Rushden & Diamonds 1 Hartlepool 1

By Steven Dove

Rushden & Diamonds are going up as champions of the Third Division in an amazing, exciting and nerve-wracking game against Hartlepool which saw Paul Hall grab the vital goal for the home-side.

Chris Westwood grabbed a late goal for Hartlepool to deliver some nail-biting moments for Diamonds but they game ended with Brian’s side lifting the silverware in glorious fashion.

There were scenes of celebrations at the final whistle that will live long in the memories of Diamonds fans as a hard working season finished in style.

Diamonds boss Brian Talbot went into this title decider by recalling Onandi Lowe to the starting line-up. The Jamaican international was on the bench at Leyton Orient and replaced Dean Holdsworth.

Adam Sollitt was placed on the bench as cover for Billy Turley with no place in the squad for Gary Mills, Robert Duffy and Mark Peters.

Hartlepool went into the match with a fully fit squad. Mark Tinkler and former Sheffield Wednesday striker Ritchie Humphrey’s was included in the starting line-up.

Diamonds started the stronger of the two sides with midfielder David Bell and Lowe both having early chances to make the vital breakthrough.

Hartlepool, who knew that they had to win today’s game to secure the championship, threatened on occasions and on seven minutes, Tinkler had a weak effort, which was dealt with by Turley.

The first notable effort of the game arrived on 13 minutes when Underwood’s free-kick with headed over the bar by the rising Lowe.

After 15 minutes: Diamonds 0 Hartlepool 0

Bell’s goal bound effort on 17 minutes was crucial blocked by Tinkler as Diamonds continued to enjoy the majority of the early possession.

Andy Burgess’ screamer flew inches over the Hartlepool crossbar moment later as Diamonds continued to dominate early proceedings.

The game was being controlled by Diamonds and Darby was causing problems for the Hartlepool’s defence.

Marcus Bignot tested Hartlepool goalkeeper Anthony Williams on 26 minutes with the Diamonds defence seeing his shot pushed away by the visiting shot-stopper.

Darby’s chip from outside the area caused few problems for Williams but the deadlock was broken shortly after some neat passing play brought a vital goal for Hall.

The Jamaican international poked home from close range after some delightful passing play involving Stuart Gray and Burgess. The final ball delivered from Bignot after some good hold up play from Darby was inch perfect for Hall to steer the ball home.

After 30 minutes: Diamonds 1 Hartlepool United 0

Gray was gifted a golden opportunity to double Diamonds’ advantage but a vital tackle from Michael Barron denied the former Celtic midfielder an obvious goal scoring opportunity.

With Hartlepool now needing to score twice, it was surprising that the visitors continued to struggle and find a way through the solid Diamonds defence.

There were concerns for Lowe on 41 minutes when an awful tackle from Graeme Lee floored the striker. However, the Jamaican international refused to leave the field and continued.

Lowe let fly on 44 minutes with a long range effort but at the half-time whistle there could be no complaints that Diamonds didn’t deserve their interval lead.

AT HALF TIME: DIAMONDS 1 HARTLEPOOL 0

The second half started in similar vain to how the first period ended, with Diamonds in total control. Hall had an early chance to get a second goal but it trickled wide of the goal.

Turley was called into action on 47 minutes when he had to prevent Eifion Williams from getting on the score sheet with a vital save.

Moments later, Williams tested Turley again as Hartlepool began to find their feet and were looking promising in the opening stages of the second half.

Hartlepool had come out with a different attitude in the second-half and Tinkler’s long drive flew straight into the arms of Turley.

Lowe’s header on 53 minutes was deflected for a corner as Diamonds went in search for a second goal that would surely capture the silverware.

Humphrey’s struck a low drive for the visitors on 55 minutes, which Turley held onto with the visitors enjoying their best spell of the game.

After 60 minutes: Diamonds 1 Hartlepool 0

Diamonds thought they should have been awarded a penalty on 62 minutes when Lowe went tumbling down in the penalty area but the striker was only shown a yellow card for diving.

Hartlepool substitute Kevin Henderson through he should have got his side back on level terms on 67 minutes but the referee ruled the goal out for an infringement on Turley.

Barron had a chance to put Hartlepool back in the game but he wasted a glorious opportunity by blasting wide of the target from 25-yards.

Darby’s hard work was causing Hartlepool all kinds of problem and he could have nicked a goal on 74 minutes but fired wide.

The Peter De Banke Terrace thought Lowe had doubled Diamonds advantage but a vital stop from Barron kept the scores at just 1-0 in the home-sides favour.

After 75 minutes: Diamonds 1 Hartlepool 0

With time running out, Hartlepool kept pushing bodies forward and with the threat of not finishing up, the visitors were desperate to get a goal that would secure second place.

Darby saw a shot blocked on 81 minutes in this fast and furious encounter in a rare effort for Diamonds in the second-half.

Hartlepool kept the pressure on Diamonds and Tinkler had a chance on 85 minutes but saw his shot fizz past Turley’s post.

Turley’s fingertip save from Lee’s shot resulted in Diamonds conceding a corner on 89 minutes and that gave Hartlepool a lifeline with Chris Westwood heading home.

But Diamonds held on nervously as the scenes of the final whistle was of relief and celebration. WE’RE GOING UP AS CHAMPIONS – JUST.

Diamonds: Turley, Underwood, Hunter, Edwards, Darby, Burgess, Gray, Bignot, Bell, Hall, Lowe.

Subs not used: Holdsworth, Sollitt, Talbot, Sambrook, Dempster.

Bookings: Lowe (63), Burgess (75)

Hartlepool: Williams, Robinson, Barron, Lee, Westwood, Tinkler, Humphreys, Williams, Watson (Henderson 45), Clarke (Easter 77), Smith.

Subs not used: Arnison, Widdrington, Provett.

Bookings: Lee (41)

Referee: Mr L.E Cable

Attendance:6,291

Diamonds’ MOTM: The team (they all bloody deserved it)

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