Forest Green Rovers 0 Rushden & Diamonds 2

 

After initial concerns that the game might be a repeat of the recent visit to Grays, Rushden & Diamonds put in a much improved performance in the second half in Gloucestershire and the well deserved win will help to ease relegation worries.

Manager Hill made three changes to the starting line up seen at Grays last Tuesday, with Mark Albrighton moving to the middle replacing Jason Goodliffe, Gary Mills replacing Dave Savage, Simeon Jackson replacing Lee Tomlin and Danny Williams returning to play wide right in a 4-4-2 formation.

Forest Green Rovers manager Jim Harvey made one change from the side that beat Exeter City on Tuesday, with striker Mark Beesley having picked up a hamstring strain, so Alex Lawless replaced him, and Les Afful returned from injury to take a place on the bench.

The first twenty minutes of the game were very uninspiring, with the weather proving the main distraction, with hail, thunder and driving rain accompanying a strong wind behind Forest Green. The hardy 128 Diamonds fans on the open terrace must have been surprised at not being offered any cover at such a new ground.

On the twenty-minute mark the game showed at least a semblance of life, with Simon Clist, clearly FGR’s best player, putting through Lee Dodgson, but as Tynan advanced his attempted lob sailed well over the bar as the wind caught it.

Clist then easily beat Jon Ashton on the left wing, and hit an excellent pass across the area, but Danny Carey-Bertram couldn’t quite find the pace to latch on to it.

Simeon Jackson had been darting at the FGR defence for most of the afternoon, and his efforts in making a thrusting run down the left flank on 25 minutes saw his shot deflected out for the Diamonds only corner of the half.

FGR continued to have slightly the better of the play, but in truth the play was exceedingly scrappy, with neither side seeming to come to terms with the windy conditions.

On the half-hour mark FGR keeper was forced to make his first save from a Jackson attempt, and five minutes later the referee awarded a bizarre Yellow Card against Paul Watson, as, without warning, he took exception to the amount of time he was taking over a free kick.

Most of the FGR threat came either via Clist, or from Kevin Nicholson’s long throws, but Tynan was rarely troubled, and the half ended with everyone reflecting whether it had been as bad as the first half on Tuesday night – perhaps not quite, and perhaps the elements had an effect, but it was to be hoped that the second half delivered better entertainment.

Half-time: Forest Green Rovers 0 Rushden & Diamonds 0

After being swept away by Grays early in the second half, it was clear Rushden had learnt from that experience, and straight away Diamonds threatened. The ball fell to Curtis Woodhouse just outside the area, and his looping shot / lob was well tipped over by Robinson. Woodhouse took the corner, and made good allowance for the wind to reach Mark Albrighton, whose powerful header past the flailing Robinson was well cleared off the line to Rankine, whose attempt bounced up to Simeon Jackson, and although his shot was also blocked by a defender near the goal line, the linesman in front of the Diamonds fans immediately flagged that the ball had crossed the line.

Jackson then started to spray the ball to his teammates around the FGR box, setting up chances for Woodhouse and Kelly, notably for the latter who was struggling to make an impression on the game.

Jim Harvey brought on two subs in an attempt to change the flow of the game, and it was Les Afful who looked a much more significant threat than Dodgson he replaced (or Carey Bertram who remained). An excellent diagonal cross-field pass from Nicholson found Afful who burst past Watson into the area, jinxed inside and hit a shot that was well saved by Tynan.

Gary Mills was harrying the FGR midfield and it was this effort that won Diamonds a throw on 67 minutes, near the FGR corner flag. The flow was cleared by the defence as far a Jon Ashton, and his looping shot was well tipped over by Robinson.

Although Tynan was having another solid game, he had to learn to adjust his kicking to allow for the wind in the second half, with two kicks going straight to his opposite number to bring back memories of Billy Turley at the old Lawn – now already replaced by new houses.

Diamonds were now threatening on the break, with both Jackson and Rankine beating the offside trap, with Rankine getting completely clear at one point, as the FGR defenders focussed on Jacko who was returning from an offside position, but he decided to check back inside as he neared goal, and although he still managed a decent shot, it was well saved by Robinson.  The Diamonds defence was also looking increasingly solid, although Jon Ashton got into trouble near the half-way line, and as Mark Albrighton cleared the ball to touch it deflected onto his arm, and he was very harshly booked.

