Southend United 2 Rushden & Diamonds 1

By Steven Dove

After conceding two early goals, Rushden & Diamonds somehow failed to leave Roots Hall with maximum points despite clawing their way back into the contest through a Barry Hunter goal and dominating the second half.

Diamonds conceded two goals as early as six minutes and were left with an uphill struggle. However, despite threatening to do damage in the second half they just couldn’t put the ball in the back of the net.

Diamonds boss Brian Talbot made one change to his starting line-up from the 2-2 draw against Darlington a fortnight ago. Mark Peters was dropped onto the substitute bench and replaced by John Dempster.

Duane Darby, who has been out of action for six weeks, returned on the bench meaning Paul Hall and Tony Battersby started in attack with Onandi Lowe still missing through suspension.

Daniel Talbot’s ankle injury sustained during a training session on Friday afternoon meant Gary Setchell was named amongst the substitutes, which still was short of a goalkeeper.

Southend United boss Rob Newman was able to name the same starting eleven from last week’s defeat against Wrexham, which included former Diamond striker Mark Rawle.

When the game eventually got going, after a 15-minute delay because of road works, it was the home side that began brighter when Kevin Maher shot straight at Billy Turley.

But the deadlock was soon broken when Rawle broke the offside trap on five minutes to nutmeg Turley and roll the ball past the Diamonds goalkeeper for an early lead.

And things went from bad to worse for Diamonds when, after Hunter failed to clear his lines, Damon Searle fired a beautiful effort from 30-yards into the corner of Turley’s net.

Diamonds had hardly settled into this encounter as Southend continued to press forward and on 11 minutes the home side thought they should have been rewarded a penalty when Dominic Foley tumbled in the area from Marcus Bignot’s challenge.

After 15 minutes: Southend United 2 Diamonds 0

Diamonds thought they should have been awarded a penalty themselves when Hall was sent tumbling in the area by Southend goalkeeper Darryl Flahavan. However, the referee adjudged the Diamonds midfielder to have dived in the area and was subsequently booked.

Diamonds’ first notable effort arrived on 23 minutes when David Bell cut in from the right flank to fire a low effort that was comfortably saved by Flahavan.

Diamonds best effort arrived on 28 minutes when Bell tried his luck from a 25-yard free-kick, which was acrobatically tipped over the crossbar from Flahavan.

After 30 minutes: Southend United 2 Diamonds 0

A tactical change on 36 minutes saw Andy Burgess replace Gary Mills in the heart of the Diamonds midfield as Brian tried a more attacking look to his side.

And the change brought about an immediate change in fortune when, moments later, a Stuart Gray free kick found the head of Stuart Wardley to enable Hunter to bundle the ball from close range.

Diamonds pushed forward in the closing stages of the first half but couldn’t go on level terms despite a late effort from Hall which flew wide of the Southend United goal and a Paul Underwood effort that fizzed over the crossbar.

AT HALF TIME: SOUTHEND UTD 2 DIAMONDS 1

Darby was introduced to the action at half-time, replacing, surprisingly, Bell, who had looked impressive. It meant Hall moved to his normal right midfield position.

Burgess tried his luck two minutes after the restart as Diamonds began the half positively but the midfielder saw his effort go straight into the arms of Flahavan.

Battersby fired over the crossbar on 51 minutes when, maybe, the former Lincoln City striker should have found the target from inside the penalty area.

Jay Smith’s first time shot on 56 minutes nearly caught Turley unaware but the Diamonds goalkeeper managed to scramble across his goal to gather comfortably.

On 58 minutes, Darby thought he should have been awarded a penalty when he believed he was tackled from behind. However, the referee waved away the protest and awarded a goal kick.

After 60 minutes: Southend United 2 Diamonds 1

Underwood’s curling free-kick on 61 minutes went inches over the crossbar as Diamonds continued to push forward looking for that important goal.

On 65 minutes Rawle went close with a header as Southend began to get into this contest. It was the best effort from the home side in the second half.

Diamonds continued to throw bodies forward and although they were controlling most of the possession, the visitors couldn’t find a way through.

After 75 minutes: Southend United 2 Diamonds 1

Foley should have sealed victory for Southend on 76 minutes when Maher robbed Burgess in the centre of the field but the on-loan Watford man scuffed his effort as he watched the ball roll wide.

Diamonds were still controlling this game but somehow they had not found the net. Rawle was given a good opportunity to wrap up the game but Gray made a vital tackle.

AT FULL TIME: SOUTHEND UNITED 2 DIAMONDS 1

 

Southend: Flahavan, Sutch, Cort, Kelly, Searle, Marney, Maher, Smith (Thurgood 79), Clark (Beard 74), Foley, Rawle.

Subs not used: Gay, Salter, Jordan.

Bookings: Maher (60)

Diamonds: Turley, Underwood, Hunter, Dempster (Peters 78), Bignot, Gray, Wardley, Mills (Burgess 36), Bell (Darby h/t), Battersby, Hall.

