There will not be many Diamonds fans that walked, heads bowed miserably, out of Sincil Bank this bitterly cold afternoon who will find much sympathy with the famous Jimmy Greaves statement that football is a ‘funny old game’. In fact, from around 16:55, the 4th minute of 4 injury time minutes, and the very same second that Lincoln’s Jamie McCombe powered home a rocket header past Scott Tynan, the travelling 377 were firmly of the opinion that it is one of the cruellest, most sadistic pursuits with which to occupy ones Saturday afternoons.
Until substitute John Turner restored parity in the 81st minute with what looked like one of the weakest shots of the game, most Rushden supporters would gladly have settled for a share of the spoils, indeed that remained the scenario up to the point when fellow sub Simeon Jackson’s volley over Alan Marriott two minutes later sent Diamonds fans wild with joy and abandon. It was just a teaser though, and, as on far too many occasions this season, it was a case of having ones hopes exorbitantly raised only to have them come crashing down round ones feet within moments of the referee thinking about bringing an end to the day’s proceedings. If you have to be cruel to be kind, we must be the most well looked-after supporters in the land!
When you arrive at Lincoln’s bit-and-bob assortment of stands that constitutes a ‘stadium’ you realise that the towering heights of the home supporters touchline stand is merely to ensure the supporters get a level eyed view of the play. Unfortunately, as has became the norm, the Rushden players also succumbed to this long ball kick-and-run game for far too lengthy periods of the game. However with Broughton as the sole man of height outside of the defence, the teams general ‘low centre of gravity’ does not readily lend itself to this style of play. An ugly, generally scrappy first half ensued.
Lincoln’s Francis Green was first out of the blocks after 2 minutes with a free header (or a left footed volley, if you get your football information from certain other British Corporations national news websites!) that zipped wide by Tynan’s right post. Embarrassed by the wasted effort, he had the temerity to lay down for a minute or so before limping away sheepishly. It was a taste of things to come though as the Lincoln height advantage placed its emphasis on the play.
The first real Diamonds attack of note in the 5th minute resulted in a Caskey outswinging corner that was met by Drew Broughton mid-goal to not much avail. A repeat operation was this time left to Wayne Hatswell to attack but Imp Birch headed the ball clear neatly.
A clear indication as to why Rushden languish at the foot of the Football League this evening came when Darren Caskey layed the ball out to Stokes on the right, after rounding his man the final delivery into the box was poor, lacking any real zest or definition. Bizarrely at this point, the yellow beflagged referee’s assistant played Simon Says with ref Graham Laws, first indicating a goal-kick, then after a misinterpretation of signals a corner, before finally settling on a free-kick for offside.
More comedy entertainment almost followed a Yeo cross deep into the Rushden penalty area. With Ronnie Bull on top of him, Tynan elected to spice things up a little with a cheeky two handed juggle of the ball before deciding that catching it was the better of the options available to him. Simon Yeo did have the ball in the net seconds later, but his deft lob came just after an offside decision had been judged against him.
Ten minutes in, and Tyrone Berry drew a neat, acrobatic, one-for-the-cameras tip-over from Marriott from the wide right. The following corner was headed goalwards by Broughton before being blocked, and the returned shot was blazed over.
Lee Beevers replaced McAuley for the Imps and his foul on Savage was his first taste of action of the day.
The resistant Diamonds defensive unit was finally breached in the 21st minute, but the nature of the goal will please nobody, least of all the otherwise immense Ashley Nicholls. With the ball rolling into the penalty box, and Tynan facing play, Nicholls felt it safe to watch at close range his goalkeepers easy collect, it didn’t quite transpire that way though. Finally realising the onrushing Lincoln player Green was just a little too close for comfort Tynan delivered a powder-puff clearance straight into the path of grateful Yeo who deftly lobbed the ball into the top right hand corner to put the home side one-up.
More indecisiveness was to follow with Gulliver having to head clear with Tynan hesitant.
Back in the right-back role, Nicholls confirmed his worth to the team effort with an epic display, this time with an extremely timely tackle with Lincoln making strides into the left hand side of the ‘box. Minutes later he popped up on the opposite side to make yet another good stop on Green, and the half ended with Imps ‘keeper Marriott pole-axing his own defender Cryan in the box.