Danny Williams was having slightly more success on the right than Kelly was having on the left, and coped well with the abuse he was getting from the FGR fans who appeared to have found a voice since their move to the new ground.

On one of the breaks, on 85 minutes, Jackson was hauled down by Darren Jones, about 30 yards out, in what looked the most bookable offence of the afternoon, but no card was forthcoming. However, the justice was done seconds later as Curtis Woodhouse curled the ball across the goalmouth, and Jon Ashton ghosted in, unmarked, at the far post, and looped a header over Robinson, and over the goal-line, although Michael Rankine followed in to be sure.

This second goal put the result beyond doubt, and apart from the late appearance of Lee Tomlin, the final few minutes passed without incident.

The final whistle signalled celebrations from the 128 travelling fans on the Terrace, who had made the trip west, as well as others in the main stand. It was a special reward for those that had stayed loyal to the team despite what was served up on Tuesday night.

Garry Hill must also take credit for abandoning the experiments in personnel, formation and tactics from Tuesday night and motivating what could have been a dispirited team after the Grays defeat.

This win takes Diamonds onto the much vaunted 50 point mark, and although that target is somewhat different in a league where four teams go down, Diamonds have a chance to cement their place in the division when taking on Garry Hills old charges from Weymouth on Tuesday night.

Full-time: Forest Green Rovers 0 Rushden & Diamonds 2

Teams:

Forest Green Rovers (Black / White): Ryan Robinson, John Hardiker, Chris Giles, Darren Jones, Kevin Nicholson, Lee Dodgson (Les Afful 55), Jamie Pitman (Paul Stonehouse 55), Michael Brough, Simon Clist, Alex Lawless, Danny Carey-Bertram (Mark Preece 81)

Subs not used: Shaun Lamb, Ryan Harrison

Rushden & Diamonds (Red): Scott Tynan, Jon Ashton, Paul Watson, Chris Hope, Mark Albrighton, Danny Williams, Gary Mills, Curtis Woodhouse, Marcus Kelly, Michael Rankine, Simeon Jackson (Lee Tomlin 89)

Subs Not Used Matt Baker, Dave Savage, Michael Bostwick, Jason Goodliffe

Goals : Simeon Jackson (47), Jon Ashton (85)

Yellow Cards : Woodhouse (Foul 36), Watson (Time Wasting 42), Albrighton (Handball 74)

Referee: Andrew Rodda

Assistants : Gavin Muge, Adrian Gillett

Attendance: 1110 (Away 130+).

Reporters Man of the Match : Simeon Jackson

Grays Athletic 3 Rushden & Diamonds 1

Diamonds run of eleven League games without defeat came to an abrupt end at the Recreation Ground when they conceded three goals in the space of five minutes. Two goals from former Diamond trialist Aaron O’Connor (making his sixth appearance for Grays) and one from Dennis Oli eased the home side’s relegation worries in front of their second lowest crowd of the season. Simeon Jackson pulled one back for Diamonds in the 90th minute in what was a very disjointed performance.

Manager Garry Hill made three changes to the side which drew against Crawley on Friday. Mark Albrighton returned from a two match suspension to replace Michael Bostwick, while fit again Dave Savage was given preference over Danny Williams (He even had to wear Williams’ shirt!). Up front, Lee Tomlin started with Simeon Jackson on the bench. Mark Wright – on loan from Grays was not allowed to play as part of the loan deal.

Grays boss Justin Edinburgh made five changes from the side that lost at Stafford at the weekend. Out went Tom Kemp, Matt Bodkin, Ben Harding, Dean Howell and keeper Ashley Bayes, and in came Simon Downer, John Martin, Alex Rhodes, Danny Knowles and former Diamond Ashley Nicholls. Also facing his former club was Andy Sambrook.

With Grays struggling in the relegation zone, and Diamonds running out of form over the past couple of games, both teams were struggling to find any confidence during the opening period. Grays certainly had the better start, but their finishing was poor and never really caused too much of a problem for Diamonds who were having difficulty stringing passes together.

