Bristol Rovers 0 Rushden & Diamonds 1


A performance of epic proportions gave the Diamonds sole ownership of the day’s points for the first away game since Chester way back in mid-December. Drewe Broughton’s solitary goal being the winner for the second match in succession.


Singling any player out for praise on a day like today is both difficult and seemingly unfair, but while Broughton toiled tirelessly in attack, it was centre-back Okuonghae and right-back Ashley Nicholls who performed calm heroics at crucial times to snuff out the potent attacking force of Rovers’ Junior Agogo and Richard Walker. The young Okuonghae in particular deserving of praise, given his limited experience and the testing swirling wind which made life difficult for both teams throughout.


On a bright and sunny, but bitterly cold day in the South-West, manager Barry Hunter kept faith with the same line-up which played out the majority of the maximum pointer against fellow strugglers Torquay seven days ago – Tynan keeping his place in goal due to Danny Crane’s hand injury. This meant another outing for Rob Gier inside-right, the position which saw him sweep the Rushden players awards last season, with Nicholls in a wider role at the back – a decision most of the supporters would have chosen given the absences of Gulliver (injured) and Hatswell (suspended).


Rushden started the game the liveliest, playing with the wind, with Marcus Kelly and Darren Caskey switching one-two passes before Kelly saw his weather beaten shot screwed into the stand behind Rovers’ and ex-Diamonds ‘keeper Scott Shearer. More was to follow with Hinton clearing for a throw-in on the Diamonds left-hand side, Ronnie Bull was to complete a hat-trick of throws within the minute as the Rovers defence thwarted any chance of a ball in. Bull was eventually to float a great cross over the six yard box, but the elements, coupled with lack of attacking presence, saw the ball sail menacingly past the far post for a goal kick.


Next up was captain Savage, with a half-chance in the penalty area he was just off the pace when the ball was over-head hooked clear of him running on.


It was to be almost 7 minutes before the balance of the game started to be restored, with a Bristol corner after good defensive work by Okuonghae; Tynan was on hand to comprehensively punch the ball to the relative safety of the centre pitch.


Back in the ascendancy again, livewire Simeon Jackson was showing why he has became a regular starter. Patrolling the left flank he launched a decent cross which foiled all defensive manoeuvres, Broughton was on hand to hold the ball up momentarily in the six yard box, but his clever lay-back fell into space in the area and was cleared to much relief by the blue and white quarter of the Memorial Stadium.


It was at times a complete reversal of the usual football match status-quo, visitors Rushden were roaming and probing forwards seemingly at will, while the home team looked happy to soak up the pressure and attack on the break. One such break led to great defensive actions by Rob Gier, solidly sticking his leg in where lesser mortals may not, denying the home team any continuance. Eventually gaining a free-kick on the right, Rovers again could only watch as Marcus Kelly assisted the case for the defence in lumping clear up-field.


Hearts were in mouths all round in the 22nd minute though after great work down the right by Caskey, shielding before teasing in a ball of potent malice to the near post it was mightily unfortunate that the mid-air kung-fu appraisal by Broughton failed by the merest of margins on the wrong side of the goalkeepers upright.


Whilst the wind made every pass a Wimbledon-esque punt by Rushden, it was working favours for Tynan at the back, enabling him to gaze skywards as one particular Elliott free-kick from what might have been termed a dangerous area was scooped up and away high into the stand behind him to much relief.


With 15 minutes remaining of the half, text-book triangular passing movements between Broughton and Kelly bamboozled the flat-footed Bristol rear unit, but the final penalty box lay-off left Drewe with just too much ground to cover for what would surely have been one of the easier finishes of the day. The in-form attacker has recently added guile to his previously forthright playing style though and no more was this shown when running round a shielded ball rolling out for a goal-kick, with pace and acumen he was able to cannon the ball back into the legs of the panicking defender to win a corner to further keep the pressure firmly on the home side.


The second half was to be a slightly more even-keeled affair, but the Bristol team probably had not banked on in-form Junior Agogo finding himself in a particularly profligate mood. On another day the Rovers’ hit-man might well have seen himself emulate the brace he notched in a 3-1 demolition away at Wycombe last week. Fortunately for Rushden, today was not that day.


