Rushden & Diamonds 1 Exeter City 0

By Steven Dove

Duane Darby scored the only goal of a scrappy game against basement-boys Exeter City at Nene Park to keep Rushden & Diamonds firmly on-course for promotion.

The striker headed home from close range midway through the second half to secure maximum points. However, Exeter would have felt they should have secured something from this game as they struck the woodwork on two occasions.

Diamonds boss Brian Talbot was forced to make one change to his starting line-up from the one that began proceedings against Rochdale on Monday night.

Stuart Gray returned to the left side of the midfield with David Bell, who had been suffering with sore throat, missing out. Onandi Lowe and Duane Darby were both fit to play and started in attack.

It meant Dean Holdsworth, the surprise deadline day signing, was amongst the substitutes bench and John Dempster was also recalled to the squad.

Exeter boss Gary Peters welcomed back Steve Flack to his starting line-up after serving his two-match suspension. Phil Barker, a deadline day signing from Bangor City, was included on the bench.

The visitors nearly opened the deadlock inside the opening minute when James Coppinger, bursting down the right flank, flashed in a cross only for Kwame Ampadu to fire over the crossbar from close range.

It was an early scare for Diamonds as Exeter, who had slipped to bottom in the Third Division only 24 hours ago following Swansea’s win over Oxford United, looked sharp on the attack.

Lowe sprung to life on six minutes when he acrobatically bicycle-kicked a shot towards goal but it was a comfortable save from Exeter goalkeeper Kevin Miller.

In a scrappy game, Diamonds were edging out the majority of the possession without creating too much and it was little surprise that Exeter were struggling to find a way past the home-sides defence.

After 15 minutes: Diamonds 0 Exeter City 0

The opening 15 minutes saw the game littered with 12 fouls with the football certainly not entertaining to the eye for either sets of managers.

Darby found the target on 21 minutes when he flashed a shot straight into the arms of Miller. Moments later Billy Turley made a comfortable save for Diamonds when Sean Devine guided a header towards goal.

A delightful ball from Andy Burgess put Darby in the clear on 27 minutes. However, after turning past the Exeter defender, Darby took one touch to many and Miller was able to prevent the Diamonds striker from finding the back of the net.

After 30 minutes: Diamonds 0 Exeter City 0

Exeter went close to breaking the deadlock on 38 minutes when Coppinger sent a 25-yard free kick crashing against the crossbar with Turley completely beaten by the pace.

Darby flashed a shot over the crossbar on 40 minutes following a mix-up in the Exeter defence with Diamonds gradually picking up the pace in the closing stages of the half.

Miller produced a breathtaking save on 42 minutes when Lowe’s thunderbolt shot was seemingly creeping into the corner of the net. But the Exeter shot-stopper palmed away the Jamaican’s effort at full stretch.

The Diamonds ended the first-half strongly but they were unable to make any impression and the score line was a fair reflection of the performance.

AT HALF-TIME: DIAMONDS 0 EXETER CITY 0

A mix-up in the Exeter defence nearly gave Diamonds the perfect start to the second-half when, after Paul Hall’s perfect cross from the right flank, Scott Hiley nearly headed into his own net.

The referee was spoiling the chance of the two sides playing decent football with some petty decisions, which was frustrating both sets of players.

Miller made a vital stop on 53 minutes when, after a long ball from Turley, Darby beat the offside trap to run through on goal. However the Diamonds striker saw the Exeter goalkeeper dive low and make an important stop.

But the deadlock was finally broken before the hour mark when Burgess’ corner was flicked on at the near post by Andrew Edwards, which enabled Darby to head home from close range.

After 60 minutes: Diamonds 1 Exeter City 0

Exeter’s attacks were rare but Flack went close with a header, which dipped the wrong side of the Diamonds crossbar.

Flack was soon making his presence felt when he got in between two Diamond defenders only for him to see his shot go over the crossbar from close range.

Holdsworth was introduced into the action on 69 minutes to a standing ovation, replacing Lowe, who also received the applause he deserved for a busy afternoon.

Exeter struck the crossbar for the second occasion on 72 minutes when Devine shot from inside the six-yard penalty area, beating an outstretched Turley.

Holdsworth nearly made a big impact a minute later when he showed his qualities that has made himself a fans favourite at Wimbledon and Bolton to chest down a bouncing ball to drill low and hard at Miller’s goal

After 75 minutes: Diamonds 1 Exeter City 0

Flack was causing problems for the Diamonds defence and on 75 minutes he thumped a header towards goal, which Turley met with a flying save.

Diamond were soon on the back foot and the defence were having to hold firm in the closing stages with Exeter refusing to leave Northamptonshire empty handed.

Holdsworth nearly opened his Diamonds account on 89 minutes but failed to find the target from inside the penalty area. However, Diamonds held on for a vital win and it maintained the pressure on league-leaders Hartlepool United.

AT FULL TIME: DIAMONDS 1 EXETER CITY 0

Diamonds: Turley, Underwood, Hunter, Edwards, Darby (Duffy 87), Burgess, Gray, Bignot, Hall (Mills 83), Lowe (Holdsworth 69).

Subs not used: Sambrook, Dempster.

Bookings: Hunter (77)

Exeter City: Miller, Power, Walker, Curran, Hiley, Ampadu (Cronin 63), Flack, Pettefer (Roscoe 80), Coppinger (Kilheeney 63), Devine, Todd.

Subs not used: Baker, Fraser.

Bookings: Flack (46)

Referee: Mr A Hall.

Attendance: 4,921 (393)

Diamonds’ MOTM: Andrew Edwards (Showed why he has played so many game for Peterborough)

Match Gallery Pictures courtesy of Mal Swinden

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