoying a quiet afternoon.

Gary Setchell was introduced into the action on 71 minutes as Talbot gambled by pushing Paul Underwood into a more attacking position with Hall and Duffy, who had earlier replaced Lowe.

After 75 minutes: Oxford 1 Diamonds 0

Diamonds started to throw plenty of bodies forward and Underwood should have fired a shot on goal but wasted time and was foiled by an Oxford defender who made a vital block.

Gray struck a low drive on 81 minutes which was heading goal bound by Woodman dived low to make an important stop.

But with minutes remaining, Diamonds slipped further behind when Basham got down the flank to deliver an inch perfect cross for Savage to head home from close range.

A third was added for Oxford moments later when Savage tucked the ball home from close range to seal a miserable afternoon for the Diamonds.

FULL TIME: OXFORD 3 DIAMONDS 0

Oxford United: Woodman, McNiven, Robinson, Savage, Hunt, Edwards, Basham, Hunter, Scott (Louis 90), Bound, Crosby.

Subs not used: Whitehead, Oldfield, Steele, Hackett

Bookings: Crosby (31), McNiven (58)

Diamonds: Turley, Underwood, Hunter, Peters, Burgess, Gray, Bignot, Bell (Setchell 71), Sambrook, Hall, Lowe (Duffy 65).

Subs not used: Mills, Talbot, Dempster.

Bookings: Lowe (31)

Referee: Mr P Crossley

Attendance: 6,508 (928 from Diamonds)

Diamonds’ MOTM: Stuart Gray (Enjoyed a good game)

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