Aaron O’Connor put a shot wide on 6 minutes, while an effort from Alex Rhodes following a free kick was deflected behind for a corner. Tynan also had to punch away Stuart Thurgood’s attempt from the corner. The home side had a succession of corners, but were unable to make any of them count. Diamonds seemed to lack purpose and width, with Ashton playing in right midfield and Kelly drifting into the middle on far too many occasions. Rankine and Tomlin were isolated up front with the midfield constantly losing their shape and the ball.

A Jamie Stuart header went wide, while O’Connor almost got the better of Jason Goodliffe on 26 minutes, but the former Gresley striker was adjudged to have fouled the centre back. With Grays continuing to take control of the midfield, both Mark Albrighton and Curtis Woodhouse received cautions for repeated fouling. Grays came close again in the latter stages of the first half. O’Connor crossed for Dennis Oli to blast a shot at Scott Tynan – the Diamonds keeper managing to parry the ball to safety. This was shortly followed by a quickly taken free kick, which found John Martin in space. Again, Tynan managed to push the ball out for a corner. A single effort on goal by Rushden in the closing seconds saw Tomlin released by Ashton, but he shot wide without troubling the keeper.

Half-time: Grays Athletic 0 – 0 Rushden & Diamonds

The opening period of the second half proved disastrous for the visitors as Grays carved the Diamonds open time and time again. On 48 minutes, Dennis Oli split the defence with a through ball from the halfway line into the path of Aaron O’Connor. The striker fired a low right footed shot past Tynan for the opening goal. Fired up by the goal, Grays continued to pile on the pressure and within 90 seconds, were two up after Diamonds gave away another free kick fifteen yards outside the area. Anthony Tonkin found the Diamonds defenders asleep and pumped the ball in to the unmarked Aaron O’Connor who had time to steer his header past the helpless Tynan.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Grays went three up after 52 minutes. Another through ball out of defence found Dennis Oli in space at the edge of the area. After some neat footwork, he picked his spot to fire past Tynan for their third in five minutes.

Diamonds tried to bring some urgency into their play, but Grays always looked more likely to score. Chris Hope had a header deflected wide on 56 minutes, but chances were few and far between. As the players became more frustrated, Lee Tomlin was booked for dissent. Simeon Jackson came off the bench to try to inject some life into Diamonds, and Gary Mills came on to replace Tomlin. Dennis Oli and Aaron O’Connor continued to be a problem, and some good movement from Oli on the edge of the area almost set up John Martin, but Tynan was alert and came out quickly to quell the danger.

Michael Bostwick replaced Woodhouse with ten minutes remaining, and it took another couple of minutes before Diamonds actually got their first shot on target. Following a foul on Jackson just outside the area, Paul Watson fired a free-kick towards goal, but his shot went straight at Danny Knowles. Rankine continued to come deeper looking for the ball, and a nice move from the halfway line across to Albrighton found Jackson running into space, but the keeper did well to smother the ball before Jackson could strike.

Gary Mills was carded for a foul on Andy Sambrook and following the free kick, the ball came out to Nicholls who chipped the ball from the edge of the area. Substitute Leroy Griffiths was just unable to turn the ball into the net.

Jamie Stuart went into the referee’s note book as injury time approached for a foul on Marcus Kelly. Moments later, Diamonds finally gave the fans something to cheer as Bostwick knocked a through ball from the halfway line to Jackson. His marker slipped as he turned and with only the keeper to beat, seemed to take too much time to get his shot away. As Sambrook challenged, Jackson finally shot – the ball deflecting off the defender and under Knowles into the net for a consolation goal.

Full-time: Grays Athletic 3 – 1 Rushden & Diamonds

 

So Diamonds unbeaten run came to an end with a reality check. Anyone watching would have been mystified how they had remained unbeaten in the League since early January. Diamonds slipped back into the bottom half of the table again and with Forest Green’s win against Exeter, Garry Hill must bring back some motivation quickly before they get dragged back into the relegation zone again. It was difficult to name anyone who had a good game, although Tynan couldn’t be faulted for any of the goals and did well to restrict Grays to three goals. Tomlin and Rankine ran tirelessly but without any service, had little opportunity to put the Grays keeper under any pressure.

