Stafford Rangers 1 Rushden & Diamonds 1

Following two successive three goal wins, Diamonds went into their ninth game of the season full of confidence, but last minute nerves struck again as Chris Hope’s first half goal was cancelled out by an injury time equaliser from Stafford’s Nigerian born substitute Dolapo Olaoye.

Diamonds only previous encounters with Stafford Rangers had been in the Beazer Homes Premier League Championship winning 1995/96 season, and it was with the 4-1 victory at Marston Road in April 96, that promotion to the Conference was confirmed.

Manager Paul Hart named an unchanged starting line up, while Stafford boss Phil Robinson made two changes to the side that drew 1-1 with Burton Albion on Tuesday night. Craig Lovatt and debutant Sean Robinson replaced Christian Dacres and the injured Nathan Talbott. Ged Murphy remained sidelined due to suspension.

Diamonds started the game strongly but it wasn’t long before the ‘in form’ double hat-trick hero Simeon Jackson was brought down to earth in more ways than one, with a crunching tackle from Robinson after just two minutes. Rushden continued to attack in the opening six minutes with a succession of free kicks after Gibson fouled Michael Rankine and Lovatt brought down Tyrone Berry some ten yards outside the box. Marcus Kelly swung the resultant free kick into the penalty area, and Chris Hope got to the ball first with a glancing header that found the back of the net.

Stafford failed to trouble the Diamonds defence until the 11th minute when Robinson passed the ball to Neil Grayson, but the experienced striker (now 41) was adjudged offside. Rushden were starting to play some nice flowing football, and some good passing between Jackson and Shaw found Berry clear along the right hand side. His cross from the by line was bravely saved by Williams as Michael Rankine tried to slot the ball home. The clash left the Stafford keeper with a large gash to the head, and there was some confusion as to whether he could continue in goal or not. After some four minutes, the decision was made to bring on substitute keeper Danny Alcock for his first appearance for Stafford.

As the half progressed, Diamonds created more chances with some excellent runs by Kelly on the left and Berry on the right, but just failed to find that finishing touch. Berry had a good chance on 24′ after a run from midfield, but his shot went over the bar.  Efforts by Stafford were limited to a weak shot from Lovatt, while a Stafford free kick after Wayne Hatswell fouled Gibson was headed clear by Chris Hope. Quailey also shot wide of the target without causing any real problems for Nicky Eyre in the Rushden goal.

On 29′, Kelly’s run down the left caused some panic in the Stafford defence, but the ball was scrambled clear for a corner. Quickly taken, Kelly got a return pass from Berry and fired a low shot at goal, but the keeper was able to get down and save by the near post,

Stafford’s Craig McAughtrie went into the referee’s notebook on 41′, after bringing down Michael Rankine following a series of fouls. The resultant free kick from Kelly found Hatswell on the far post, but his shot was deflected into the side netting. Diamonds should have gone two up on 45′, when Jackson found himself in space with just the keeper to beat. He unselfishly laid the ball across to Marcus Kelly, but just as he was going to side foot into the net, Sean Robinson made a lunging block to divert the goal bound effort.

After the fourth official indicated 5′ of extra time, Diamonds chances of holding on to their lead took a blow, when Tom Shaw made a rash challenge on Lee Downes. While it appeared to be a genuine attempt to get the ball, the referee decided it was reckless and showed a red card. McAughtrie’s free kick was fired straight at the Rushden keeper who made a comfortable save.

Half-time:  Stafford Rangers 0 Rushden & Diamonds 1

Despite being reduced to ten men, Diamonds kept their attacking formation at the start of the second half, and were still forcing the pace. Both Kelly and Berry continued to cause pressure down the flanks, with Berry’s deflected shot on 48′ being saved by the keeper. Stafford began to make their numerical advantage show and had more and more possession as the second half progressed, although long range shots from Gibson, Street and Quailey were easily dealt with by Nicky Eyre and the Diamonds defence.

After 55′, the home supporters were given a fright after a rather comical moment when Stafford keeper Danny Alcock misjudged the bounce of a long through ball and had to scamper back to stop the ball from crossing the line. Shortly afterwards, another Marcus Kelly shot went flying high over the bar.

Stafford gained a free kick after Jon Ashton handled the ball a few yards outside the penalty area, but the free kick failed to clear the wall and the danger passed. Ashton was not so lucky on 65′, when he conceded a penalty following some pressure from Grayson and Quailey in the Diamonds goalmouth. Lee Downes ran onto the loose ball, and was upended in the box. Neil Grayson stepped up to take the spot kick having scored the equaliser from the spot on Tuesday night, but Nicky Eyre saved brilliantly, diving to his right and the ball was scrambled to safety. Paul Watson continued to protest to the referee about the penalty after the ball had gone dead, and received a yellow card for his troubles.

With Diamonds clearly lucky not to concede the equaliser, Dave Savage was brought on to replace Marcus Kelly. Stafford increased their attacking options by bringing on Dolapo Olaoye in place of defender Liam Murray. Simeon Jackson and Michael Rankine continue to work hard chasing down the ball every time they could. Craig McAughtrie was very lucky to escape a second yellow card after bringing down Rankine on 73′ deep in the Stafford half. Watson typified Diamonds afternoon by firing the free kick high over the bar.

Assistant manager David Oldfield came on for the final fifteen minutes as Stafford pressed for that equalising goal as Rushden started to tire. Diamonds tried to catch Stafford on the break on 85′, when Jackson picked up the ball in the centre circle and ran towards the Stafford goal, his shot however was saved. Greg Pearson came on three minutes from time to replace Michael Rankine who had run himself into the ground.

With just three minutes of added time to play, Diamonds looked to have secured the three points, but half way into the extra time, a long throw from McAughtrie was headed across the penalty area and found Olaoye with space inside the area. Paul Watson was unable to close him down before he shot a low drive beyond Eyre, to give Stafford a share of the points.

Full-time: Stafford Rangers 1 Rushden & Diamonds 1

Diamonds were left to rue the missed chances in the first half, and probably consider the result as two points lost rather than a point gained. The effort put in by the players cannot be faulted and the team are in a good position to continue their four games unbeaten run this month with another positive result at home to Gravesend next Tuesday.

Teams:

Stafford Rangers – Dean Williams (Danny Alcock 16), Craig McAughtrie, Wayne Daniel, Craig Lovatt, Lee Downes (David Oldfield 75), Kevin Street, Neil Grayson, Robin Gibson, Brian Quailey, Sean Robinson, Liam Murray (Dolapo Olaoye 69).

Subs not used: Danny Edwards, Christian Dacres.

Rushden & Diamonds – Nicky Eyre, Glenn Wilson, Paul Watson, Jon Ashton, Chris Hope, Wayne Hatswell, Michael Rankine (Greg Pearson 87), Marcus Kelly (Dave Savage 67), Simeon Jackson, Tyrone Berry, Tom Shaw.

Subs not used: Danny Crane, Leo Fortune West, Dan Chillingworth.

Goals:  Chris Hope 6 (Rushden)  Dolapo Olaoye 90+2 (Stafford)

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