Diamonds had to thank the referee 4 minutes after the re-start though when James Hunt had the ball past Tynan, fortunately only the home fans, and a few of the stewards, had failed to hear the resounding blast of whistle immediately prior to the despatch of the shot.


Some 5 minutes later there was danger again as Richard Walker just managed to send the ball wide of the far post from the left with two fellow runners in support. Diamonds team ethics made it that kind of day for Bristol Rovers.


Just prior to the hour, the Diamonds comedy free-kick roadshow hit the Memorial Stadium. The usual suspects of the ‘Big 3’ forming a secondary wall in Shearer’s face, while Kelly attempted to capitalise on the confusion of the late out-run. Sadly the shot curled nicely and deftly, but 2 yards too high to trouble the bemused Rovers ‘keeper.


Simeon Jackson was next up to harass the home defence, blasting a ball from distance which thumped soundly into the chest of Shearer. Seconds later Nicholls, supporters Man of the Match on the returning coach, was immense in blocking Agogo when the forward would have been clear through, the resulting throw-in led to Lewis Haldane blazing wildly over the crossbar.


It was time for Diamonds to absorb some latter stage pressure, but the men tasked rose admirably to the challenge. On this occasion Sammy Igoe let fly, but a combination of Rob Gier’s chest, and Okuonghae burgeoning situational wisdom saw the ball shielded away to the realms of safety yet again.


Diamonds in particular can feel that the cliché of refereeing decisions evening themselves out over a season started to find substance today, but some at times fussy officiating didn’t at least mar the flow of play to any great extent. That said, Tony Stokes still managed to gain a peek inside referee Ray Lee’s notebook for a failure to retreat the final few centimetres of an innocuously positioned free-kick.


The 70th minute saw the first of Hunter’s tactical changes, with Jackson being replaced by Tyrone Berry, a fresh pair of legs rather than a formation tweak.


Meanwhile Okuonghae continued his great work charging down Haldane, while Nicholls Herculean efforts ran unabated with a fantastic jockey of Agogo when the forward looked to be clean through.


Bristol Rovers’ day was summed up when Agogo, with a clean sight of goal at the right post, could only manage to snatch wildly at the ball sending it further wide than the distance it had to initially travel to the goal-line. His shirt-over-the-head Ravanelli routine could not even begin to hide his shame at the wasted effort.


The cold day turned to heart-warming joy for the travellers in the 76th minute. Berry’s energy allowed him to majestically turn his man, follow a jinky path, and neatly lay the ball off to Drewe Broughton near the right hand corner of the penalty area, all the hard work was not yet done though as Broughton avoided a rabbit-in-the-headlights moment to curl a fabulous ball knee high past Shearer and into the left hand corner of the goal. Massed celebration ensued amongst the Diamonds fans as the majority of the 6,432 attendees sank into desperate despair.



The match ended with chewed nails and frayed nerves all round for the Northants faithful as the seconds ticked agonisingly past. There were 10 minutes in which frantic ball-keeping kept company with desperate hoofs from both sides. While the end crept ever closer manager Hunter replaced Marcus Kelly, and Turner was brought on for Broughton in the final minute of injury time


A play-off place is still not mathematically out of reach for the Gasheads, but more importantly the full 3 points represent a possible lifeline in the fight to retain league status for Rushden & Diamonds.


44 points from the campaign leaves the mythical 50 point mark looking a decidedly even more mythically reserved safety barrier to achieve, but Diamonds can but only win their games. The magnitude of today’s effort will not be wasted, not on the team, nor the fans, nor the surrounding clubs fighting similarly for survival.


Bristol Rovers: Shearer, Lescott, Hinton, Elliott, Carruthers, Igoe, Hunt, Disley (Campbell 52), Haldane (Gibb 81), Agogo, Walker.
Subs Not Used: Horsell, Edwards, Lines.

Rushden & Diamonds: Tynan, Nicholls, Okuonghae, Gier, Bull, Stokes, Caskey, Savage, Kelly (Hunter 90), Broughton (Turner 90), Jackson (Berry 71).
Subs Not Used: Woodman, Tomlin.

Attendance: 6,432


Travel Club Man of the Match: Ashley Nicholls


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