Teams:

Grays Athletic – Danny Knowles, Andy Sambrook, Jamie Stuart, Simon Downer (Anthony Barness 73), Stuart Thurgood, Dennis Oli, Aaron O’Connor, Anthony Tonkin, John Martin (Ben Harding 85), Alex Rhodes (Leroy Griffiths 62),  Ashley Nicholls.

Subs not used: Ashley Bayes (GK), Dean Howell.

 

Rushden & Diamonds – Scott Tynan, Paul Watson, Jon Ashton, Chris Hope, Dave Savage (Simeon Jackson 67), Michael Rankine, Marcus Kelly, Lee Tomlin (Gary Mills 67), Jason Goodliffe, Mark Albrighton, Curtis Woodhouse (Michael Bostwick 80).

Subs not used: Matt Baker (GK), Chris Beardsley.

Goals:   O’Connor 48 (1-0), O’Connor 50 (2-0), Oli 52 (3-0), Jackson 90 (3-1).

Booked:   Albrighton 31 (foul), Woodhouse 44 (foul), Tomlin 58 (dissent), Mills 87 (foul), Stuart 89 (foul).

Sent off:            –

Referee:            Mr Darren Sheldrake (Surrey)

Attendance:      762 (approx 100 away)

Rushden & Diamonds 1 Crawley Town 1

Rushden & Diamonds extended their unbeaten run in the league to eleven games at a chilly Nene Park on Friday night, but were second best to Crawley for large parts of the game. It was only a poor miss by Elliot Benyon that stopped Crawley scoring the clinching goal before Diamonds broke down the other end and equalised. Both sides then had chances to win the game, but in the end the draw was a fair result.

Rushden fielded an unchanged starting line-up from the game at Halifax, with Gary Mills returning to the bench, but no place in the 16 for Dave Savage. Tyrone Berry made his debut for Crawley Town, with Scott Hiley returning to the starting line-up. Steve Evans and Darius Charles dropped out of the squad. Ex-Diamonds Ronnie Bull and Magnus Okuonghae also lined up against their former club. Mark Wright made an appearance on the bench for the first time for the Diamonds following his signing from Grays.

Diamonds kicked off attacking the empty AirWair end, but it was Crawley who had the best of the early play, showing their ability to create dangerous quick breaks, Diamonds finally got into the game around the 10 minute mark when Simeon Jackson won a freekick on the corner of the penalty box, but Curtis Woodhouse wasted it. However, two minutes later another freekick was awarded in a similar position, as a defender climbed on Michael Rankine’s back, and this time the freekick from Woodhouse hit the angle of corner and bar with the keeper well beaten, and Jason Goodliffe’s follow-up show was saved by Hamer.

Woodhouse then had another chance he engineered himself with a great run from in the centre circle, but his shot was marginally wide of the right hand post.

This was the Diamonds best spell of the half, and another break involving Bostwick and Woodhouse saw the ball reach Michael Rankine in a great position, but he lacked composure and blasted the ball over.

Crawley continued to look dangerous on the break, with Benyon and Scully combining well on the left but without really threatening Tynan’s goal.

A further dangerous free kick from the Diamonds about 35 yardsout on the right saw the ball from Woodhouse float over the defence to an unmarked Chris Hope who appeared to have a simple header to score, but he could only direct the header across the goal and to safety. Shortly afterwards Michael Rankine outmuscled Magnus Okuonghae and broke to the by-line and got in a decent low cross, which ricocheted between two defenders, and eluded the oncoming Simeon Jackson.

Crawley’s quick breaks were rewarded on 24 minutes, as Elliot Benyon eased past Jason Goodliffe, squared the ball back to Ronnie Bull, and his cross found Lee Blackburn in acres of space to head easily past Tynan.

Diamonds had a chance for a rapid reply when Michael Bostwick hit a great through ball to Simeon Jackson, but as the keeper appeared caught in no-mans-land Jacko blasted over rather than attempting a lob.

Town could have taken a two goal lead into half time as a Scott Hiley cross found Elliot Benyon in acres of space, and his downward header was well saved by Tynan as it bounced up towards his right hand corner.