On the balance of play, and by the football methodology of counting the number of times the ball legally ends up in the opposition net, the half went to Lincoln. The Rushden failing, well admitted by manager Hunter, is in attack. Fine until the last 20 yards, crosses were either delivered in very poorly, or delivered in well but with nobody to meet them.
The second half was to start sans Tony Stokes, having been replaced by Simeon Jackson at the interval. It was to be proved a fine decision by Hunter as Jackson’s pace threatened the home team for almost the entirety of the remaining 45+ minutes.
Beevers was to trouble the defence with deft crosses but it was Nicholls yet again stoical against the enemy, again denying Yeo the opportunity to continue forays goalbound.
The following 10 minutes or so were to follow a well-worn path of balls pumped long, balls returned, and balls kicked aimlessly around the middle of the park with little or no threat in either direction.
A Nicholls delivery from deep in his own half found Berry, the cross was blocked, falling to Savage but the captain’s shot was narrowly missed on the right. Following on, as Diamonds crept into the ascendancy, Marcus Kelly foraged but could only place his shot at a Lincoln defender. The diminutive Jackson then made a decent run on goal, but on the way over-ran the ball leaving Berry to shoot over. Berry was to leave the field, seemingly at the referees adjudication for treatment, but once the shirt was off it was not to be worn again and John Turner took his place among the Rushden attack for the remaining 25 minutes of play.
From the 75th minute onwards, the massed ranks of Rushden & Diamonds found another previously unseen gear. Simi Jackson, who must surely be in with a chance of a starting position within the team very shortly, had the ball in the opposition net, unfortunately though this followed a shrill offside whistle. Three minutes later Turner was to repeat the feat, but again the Lincoln offside trap had done it’s job of work.
Undeterred by this, Turner stunned the home fans into silence seconds later. Collecting the ball some 20 yards out, he twice over turned his marker before almost casually rolling the ball into the bottom right hand corner of Marriott’s net from that self-same distance as if time had stood still! The Diamonds were back in it, and it has to be admitted, deservedly so at that point.
Almost the very next piece of action witnessed the culmination of the fight-back. Simeon Jackson will again see his name amongst the Football League scorers in the Sunday ‘papers after a brilliant right footed volley from the right of goal found the top corner of the net.
It was then backs to the wall from that moment onwards as Lincoln threw forwards everything in an attempt to salvage a point. Yeo fired wide when well placed, Okuonghae came on for Broughton, Cryan brought a clearance from Hatswell, Gulliver almost cleared the pitch with a hoof out, Bull did similar from a McCombe effort? nails were chewed to the quick in the away section and, don’t tell anybody, but some people were even standing up!
The time for keep-ball had arrived and any clearance henceforth was lumped to the far corners for much ankle-kicking and time-wasting.
Away in the distance of the benches the fourth official had found four extra minutes from somewhere and the agony was to be prolonged, prolonged just 5 seconds too long for Diamonds as McCombe’s unmarked bullet header bulged the net behind a despairing, distraught Tynan.
Out of sympathy for the convention of the game, the match restarted with two blasts of the referee’s whistle, the first for commencement, the second for finality.
Diamonds are left rock bottom by a point after a Torquay victory over Peterborough.
The manner of the fight-back will assuage some of the concerns, but the serial repetition of the inability to hold on to the lead in the final seconds of a match bites a lot, lot deeper. Most travellers would have been pleased with a point pre-match, but to have two snatched away from you in such a dramatic scene is amongst the bitterest pills a fan has to swallow.
Lincoln: Marriott, Cryan, McAuley (Beevers 21), McCombe, Mayo, Brown, Steve Robinson, Kerr, Green (Frecklington 51), Birch (Gritton 75), Yeo.
Goals: Yeo 22, McCombe 90
Rushden & Diamonds: Tynan, Nicholls, Gulliver, Hatswell, Bull, Berry (Turner 68), Savage, Caskey, Kelly, Broughton (Okuonghae 86), Stokes (Jackson 45). Subs Not Used: Hunter, Crane.
Goals: Turner 82, Jackson 84.
Reporters Man Of The Match: Ashley Nicholls
Report by Charlie Brown.