St Albans 3 Rushden & Diamonds 2

Clarence Park – Saturday 18th November 2006

Yet again Rushden & Diamonds were blown away by a team scoring three in the first half. It was shades of Woking and Northwich as the Diamonds defence looked to have adopted the Christmas spirit several weeks early. The difference in this game was that at least the team made a fight of it in the second half, but although the woodwork denied an equaliser there are serious defensive issues need urgent resolution.

The Diamonds were making their first league visit to the Clarence Park to take on a St Albans City side hoping to repay their fans who suffered a 6-0 drubbing at the hands of Grays in the previous home game. New Diamonds loan signing Chris Plummer played for Grays in that game and he was the only change to the starting line up from the victory over Yeovil. Ex-Diamond Magnus Okuonghae was only on the bench for the Saints.

On a crisp November afternoon, Diamonds took to the field in their Red Strip, with Tony Godden having to bring in Chris Plummer to replace the injured Glenn Wilson. Simeon Jackson was joined on the bench by Ben Sedgemore, Daniel Chillingworth, Greg Pearson and Nicky Eyre, with Diamonds continuing to play the 4-4-2 formation reintroduced following the departure of Paul Hart.

St Albans kicked off towards the end occupied by the Diamonds fans, and within seven seconds were ahead. The ball went forward to Paul Watson, and the left back miscued his attempted pass to Tynan, with the ball running square across the area for Elliot Benyon to pounce and knock a simple goal past Tynan.

Any thought this might have been a freak, and the game would then settle were quickly dispelled as firstly Lee Tomlin had a great chance blocked at the other end, and then Damian Batt, who was to torment Paul Watson for the entire half put in a cross that the entire Diamonds defence watched, and allowed Lee Clarke an other simple finish. Diamonds were thus two down with only three minutes on the clock.

Two more great chances then fell to Lee Tomlin – the first well saved by Bastock, and the second stopped by what looked a clear foul, but the referee turned down the calls for a penalty. A third chance then fell to Tommo after a quick free kick, but again Paul Bastock pulled off a decent save, a feat he repeated from the same player a few minutes later after Tyrone Berry’s pace proved too much for the Saints defence.

The Diamonds defence was still looking shaky as the end-to-end stuff continued, and Scott Tynan was lucky that his charged down clearance squirmed out for a Goal Kick. Worse was to come in the 12th minute, as the central defenders got in each others way in clearing a routine high ball, and it was quickly laid off to Benyon who neatly scored in the right hand corner of the net.

So, after 15 minutes the Diamonds were three-nil down, and yet had probably matched the Saints in terms of possession and chances.

After 22 minutes Lee Tomlin jumped into the back of a defender, conceding a free kick. Manager Godden had clearly previously told Tomlin to steer clear of making such fouls, and raged at the teenager, issuing instructions to Simeon Jackson to get ready to come on. Although a bluff, a few St Albans fans encouraged him to carry out this threat, as clearly Tommo represented a major goal threat.

Tyrone Berry continued to threaten down the right, and Bastock had to make further decent saves, notably one from a Paul Watson shot as he tried to redeem himself for his earlier errors. Michael Rankine confused even his own team mates with a couple of headers, but he continued to worry the St Albans defence in the air and on the deck, as it looked more and more likely that at least one goal would be clawed back before half time.

Chris Plummer was having a quiet debut at right back, with most of the problems occurring down the St Albans right, led by Matt Hann.

With only one minute of added time, the score remained 3-0 until half-time, and the 479 travelling fans wondered whether the half-time team talk might result in a different performance in the second half, especially at the back.

Half-time: St Albans 3 – 0 Rushden & Diamonds

The second half started exactly as Diamonds fans had hoped. Within two minutes of the restart Lee Tomlin netted from the edge of the box following a good run and cross by Marcus Kelly.

That was the prelude to a complete period of domination for the Diamonds, as they created chance after chance, with it looking only a matter of time before further goals came.

After a number of skied attempts by Rankine and Tomlin, and some "how did they keep that out" moments as the St Albans defence adopted a siege mentality, the second goal came from a scramble following a cross in from the right. The goal was initially awarded to Michael Rankine, but others put it down to Marcus Kelly, and this seems to be the final verdict – Chris Plummer also played a part in the goal.

Hope and Hatswell were looking a threat at set pieces, as further efforts went wide, and Paul Bastock cut out a series of low crosses from Tyrone Berry.

There was still hope that the equaliser would come, and manager Godden kept the same side which was so threatening until the 75th minute when Jackson replaced Rankine.

Shortly afterwards, Diamonds looked to have finally made the chance that would earn a draw, as Tom Shaw broke from midfield, and was alone with only the keeper to beat – this he did, but his shot hit the post and rebounded to safety.

The game then lost momentum, as the Saints did the professional job of slowing the game down, including three substitutions of their own, and many injury breaks, although only 4 minutes were added on at the end.

However, St Albans held on to win what had been an immensely entertaining game – but one which puts R&DFC into the relegation spots, with only Southport having a worse record. With Tamworth sealing a good win, any thoughts of an easy ride in the FA Cup must be firmly dismissed after the defensive display seen at Clarence Park today.

Full-time: St Albans 3 – 2 Rushden & Diamonds

Reporters MoM: Lee Tomlin (responded well to Tony Godden’s threat to take him off in the first half)

Teams

St Albans City:

1. Paul Bastock
2. Chris Seeby
5. Gary Elphick
17. David Theobald
23. Damien Batt
7. Matt Hann
4. Tom Davis (sub Cracknell 69)
8. Ranbir Marwa
6. Ben Walshe (sub Flynne 80)
10. Lee Clarke (sub Okuonghae 90+1)
21. Elliot Benyon

Subs
12. Dean Cracknell
14. Simon Martin
15 Lee Flynn
22 Magnus Okuonghae
13 Ricky Perks

Rushden and Diamonds

20 Scott Tynan
3 Paul Watson (Sub Chillingworth 90)
5 Chris Hope
6 Wayne Hatswell
25 Chris Plummer
15 Tyrone Berry
7 Dave Savage
18 Tom Shaw
11 Marcus Kelly
8 Michael Rankine (Sub Jackson 75)
14 Lee Tomlin

Subs
1 Nicky Eyre
10 Daniel Chillingworth
12 Simeon Jackson
16 Greg Pearson
24 Ben Sedgemore

Referee: Keith Yeo (Aveley)

Attendance: 1236 – (479 away fans)

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