Diamonds forced their second corner of the half just before half-time, and although Williams appeared to mishit it, it flashed past all of the defenders, but Simeon Jackson was unable to react to tap the ball home. Crawley thus took a deserved lead into half time, and Garry Hill must have been wondering why the team that had gone 10 games unbeaten had not turned up.

Half-time: Rushden & Diamonds 0 Crawley Town 1

Manager Hill made two changes at half-time, with Chris Beardsley and Gary Mills replacing Bostwick and Rankine, neither of whom had made much impression on the game, but the same could be said for many others.

Crawley continued to threaten on the break, with Tony Scully looking dangerous with his runs, one of which was clear on goal with Tynan stranded, but his shot hit Goodliffe on the shin. Mills first contribution was to help out his defence, who had looked outpaced all evening.

Both goalies then traded poor punches, with Marcus Kelly unable to remain composed when Hamer’s punch looped straight to him, and Blackburn doing the same at the other end.

Gary Mills was starting to get forward, and had a couple of chances – one a header that had us all wondering if he’d ever scored with his head – but there was no need to consult the record books as he directed his header well over.

Crawley had a shout for a penalty as Danny Williams stooped to control a ball in the box, but referee Stretton, who had a good game all evening, turned down their appeals.

On 68 minutes manager Hill made his last change with Lee Tomlin replacing Danny Williams, and Crawley also brought on the tall Richardson for Rendell at the same time.

Within a few minutes Richardson had had two chances to get what would have surely been the winner for Crawley, the second after Tony Scully beat two men in the left corner of the box (beating Jon Ashton a second time for good measure), crossing for Richardson to head towards the right corner. Tynan let the ball squirm from his grasp, but the defenders managed to block before Tyrone Berry was able to prod the ball home against his old club.

Diamonds too were looking more threatening with Jackson looking far happier with the running of Tomlin and the flicks by Beardsley feeding him the ball in space. One great move saw a Beardsley header well saved by Hamer, and then a minute later Lee Tomlin found space on the right of the box, linked up with Jon Ashton, but the cross was cleared.

A minute later Richardson had a better chance, than his earlier two, but he unselfishly squared to Elliot Benyon in acres of space in the area, but somehow his shot hit the bar from 12 yards out.

As so happens in football, Crawley were made to pay for their poor finishing, as the Diamonds broke straight down the other end, with Woodhouse finding Jackson on the left of the penalty area, and Simeon hit a great cross across the box to find Lee Tomlin, who showed great composure to cut in and hit the ball into the left hand corner of the net on 76 minutes..

The last 15 minutes were the most exciting of the game, as both sides had chances to win the game, with Gary Mills once again proving he isn’t a natural goalscorer, and Marcus Kelly making a rare contribution with a header to Curtis Woodhouse who hit a shot that looked as good as his attempt against Exeter, but as it dipped towards the corner Hamer managed to force it wide for a corner.

At the other end Tony Scully remained a threat, causing panic in the diamonds defence on a couple of occasions, the last of which led to Elliot Benyon setting up Marcus Richardson with a great change, but his shot was well over the bar.

As the match ended in a draw, manager Hill will have been pleased with the three second half substitutes, but he must also have been concerned how easily Crawley seemed to create chances, and how poor the attacking threat looked in the first half.

The Diamonds now have to prepare quickly before a game at Grays on Tuesday night.

Full-time: Rushden & Diamonds 1 Crawley Town 1

Teams:

Rushden & Diamonds (Red) : Scott Tynan, Jon Ashton, Paul Watson, Chris Hope, Jason Goodliffe, Danny Williams (Lee Tomlin 68), Michael Bostwick (Gary Mills 45), Curtis Woodhouse, Marcus Kelly, Simeon Jackson, Michael Rankine (Chris Beardsley 45)

Subs not used: Matt Baker, Mark Wright

Crawley Town (Blue) : Ben Hamer, Scott Hiley, Magnus Okuonghae, Ronnie Bull, Lee Blackburn, Scott Rendell (Marcus Richardson 68), Tony Scully, Tyrone Berry, Dannie Bulman, Elliot Benyon, Dave Woozley:

Subs not used: Rob Tolfrey, Darius Charles, Jack McLeod, Scott Marshall

Goals: Lee Blackburn 25, Lee Tomlin 78

Booked: Watson, Hiley, Blackburn

Referee: Mr Guy Stretton (Leicester)

Assistants: B O’Sullivan, Mr M Leach. Fourth Official : N Field

Attendance: 1974 (Away 83).

