Rushden & Diamonds 0 Port Vale 2

Match report by Chris Barritt

Diamonds were relegated for the first time in their history thanks to two well taken goals from Steve McPhee at Nene Park 

The home side produced their best performance in a long time but failed to hit the net for the fourth consecutive game as Vale’s leading scorer struck in the 13th minute and again in second half injury time with a neat lob. The visitors also struck the woodwork four times.

Diamonds kept the side that went down 2 – 0 at Colchester last weekend while McPhee and Steve Brooker shook off niggling injuries to enable Vale to name an unchanged team after beating Tranmere 2 – 1. Both teams needed to win for very different reasons with Vale looking to reach the play – offs and Diamonds trying to avoid relegation. However, each side knew that victory itself would not guarantee their target unless other results went their way.

Diamonds enjoyed the first attack with David Bell running onto a long ball before hitting a long range shot which swerved just over the bar. Four minutes later, Paul Kitson latched onto Andy Burgess’ free kick and struck a half volley which Jonathan Brian saved at the second attempt.

At the other end, Andy Edwards produced a superb saving tackle to deny Brooker as the striker shaped to shoot. However, on 13 minutes, Diamonds went behind to a clinical strike from McPhee. The striker beat the offside trap as he latched onto Michael Cummins long ball  and coolly drew Billy Turley before slotting the ball home.

Diamonds faced an uphill task from thereon but stuck to their task manfully. Barry Hunter and Leo Roget were sent up-field on a regular basis and on one just occasion on 19 minutes, Hunter glanced a header wide from Bell’s cross.

Seven minutes later, there were loud appeals for a penalty when Burgess appeared to be pushed off the ball by Steve Rowland as he raced into the Port Vale penalty area. Referee Armstrong waived play on.

Burgess was always in the thick of things and continually showed the skills that make him such a talented footballer. On 35 minutes, he tried his luck with a 20 yard shot that flew wide.

Diamonds were enjoying more of the possession but it was the visitors who were creating more clear cut chances. McPhee saw a shot beaten away by Turley who was then left helpless as Brooker’s 42nd minute shot hit the inside of the left hand post before running behind Turley and away from safety. On the stroke of half-time, Richie Hanlon teed up a 35 yard pile driver which dipped just over the bar.

Three minutes into the second half, Port Vale hit the woodwork again. This time Marc Bridge – Wilkinson cut in from the left before bending his effort round Turley and onto the far post.

The game swung from end to end and Hanlon saw a 35yard strike touched round the post by Brian. On 62 minutes, Stuart Gray misses a glorious chance to level the scores. Bell’s cross fell nicely to the Diamonds captain but his volley went over the bar.

Diamonds sent on Owen Story in place of Edwards and changed their formation to 3 – 4 -3 leaving Hunter, Roget and Burgess in defence while Bell played just behind the front two

With virtually his first touch, Story set up Gray but he miskicked from 12 yards and then after Hunter headed down from Bell’s corner, Marcus Kelly blazed over.

Diamonds were throwing everything at the visitors as they battled to retain their Second Division status and Paul Kitson glanced a free header wide. However, it was the visitors who finished the stronger. McPhee ran clear of the Diamonds defence but couldn’t believe it when his shot came back off the inside the post. Unbelievably, the same player hit the woodwork again less than a minute later but had the last laugh in injury time. The striker scored his 26th goal of the season when he ran on to a long ball and produced a delicate lob to beat Turley.

When the final whistle went it was disappointment for both sides. Diamonds knew they were down while Hartlepool’s point at fellow play-off contenders Swindon confirmed Vale’s continued presence in Division Two.  

Diamonds: Turley, Edwards (Story 66), Hunter, Hanlon, Jack, Burgess, Gray, Bell, Kitson, Kelly, Roget

Subs unused: Dempster, Sambrook, Talbot, Okonghue

Bookings: Roget, Hunter

Port Vale: Brian, Pilkington, Collins, Cummins, Brooker (Brisco 83), McPhee, Bridge – Wilkinson, Reid, Rowland, Paynter, James

Subs unused: Delaney, Armstrong, Littlejohn, Burns

Bookings: Pilkington, Paynter

Diamonds MOM: Burgess

Referee:         Mr P.Armstrong

Attendance: 5,240

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