Northampton Town 1 Rushden & Diamonds 0

Rushden and Diamonds boss Ernie Tippett was forced to make two changes to the starting line-up from the side that played Kidderminster Harriers at the weekend with Rob Gier (groin) and David Bell (knee) both missing.Phil Gulliver made his first league start since signing from Middlesbrough whilst Craig Dove started in a right midfield role.The Cobblers made just one change with the influential playmaker Martin Smith replaced by Eric Sabin.

A near capacity Sixfields crowd created an electrifying atmosphere for this historic, first ever league meeting between the two county rivals.

Diamonds began on the back-foot as the Cobblers forced the pace in the opening exchanges with Josh Low a potent force down the Cobblers right hand side.Low twice managed to hook over deep crosses into the Diamonds area but found his efforts snuffed out on both occasions by ex-Tranmere man Sean Connelly.

The visitors rarely threatened as an attacking force and Billy Turley, who received a barrel of abuse from the Cobblers faithful all night, failed to find the head of the hard working Alex Hay from his free-kick midway inside the Diamonds half on 11 minutes.Moments later a quick throw from the Cobblers saw Graham Allen slip and set Eric Sabin free on the attack for Colin Calderwood’s men.The Frenchman was able to cut inside the Diamonds defence before Peter Hawkins made a timely challenge with Marc Richards free in the area for the Cobblers.

Tempers rarely frayed too greatly but did threaten to ignite when Connelly’s challenge on Richards was met with an off the ball scuffle between midfielders Gary Mills and Betrand Cozic, both escaped punishment from the referee.

Diamonds were desperate to relieve the heavy pressure off their backline but Hay’s cross on 22 minutes was far too heavy and evaded the visiting front line in the Cobblers area.The visitors then forced the first corner of the night but Stuart Gray’s out-swinging kick evaded all Diamonds heads and Cobblers raced away upfield where Sabin and Low combined well bur yet again Connelly was around to clear the danger inside his own area.

Cobblers wasted the best chance of the first half when a mix up in the visiting defence left Richard’s with the goal at his mercy, however he couldn’t lob the ball over Turley from a matter of yards with home fans claiming Turley was holding the striker back.A minute before the break Chris Willmott’s long ball allowed Sabin to chase but Turley was first to the ball.

Cobblers made an equally impressive start to the second period as they did the first but once more failed to test Turley with Low’s free-kick towards the left hand touch line going high over the head of Richards and wide inside the first two minutes.Again the hosts dominated as the Diamonds clung on with visiting fans and home fans wondering just how long Tippett’s men could hold out at the back.

Diamonds almost succumbed to the Cobblers with 65 minutes gone as McGleish flew in a low cross that ripped open the visiting defence only for Richard’s to fail to make a connection when even the slightest touch would have beaten the stranded Turley.Hay’s attempt at the other end in response would have had Diamonds fans blushing as his strike from Gray’s corner came closer to finding the corner flag than Lee Harper’s goal.Gray then tried his luck from distance but his shot from 25 yards was too soft to test Harper between the posts.

Cobblers posed a far greater threat when Richard’s found McGleish but Turley saved well, then moments later, as gaps appeared in the Diamonds defence, Turley answered his Sixfields critics with a brave save at the feet of Sabin when it looked as though the deadlock would finally be broken.Sabin then found Richards who cut inside but failed to pose any threat.

Sabin was rewarded though just moments later when his strike from outside the area curled into the right hand post past the helpless Turley to give the Cobblers a deserved lead with 15 minutes to go and sent the Sixfields faithful wild in appreciation.Tippett’s side desperately looked for a breakthrough and brought on Simeon Jackson to replace Dove on 78 minutes but Cobblers broke quickly again.Star man Sabin raced through but was thwarted by Turley’s save with a second goal always more likely than an equaliser.

Hay snuffed a shot from 25 yards straight into the hands of Harper with 10 minutes remaining, Braniff’s ball then tried to find Jackson in the area but the Cobblers cleared their lines well.At the other end McGleish’s header from Low’s free-kick went narrowly over Turley’s crossbar as the hosts looked to make the game safe and Richards diving header from McGleish’s cross flashed wide deep into stoppage time whilst Low blasted well over,after a neat break.

The hosts didn’t need a second goal though as the strike from Sabin condemned Diamonds to a defeat despite their brave battle. Tippett’s men showed they can defend well when needed but in the last third too often attacks broke down and a much more decisive cutting edge looks to be essential.

Teams:

Northampton Town: Harper, Chambers, Willmott, Murray, Richards, Low, McGleish, Rowson, Cozic (sub Bojic), Sabin (sub Youngs), Galbraith (sub Jaszczun.Subs not used: Bunn, Morison.

Rushden & Diamonds: Turley, Connelly, Hawkins, Mills, Allen, Hay, Gray, Burgess, Braniff, Gulliver, Dove(sub Jackson).Subs: Dempster, Sambrook, Worgan, Kelly.

Bookings: Mills, Turley, Burgess, Low.

Diamonds man of the match: Sean Connelly

Attendance: 7107 (1250 away)

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