Diamonds Man of the Match sponsored by Pestfree : Curtis Woodhouse

Woodford Utd 1 Rushden & Diamonds 4

Diamonds won the Northants Hillier Senior Cup with a convincing 4-1 victory over Southern League side Woodford United at a bitterly cold Byfield Road. A penalty converted by Lee Tomlin was cancelled out within a minute, but a Chris Beardsley hat-trick brought the silverware back to Nene Park.

Diamonds had reached the final with wins over Cogenhoe United, Ford Sports Daventry and Rothwell Town, They had previously won the County Cup on two previous occasions, beating Northampton Spencer in 1994 and Raunds Town in 1999, although this was their seventh appearance in the final. Garry Hill announced a side which combined youth and experience, with eight youth team players in the squad. Recent signings Matt Baker and Mark Wright both made their debuts, while Mark Albrighton had permission to play in between his two match suspension.

This was Woodford United’s first appearance in the final, having defeated Raunds Town, Wellingborough Town and Brackley Town in the previous rounds. Manager Phil Mason announced two changes from the side which beat Berkhamsted Town at the weekend. Carl Standen replaced Jason Burnham in defence and midfielder Tom O’Brien came in for Craig Pearman.

Diamonds had the better start, with Tomlin and Beardsley both testing the Reds defence early on. It was Lee Tomlin’s quick turn of speed inside the area on 8 minutes that led to Tom Fountain bringing down the teenage striker, with referee Chris Knowles pointing to the penalty spot. Lee Tomlin got up to fire the penalty low to the right of the keeper and although Matt Finlay guessed the right direction, the ball went under his body to give Diamonds the lead.

The lead was short lived however. Within a minute of the restart, Neil King was given time to send a long diagonal pass from the middle of the park forward to Nicky Gordon. He fired a spectacular equaliser past the helpless Matt Baker and into the top right corner of the goal.

The goal seemed to give Woodford some confidence, with Neil King causing problems in midfield for Dave Savage. His surge on goal ended with a rather weak shot which Baker was able to collect easily. Diamonds regained the lead on 16 minutes when Ugo Udoji took the ball down the right and fired in a superb cross to find Chris Beardsley. He controlled the ball, turned and fired past Finlay from six yards.

Diamonds remained in control, although a Woodford attack on 30 minutes looked threatening before Lawrence Lambley got back to clear the ball for a corner. Ben Milner also had a good chance from the corner kick sending the ball back across the six yard area, before being put behind again. Josh Green then fired a header high and wide from the next corner. Within a couple of minutes, Diamonds had increased their lead. Lee Tomlin showed what he is capable of by leaving three defenders chasing shadows. His cross from the right found Chris Beardsley waiting in the centre to slot the ball into the far corner.

Ugo Udoji had an inspired first half constantly causing problems down the right, while Ben Reynolds in left midfield was also able to get forward on several occasions. Tomlin fired over the bar and Beardsley struck a fierce shot at the keeper before the break as Diamonds kept up the pressure. A slip by Josh Green just before the half time whistle nearly gifted Beardsley another.

Half-time: Woodford Utd 1-3 Rushden & Diamonds

 

As the second half progressed, Woodford tried to gain the initiative but Diamonds continued to stamp out any danger and Matt Baker had a fairly uneventful debut. Lambley shot over on 53 minutes following a cross from Michael Bostwck, while a one-two between Beardsley and Reynolds ended with the ball going over the bar.

Beardsley’s hat-trick finally came on 68 minutes when Lee Tomlin took the ball through the middle. He passed to Lambley on the right, who cut the ball back for Chris Beardsley to tap the ball over the advancing keeper.

Woodford continued to press forward in the remaining twenty minutes as they tried to salvage something from the game. A strong run by King almost released Gordon, but the ball was shielded out to safety. Top scorer Glen Hawkins also had a good chance to convert a cross, but the striker was unable to get a touch.