Subs not used: Setchell, Sambrook.

Bookings: Hall (18), Bignot (54), Underwood (84), Gray (87)

Referee: Mr Clive Penton

Attendance: 6,543 (430 from Diamonds)

Diamonds’ MOTM: Paul Underwood

Darlington 2 Rushden & Diamonds 2

By Steven Dove

The promotion bandwagon remains firmly on the tracks as Rushden & Diamonds displayed all the qualities needed to come from behind on two occasion to snatch a deserved point against Darlington.

In front of only 2,742 supporters, one of the lowest attendance’s of the season at Feethams, Diamonds kept their heads held high and battled back when it looked as if Darlington may run away with the game in the second half.

But in actual fact, Brian Talbot’s side may have been disappointed not to have been returning to Northamptonshire with all three points when two good chances at the death went begging.

Neil Wainwright opened the scoring for Darlington in the 51st minute but Stuart Gray’s spot kick levelled the match before the home-sides support had a chance of finishing their song and dance in the terrace.

But when Ian Clarke restored Darlington’s lead on 67 minutes it looked as if the home side would pick up only their second win in eight league attempts, which would have certainly pulled them clear of the relegation zone.

However, Darlington haven’t had much luck in keeping winning leads and Paul Hall became the Diamonds hero for the second week running when he fired a shot on the turn with seven minutes remaining.

Brian handed Tony Battersby his club debut after agreeing to play on a non-contract basis for the club following his two impressive games for the reserves over recent weeks.

And the former Lincoln and Boston striker nearly helped Diamonds take the lead after only 15 seconds when he headed a ball into the path of Gary Mills, who burst through into the Darlington penalty area only to see Andy Collett pull off a fantastic save.

Diamonds had certainly begun the game brightly and Gray whistled a shot from 30-yards wide of the Darlington goal. It certainly should have been a dream start for the visitors.

Darlington responded and quickly settled into their stride when Simon Betts collected a ball from Neil Wainwright to send a shot over Billy Turley’s goal and into the deserted terrace.

But the visitors’ best chance of game never arrived until 29 minutes when Ashley Nicholls spun past two Diamonds defenders to fire an effort straight into Turley’s arms.

The visitors continued to have the majority of the possession and Paul Underwood, who had drifted up field, was somewhat unfortunate when he saw shot go straight into Collett’s arms.

However, the second half began disastrous as Darlington, who had certainly started brighter than Diamonds, opened the scoring when, after some poor defending, Richard Hodgson tapped home from close range.

It certainly sparked up a dour atmosphere at Feethams but that change of spirit never lasted long when Diamonds quickly responded.

On 55 minutes, the Darlington defence couldn’t clear their lines and when Battersby tried to flick the ball over Gary Pearson’s head, the match referee deemed that the defender had used his hand. Gray made no mistake from the spot.

Wainwright, Nicholls and the ineffective Barry Conlon all tried their lucks as the match drifted on and at one point it seemed as if it wouldn’t be Darlington’s day.

But that was until a lapse in concentration in the Diamonds defence proved costly. Clark Keltie’s perfectly weighted ball found Ian Clark on 67 minutes who had time, space and accuracy to guide the ball past Turley and into the corner of the net.

With the clock ticking it seemed as if Diamonds’ efforts were not going to be rewarded until Hall’s turn and shot, just moments after Stuart Wardley had seen a header hit the post, found the back of the net with seven minutes remaining.

Maybe Diamonds should have stolen the match on 86 minutes when, in quick succession, John Dempster, who had replaced Mark Peters midway through the second half, saw a header cleared off the line and David Bell squandered a chance from close range.

However, maybe it would have been injustices if Diamonds had nicked a winner when Darlington had put their visitors under the cosh for much of the second half.

Darlington: Collett, Valentine, Betts, Liddle, Pearson, Clark, Conlon, Hodgson, Wainwright, Keltie, Nicholls.

Subs not used: Ford, Campbell, Sheeran, McGurk, Porter.

Bookings:

Diamonds: Turley, Underwood, Hunter, Peters (Dempster 73), Wardley, Gray (Burgess 73), Bignot, Mills, Bell, Hall, Battersby.

Subs not used: Talbot, Sambrook, Duffy.

Bookings: Wardley (90)

Referee: Mr S Baines

Attendance: 2,742

Diamonds’ MOTM: David Bell (Showed touches of sheer class)

Rushden & Diamonds 1 Swansea City 1

By Steven Dove

A strangely subdued Rushden & Diamonds outfit managed to grind out a point against basement boys Swansea City thanks to Paul Hall’s second half glancing header.

The Jamaican international midfielder pounced on 70 minutes to cancel out a strike from Kevin Nugent, which had threatened to take all three points back to Swansea.

Diamonds boss Brian Talbot recalled Scott Partridge to the starting line-up following his impressive loan spell at Exeter City. The striker hasn’t scored for the club since December 2001.

