Hartlepool 2 Rushden & Diamonds 1

By Steven Dove

Hartlepool’s 14-month unbeaten home record could have been in some jeopardy but for a controversial performance by the match referee which dented Diamonds hopes of taking something from Victoria Park.

A harsh penalty decision combined with a dubious second yellow card shown to Paul Hall from Premiership official Mr Foy were two major decisions which went against Diamonds.

There was little to separate Diamonds from their title rivals last season but just as the visitors started to get back into a tightly fought affair, Hall was shown a second yellow card for a challenge on Matty Robson.

The controversial incident occurred before Gavin Strachan smashed home his fifth goal of the season from the penalty spot after John Dempster had deemed to handle in the area.

Hartlepool’s opening goal also was frustrating from a Diamonds prospective. It seemed as if Dempster knew little about a goal bound effort from Hartlepool striker Eifion Williams.

Rodney Jack had brought Diamonds back on level terms on 57 minutes when he headed home Marcus Bignot’s cross, which lopped over Hartlepool goalkeeper Jim Provett.

However, this was never going to be Diamonds’ day as Hartlepool’s winning goal also had some good fortune about it. Chris Westwood’s wayward effort took a deflection and it kindly fell into the path of Jack Wilkinson who smashed home from close-range for his first senior goal.

Jamie Ashdown and Trevor Benjamin were both handed their Diamonds debut following their loan moves to Nene Park this week whilst Dempster was drafted into the starting line-up at the expense of the injured Andrew Edwards.

Ritchie Hanlon partnered Gary Mills in the centre of midfield with Andy Burgess having to settle for a place amongst the substitutes.

Hartlepool boss Neale Cooper handed Darren Craddock and Wilkinson their first senior starts for the club as captain Michael Barron was dropped amongst the substitutes.

Hartlepool, whose last home defeat was at the hands of Diamonds last season, nearly made the perfect start to proceedings but Wilkinson’s early goal was ruled out for offside.

Diamonds were under a considerable amount of pressure in the early stages of the game but certainly had their own chances to take the lead. Jack turned on the edge of the Hartlepool area on nine minutes to see a shot saved by Provett whilst Benjamin should have opened his account moments later with a free header.

Hartlepool, who were convincing 4-0 winners over non-league Whitby Town in the FA Cup last week, continued to threaten the Diamonds goal and Chris Westwood’s free header from Strachan’s corner should have tested Ashdown on 23 minutes.

The referee continued to frustrate the near 5,000 crowd inside Victoria Park as Westwood and Hall picked up yellow cards before Hanlon nearly sent a fierce volley wide of the target.

However, Hartlepool opened the scoring on 38 minutes through Strachan’s penalty. Ashdown, keen to make an impression on his debut for Diamonds, guessed the right way but was unable to meet the Hartlepool midfielders side-footed shot.

Although Diamonds had created little in the first-half, when chances did arrive they were good openings and Jack should have brought Diamonds back on level terms when he latched onto a long kick from Ashdown only to see his effort bounce back off the crossbar.

Diamonds only had to wait just over ten minutes at the start of the second-half to get themselves back on level terms when Jack was all alone in the Hartlepool penalty area to head over Provett from Bignot’s pinpoint cross.

The controversial moment of the game came on 67 minutes when Hall was dismissed for a second yellow card. The Jamaican’s challenge on Robson probably warranted a free-kick but a booking seemed harsh, much to the frustration of the Diamonds bench.

Diamonds held their own as Hartlepool pushed forward looking to take advantage of the visitor’s misfortune.

However, Wilkinson’s first goal on his senior debut arrived on 74 minutes and although the young striker deserved something from his hard working performance it was a little harsh on Diamonds.

Hartlepool had chances to extend their lead but were outdone by some fantastic goalkeeping from Ashdown. The on-loan Reading goalkeeper displayed why he is so highly rated at the Madjeski Stadium first denying Darrell Clarke and then producing an outstanding stop from Williams.

Hartlepool: Provett, Craddock, Nelson, Robson, Westwood, Clarke, Strachan, Tinkler (Sweeney 82), Humphreys, Wilkinson, Williams.

Subs not used: Barron, Richardson, Robinson, Konstantopoulos.

Bookings: Westwood (30), Strachan (41), Tinkler (65)

Diamonds: Ashdown, Bignot, Underwood, Mills, Hunter, Hanlon (Burgess 52), Jack, Benjamin, Gray, Dempster, Hall.

Subs not used: Sambrook, Bell, Talbot, Okounghae

Bookings: Hall (32, 67), Benjamin (55)

Sent-off: Hall (67)

Referee: Mr C Foy

Attendance: 4,944 (205 from Rushden)

Diamonds’ MOTM: Barry Hunter

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