The final chance of the game fell to Diamonds when Tomlin took the ball forward again from the centre midfield. He released Lambley to unleash a fierce drive at the keeper, but he held on firmly as Alex Bolt ran in for the rebound.

Full-time: Woodford Utd 1-4 Rushden & Diamonds

 

Diamonds were presented with Cup at the end of the game, with Dave Savage lifting the trophy. While the experience of Savage, Chris Beardsley, Mark Albrighton and Matt Baker helped to win the game, it should be remembered that all the other players were under 20 years of age. Garry Hill must have been impressed with the likes of Ben Reynolds, Ugo Udoji and Lawrence Lambley who all played their part in the victory. Alex Bolt, Sean O’Keefe and Dominic Langdon all did well as substitutes, in fact Bolt was the only member of the team to have played in all the previous rounds of the competition. Diamonds will now have the chance to regain the Maunsell Cup they won two years ago when they take on Northampton Town in the Final to be played as a pre-season fixture.

Teams:

Woodford United – Matt Finlay, Lewis Travers, Carl Standen (Jason Burnham 75), Ben Milner, Josh Green, Tom Fountain, Aaron Parkinson (c), Neil King, Nicky Gordon, Glenn Hawkins, Tom O’Brien (Elliot Grey HT).

Subs not used: Terry Fitton, Darren Beckett, Kai Ridley.

 

Rushden & Diamonds – Matt Baker, Ugo Udoji, Mark Wright, Glenn, Wilson, Mark Albrighton, Dave Savage (Alex Bolt 59), Lawrence Lambley, Michael Bostwick (Dominic Langdon 84), Chris Beardsley (Sean O’Keefe 77), Lee Tomlin, Ben Reynolds.

Subs not used: Martyn Margarson (GK), Callum Reynolds.

Goals – Tomlin 9p (0-1), Gordon 10 (1-1), Beardsley 16 (1-2), Beardsley 33 (1-3), Beardsley 68 (1-4).

Booked:      –

Sent off:      –

Referee:      Mr Chris Knowles (Northants)

Attendance: 298.

Halifax Town 0 Rushden & Diamonds 0

Rushden & Diamonds’ preserved their unbeaten run with a solid if fairly lacklustre performance in Yorkshire.

Manager Hill made two changes to the starting line up seen at Nene Park last Tuesday, with Jason Goodliffe replacing the suspended Mark Albrighton and Michael Bostwick replacing the injured Gary Mills

Halifax Town manager Chris Wilder made two changes from the side that beat Exeter City on Saturday, with Shane Smeltz and Tyrone Thompson replacing Darren Stamp and Chris Billy.

The first ten minutes of the game were very uninspiring, as neither side managed to string together a sequence of passes, with the Diamonds high balls over the defence being repeatedly shepherded out for Goal Kicks

The Halifax crowd were getting restless that loanee Felix Bastians was being ignored in acres of space on the left wing – the side nearest the home fans in the effectively three sided ground.

On 10 minutes Bastians got his chance, and his dangerous cross was met by an overhead kick from Danny Forrest but it was easily caught by Tynan.

On 12 minutes Diamonds had a great break down the left channel, with Marcus Kelly beating his man near the half-way line, feeding Rankine, who deflected it on to Jackson, who put it back in to the path of Rankine on the left edge of the box, but his powerful shot was high and wide.

Simeon Jackson was doing a lot of chasing, and Danny Williams was showing great ball control and powerful running on the right, and the two of them combined with Jon Ashton to see a chance fall to Jacko on his right foot, but he failed to get hold of it, and it ran across goal towards Marcus Kelly, who forced a corner. From the corner the ball broke to Curtis Woodhouse on the edge of the box, but his shot was wide to the left of the goal.

Halifax threats were increasingly rare, although they did win a freekick on 29 minutes when Jason Goodliffe won a header against Forrest, but was adjudged to have pushed his man. The freekick was wasted though, as Smeltz blasted over after the ball rebounded from the wall. Smeltz had a better attempt a few minutes later as he lost his marker in the box, but Tynan gathered low to his right. Ryan Cresswell was also guilty of a poor header when he slipped his marker and met a cross from the right.

