Walsall 1 Rushden & Diamonds 0

RUSHDEN & DIAMONDS were knocked out of the LDV Vans Trophy after failing to convert their chances at the Bescot Stadium against Paul Merson’s Walsall side.

David Bell had a penalty saved by Saddlers keeper Mark Paston just before half-time after referee Carl Boyeson spotted that Alex Hay was being held back inside the box by defender Ian Roper.

Further opportunities went begging for Ernie Tippett’s team who put in another good performance despite being beaten by stand-in skipper Jorge Leitao’s close-range strike on 74 minutes, firing home after Billy Turley could only parry a shot from Matt Fryatt who was released into space by Merson’s vision.

Tippett only made one change after last Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at Swansea City in Coca-Cola League Two with Andrew Sambrook replacing John Dempster who suffered a dead leg in the first half at the Vetch Field. Sambrook was brought into a defensive midfield role for a man-marking job on former England and Arsenal ace Merson.

After just six minutes Kevin Braniff shot narrowly wide and Paston made saves from Craig Dove and Bell. Braniff headed over another chance before Hay and Peter Hawkins picked up bookings inside a two-minute spell.

Bell’s penalty miss came on 39 minutes and that lifted Walsall as Merson and Kris Taylor broke clear for efforts before the break.

Diamonds had claims for another penalty just after the interval when Mark Wright appeared to handle Dove’s cross. But this time Mr Boyseon was not convinced by appeals from the visiting supporters behind that goal.

Hawkins had a good shot which went wide and Braniff blasted over in a counter-attack. Andy Burgess also had a goal disallowed for handball just before he shot into the net from 20 yards but it just seemed like a matter of time until Diamonds would score.

However Leitao finally found the net and Merson hit the crossbar near the end as Diamonds bowed out of this competition in the first round.

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