Rushden & Diamonds 1 Rothwell Town 0

Northants Hillier Senior Cup Semi Final

Diamonds progressed safely through to the Northants Hillier Senior Cup Final with a 1-0 win over Rothwell Town. With temperatures plummeting below freezing, poor finishing should have seen them win comfortably, but they had to rely on a Michael Rankine first half strike.

Winners two years ago, Rothwell Town had beaten Long Buckby and the current holders Northampton Spencer to reach this stage of the competition. Diamonds had wins over Cogenhoe United and Ford Sports Daventry in the previous rounds.

Whilst it was expected that Graham Westley would name a number of youth team players, he announced quite a strong line up. Recent signings Dino Maamria (attack), Michael Bostwick (right back) and Rodney Hicks (left midfield) all made their debuts, while there was a welcome return for Chris Hope as captain. Alan Biley named the two changes from the side that won against Bishop’s Cleeve at the weekend. Tom Smith replaced Ian Baker in goal, while Adam Sturgess replaced the injured Paul Rice. Recently suspended Micky Tolton was named on the bench as was Simon Underwood, recently recovered from a long term injury.

Diamonds started the better of the two sides and quickly showed their strength in both moving forward and tackling. Rothwell found it difficult to get into the game and create any meaningful attacks, but their defence managed to keep Diamonds at bay for the first half hour. Kelly and Tomlin were working well together in midfield and their combination led to Ashton’s early attempt being deflected over the bar. On 17 minutes, Diamonds created a couple of chances. Rodney Hicks shot too high and then Michael Rankine had a shot from 25 yards pushed past the upright by Tom Smith in the Rothwell goal.

The Bones first attempt came after 21 minutes, when Robert Ritchie-Smith shot from long distance although it caused no real problem for Margarson. That was really the only danger Diamonds had to cope with during the first half. During the next ten minutes, the home side had numerous chances with Tomlin, Rankine and Kelly all firing shots over the bar.

The goal finally came on 32 minutes, when Dino Maamria broke away from midfield and released Michael Rankine to his left. As he closed down on the keeper, his fierce shot was only partly saved and as the keeper tried to recover, he took the ball past him. He looked to have gone too far, but managed to squeeze the ball in to score from a tight angle.

Diamonds continued their dominance, with more shots drifting high over the Rothwell goal. Wilson and Maamria were both unable to find the target, while Michael Bostwick had a shot saved. Maamria had a great chance to open his account with Diamonds just before the break. Tomlin’s quick thinking sent the former Southport striker away down the left, but his shot as he closed in on goal went just past the angle.

Half-time: Rushden & Diamonds 1 – 0 Rothwell Town

Diamonds should have doubled their lead immediately after the restart when Rankine ran towards the goal line and pulled the ball back for Kelly to side foot inches past the post. The Bones replied with Justin Jenkins shooting wide from Chris Di Fante’s cross.

Alex Bolt got the chance of another appearance on 55 minutes when the youngster replaced Glenn Wilson in midfield. Michael Rankine continued to frustrate however, with a couple more shots over the crossbar. He did get another one on target just after the hour after a great cross from Tom Bonner, but the keeper tipped the ball over for a corner.

Rankine continued to be a real handful for the Bones defence and they continued to have difficulty with his strength and pace. He had another wonderful chance on 68 minutes after a defender slipped, but he somehow managed to put the ball wide. Diamonds then had several more chances. Tomlin and Maamria combined well to set up Kelly, but the keeper saved with his feet, then Tomlin’s shot just missed the target.

Robert Ritchie-Smith tried to inspire the visitors in the final period by running at the Diamonds defence, but they never really looked like conceding and safely held on for a place in the Final.

Full-time: Rushden & Diamonds 1 – 0 Rothwell Town

Those that braved the cold weather would have been reasonably happy with the recent signings on show. The match acted as a good opportunity to play ninety minutes with their new team-mates and all seemed to settle in well. The wayward shooting was perhaps disappointing, but the number of chances created was very encouraging. In the other semi final, Woodford United beat Brackley Town 2-1 at St.James Park and will host Diamonds in the final at Byfield Road (date to be announced). The incentive for the winners of this year’s Hillier Senior Cup is a pre-season fixture against Northampton Town for the Maunsell Cup.

Teams:

Rushden & Diamonds – Martyn Margarson, Michael Bostwick, Tom Bonner, Jon Ashton, Chris Hope (C), Glenn Wilson (Alex Bolt 55), Marcus Kelly, Dino Maamria, Michael Rankine, Lee Tomlin, Rodney Hicks.

Subs not used: Scott Tynan (GK), Dominic Langdon, Lawrence Lambley, Jamie Cook.

Rothwell Town – Ian Baker, Adam Sturgess (Micky Tolton 55), Tom Ingram, Martin Flannigan (C), Nicky Hurst, Jon Darby, Robert Ritchie-Smith (Joe Cossey 83), Michael Boyle-Chong, Chris Di Fante, Justin Jenkins, Ricky Miller (Simon Underwood 67).

Subs not used: Ian Baker (GK), Luke Bewers.

Goals:  Rankine 32 (1-0).

Referee:            Mr Paul Martin (Northants)

Attendance:      260.

By Dave Mason

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