Andrew Sambrook made way for Gary Mills, who was recalled into the side following his hamstring injury. Andy Burgess kept his place in midfield whilst Hall switched to the right.

Stuart Wardley was recalled to the substitute bench following his back injury that has forced him to miss the last two encounters. David Bell, a regular in the first eleven, was also amongst the substitutes.

Swansea City, who were in desperate need of the points ahead of the game in their battle to avoid relegation, included new signing Roberto Martinez, who had signed for the club during the week.

Diamonds carved open the first opportunity of the game when Burgess picked up the ball from 30-yards to fire an effort over Roger Freestone’s crossbar.

But it was the visitors who started the game brighter. Martinez was looking bright down the flank and although Turley hadn’t been tested it was a good opening.

Lowe fired a header straight into the arms of Freestone on six minutes as Diamonds struggled to find any openings.

Diamonds thought they should have been awarded a penalty on eight minutes when Jason Smith hauled down Lowe inside the box. But the referee waved away the protest and signalled for a corner.

Swansea’s attacks were rare but on ten minutes Kevin Nugent flashed a cross across the face of the box, which nearly saw Jason Thomas guide the ball into the Diamonds goal.

After 15 minutes: Diamonds 0 Swansea City 0

But despite all the early pressure from Diamonds, it was the visitors who took a 15 minute lead when Leon Britton’s cross was met in the penalty area by Nugent, guiding the ball past Billy Turley.

Diamonds nearly fell further behind on 20 minutes when Lenny Johnrose capitalised on a mistake from Marcus Bignot only for the Swansea striker to be denied by Turley.

The home side should have got themselves back on level terms on 24 minutes when Lowe, somehow, managed to miss the target from six-yards, slicing an effort straight to a Swansea defender.

The visitors thought they doubled their advantage when Nugent stuck the ball in the back of the net for the second time in the game. But the referee adjudged that the nippy striker impeded Mark Peters.

After 30 minutes: Diamonds 0 Swansea City 1

Gray’s right-footed volley on 30 minutes flew over Freestone’s crossbar as Diamonds continued to struggle and break down a resilient Swansea City defence.

Thomas drilled a low effort on 31 minutes inches past the post as Swansea continued to attack the Diamonds goal.

Bignot was gifted a golden opportunity a minute later when he collected a delightful flick from Partridge but the Diamonds defender watched his shot go over the Swansea crossbar.

Lowe thought he had found the net on 41 minutes when his thunderbolt shot whistled past Freestone after he had skipped past three challenges.

But despite threatening to cause danger, Diamonds failed to get on the score sheet meaning their was plenty of work for the home side in the second half.

AT HALF TIME: DIAMONDS 0 SWANSEA CITY 1

Diamonds started strongly in the first half and after Lowe had seen off three Swansea challenges, the Jamaican international saw his shot fly over the Peter De Banke terrace.

But Lowe nearly found the net on 50 minutes when his looping header was heading goal bound until Freestone tipped the strikers effort over the crossbar.

Diamonds were struggling to find any way past the Swansea defence as Freestone continued to enjoy a quiet afternoon.

After 60 minutes: Diamonds 0 Swansea City 1

Michael Howard was unlucky not to have extended Swansea’s lead when his low drive was well held by Turley. It was the visitors who continued to impress in this lacklustre encounter.

However, the game finally sprung back into life when Bignot’s right-wing cross, on 71 minutes, was superbly met by a glancing header from Hall, leaving Freestone with no chance.

Lowe tried one of his trademark free-kicks moments later, which looked, at one point, if it would swing into the corner of the net. However, Freestone dived low to make a comfortable save.

After 75 minutes: Diamonds 1 Swansea City 1

Burgess’ dipping shot on 77 minutes nearly found its way into the net but the midfielder was unlucky when it sailed just over the crossbar.

Diamonds continued to attack Swansea’s goal and Hall went close to doubling his tally with a snap-shot that trickled wide of the post.

Wardley tried his luck on 85 minutes when his shot went inches wide of the Swansea goal as time began to run out.

But despite throwing bodies forward in the closing stages, Diamonds couldn’t find a way through and it was the visitors who left Nene Park far the happier side.

AT FULL TIME: DIAMONDS 1 SWANSEA CITY 1

Diamonds: Turley, Underwood, Hunter, Peters, Partridge (Bell 60), Burgess (Wardley 79), Gray, Bignot, Mills, Hall, Lowe.

Subs not used: Talbot, Duffy, Dempster.

Bookings: Bignot (22), Mills (68)

Swansea: Freestone, Smith, Thomas (Watkin 88), Tate, Nugent, Evans, Williams (Durkan 55), Howard (O’Leary 81), Johnrose, Martinez, Britton.

Subs not used: Mumford, Richards.

Bookings:

Attendance: 4,046

Referee: Mr M Ryan

Diamonds’ MOTM: Onandi Lowe (Worked hard throughout)

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