April 26, 2003 Leave a comment
By Steven Dove
The championship title will go down to the wire following this 0-0 draw against Leyton Orient as Diamonds did everything but find the back of the net in an excellent team performance.
Hartlepool’s win over Shrewsbury has meant the last game of the season at Nene Park will be a nail-biting encounter as the top two do battle for the coveted prize.
Diamonds enjoyed the majority of the possession but couldn’t get the ball into the back of the net as Orient’s stubborn resistant wore off and done the trick.
Diamonds boss Brian Talbot welcomed back Barry Hunter to his starting line-up as the former Northern Ireland international recovered from a knee injury that kept him out of the recent win over Macclesfield.
That meant John Dempster moved to amongst the substitutes despite his excellent performance on Bank Holiday Monday. David Bell kept his place in midfield with Stuart Wardley and Gary Mills remaining on the sidelines.
Jamaican international Onandi Lowe was back in the Diamonds squad but had to settle for a place on the bench. The striker returned to Nene Park on Friday afternoon after flying to his home country for personal reasons but it was Duane Darby and Dean Holdsworth who started in attack.
Orient boss Paul Brush made two changes to his staring line-up. Ciaran Toner and Chris Tate were recalled to the starting line-up as Lee Thorpe and John Martin had to settle for a place on the bench.
Diamonds made a bight start to the game and nearly opened the scoring in spectacular fashion when Stuart Gray’s fierce volley flew inches past the Orient goal.
But within a few minutes, Orient had their chance to open the scoring. A long throw from Justin Miller was eloquently flicked on by Chris Tate who witnessed the ball fly inches over the Diamonds crossbar.
Diamonds, who were attacking the goal behind the thousands of travelling fans, remained impressive and Holdsworth continued to cause havoc for the Orient defence with aerial ability.
On 11 minutes, Paul Hall broke clear of the Orient defence to fire a shot but the Diamonds midfielder was denied by a flying one handed save from Orient keeper Glenn Morris.
Encouraged by the buoyant Diamonds fans, the visitors looked strong on the attack and on 14 minutes Darby was gifted his first opportunity which was spooned wide of the target.
After 15 minutes: Orient 0 Diamonds 0
A delightful cross-field ball by Burgess on 16 minutes was picked up by Gray whose pinpoint cross for Darby saw the Diamonds striker head over the Orient crossbar.
Burgess, whose display in the heart of the Diamonds midfield was noticeable, curled a breathtaking shot on 20 minutes which left Morris stranded but the Orient goalkeeper was relieved to see the shot go the wrong side of the post.
Orient’s attacks were rare but Tate’s went close to causing Diamonds trouble when he nearly connected with a right-wing cross from Matthew Joseph on 21 minutes.
Orient best chance of the game fell to Matthew Brazier on 27 minutes when the midfielder was denied by the onrushing Turley from six-yards.
After 30 minutes: Orient 0 Diamonds 0
A goalmouth scramble, which involved Darby and Gray both having efforts on goal, resulted in some nervy moments for Orient as Diamonds’ attacking play continued to look positive.
The first goal of the game should have arrived for Diamonds on 40 minutes. And it was skipper Paul Underwood who should have broken the deadlock when he blasted over from six-yard.
News began to flitter through that Hartlepool had taken the lead over Shrewsbury but, to their credit, Diamonds continued to push forward in the closing stages of the first half.
Gray had an opportunity in added time but despite enjoying the majority of the possession, Diamonds had to settle for going in all-square at the half-time whistle.
AT HALF TIME: ORIENT 0 DIAMONDS 0
Diamonds nearly made an immediate impact in the second-half when after only 46 seconds, Bell’s fierce free kick struck the Orient wall.
The visitors continued to enjoy more of the early possession and on 50 minutes Marcus Bignot tested Morris with a long bouncing ball that nearly deceived the Orient goalkeeper.
Diamonds’ passing game, at times, was outstanding but it was the finally delivery that was sometimes the downfall as the visitors continued to impress.
On 59 minutes, Lowe was introduced to the action, replacing the unfortunate Holdsworth, who had worked his socks off all afternoon.
After 60 minutes: Orient 0 Diamonds 0
Toner struck a rare effort for Orient on 61 minutes wide of Turley’s goal as the home side struggled to find a way past the Diamonds defence.
The Diamonds bench were out of their seats on 63 minutes when a quick free-kick from Darby released Bell. As the youngster burst into the Orient penalty area the onrushing Toner denied the midfielder cutting the ball back for the waiting Lowe, who would certainly stuck the ball home.
Moments later, Bell was gifted a golden opportunity when he found himself all alone in the Orient penalty area after Lowe had squared the ball across the face of the box. However, the midfielder struggled to get the ball from underneath his feet and a tame shot meant an easy save Morris.
After 75 minutes: Orient 0 Diamonds 0
Orient began to enjoy their best spell of the game as they looked to spoil the championship party. On 78 minutes, Tate caused concern for Diamonds with a shot that flew inches wide.
Diamonds continued to throw bodies forward and a bizarre header from Lowe on 83 minutes brought out a fantastic reflex save from Morris.
With news coming through that Hartlepool seemed set to pick up all three points, Diamonds threw caution to the wind with extra bodies being deployed in attack.
It was Orient finishing the game stronger and a Andy Harris long range shot nearly caught Turley off guard.
But Diamonds could off sealed the championship in glorious style in the closing stages but Darby somehow couldn’t scramble the ball home from close range.
Orient: Morris, Joseph, Lockwood, Heald, Toner, Brazier (Fletcher 65), Purser, Tate, Alexander, Turner, Miller (Harris 68).
Subs not used: Harrison, Thorpe, Martin.
Diamonds: Turley, Underwood, Hunter, Edwards, Holdsworth (Lowe 59), Darby, Burgess, Gray, Bignot, Bell, Hall.
Subs not used: Talbot, Sambrook, Duffy, Dempster
Bookings: Edwards (17)
Referee: Mr Phil Prosser (West Yorkshire)
Attendance: 5,180 (1,240 from Diamonds)
Diamonds MOTM: Stuart Gray (Non stop work rate)