Diamonds continued to threaten via the flanks as they realised the balls over the top weren’t working, and a great piece of skill by Danny Williams to control a high ball saw his break down the right and force a corner on 36 minutes. The corner reached Jason Goodliffe, and although he did well to get to the ball, he could only direct his header over the bar.

Half-time: Halifax Town 0 – 0 Rushden & Diamonds

Halifax started the second half rather more brightly, and had a number of dangerous attacks that had to be scrambled clear, although the Diamonds defence didn’t seem to panic at any stage. Scott Tynan was brought into action as Shane Smeltz went on a looping run around the right side of the defence, forcing the keeper to make a great save low to his left. From the resultant corner a further chance fell to Smeltz, but he could only steer his shot wide.

As in the first half, Simeon Jackson got into the game in bursts, but then seemed to need a recovery period during which time he was out of position or offside. Although there were a few passes pinged around in midfield, too often someone in the move would take the negative option and the opportunity would be lost. This was summed up when Kelly swivelled and hit a great first time volley during one of these exchanges – unfortunately it was 180 degrees in the wrong direction and put his defence in all kinds of trouble. Kelly wasn’t the only one to struggle to make a telling pass, Bostwick and to a lesser extent Woodhouse also failed to make their mark for long periods.

Jason Goodliffe was impressing on his full debut, and he showed his distribution abilities as he stuck a great pass forwards to Michael Rankine who managed to shrug himself clear of two defenders and hit a powerful shot which deflected off a defender for a corner. From the corner the ball flew over the heads of the Halifax defenders to Chris Hope, but he got under the header and the ball flew over the bar.

Michael Rankine was replaced by Chris Beardsley, and shortly afterwards Jackson was replaced by Tomlin. Dave Savage was the final substitute, wisely replacing Curtis Woodhouse who had just received a final warning from the referee.

Savage immediately livened up the midfield, and a flowing move between Savage, Kelly, Watson and Beardsley saw the strikers shot deflected for a corner.

Although Halifax continued to work the ball forwards, they rarely threatened to breach the Diamonds defence, although their man-of-the-match Felix Bastians always looked dangerous, but was well contained by Jon Ashton.

One further great chance fell to the Diamonds as the ball was swept wide on the right, Michael Bostwick made one of his few forward runs of the night, and the ball found him unmarked in the area. His first shot was half-blocked, but as the goal was gaping in front of him, his second touch saw the ball fly wide and to safety in what was the Diamonds last chance to sneak a win.

Garry Hill had thus continued his unbeaten start to his managerial career at the Diamonds, and the overall unbeaten run in the league is stretched to 10 games, but with 4 draws in the last five games attention continues to be directed at the gap between the Diamonds and the relegation spots rather than the play-off places.

The final whistle signalled celebrations from the 75 or so travelling fans who had made the trip north, and those on the supporters coach chose Jon Ashton as their man of the match for his willingness to compete for the full 90 minutes and cover for some of the lethargy in midfield.

Full-time: Halifax Town 0 – 0 Rushden & Diamonds

Teams:

Halifax Town (Blue):

Craig Mawson, Steve Haslam, Tom Kearney (Capt), Danny Forrest, , Lewis Killeen, Jake Wright, Ryan Cresswell, Tyrone Thompson Felix Bastians (Gus Uhlenbeek 85), Greg Strong, Shane Smeltz (Darryn Stamp 84)

Subs Not Used Matt Doughty, Chris Billy, Steve Torpey,

Rushden & Diamonds (Red)

Scott Tynan, Jon Ashton, Paul Watson, Chris Hope, Jason Goodliffe, Danny Williams, Michael Bostwick, Curtis Woodhouse (Dave Savage 82), Marcus Kelly, Michael Rankine (Chris Beardsley 66), Simeon Jackson (Lee Tomlin 77)

Subs Not Used Matt Baker, Glenn Wilson

 

Yellow Cards : Greg Strong (33 – Deliberate Handball), Curtis Woodhouse (41 – repeated offences), Danny Williams (Foul), Jake Wright (Foul)

 

Referee: S Cummins

Attendance: 1314 (Away Approx 75).

Travel Club Man of the Match : Jon Ashton

Rushden & Diamonds 2 Morecambe 2

Rushden & Diamonds extended their unbeaten run in the league to nine games but were second best to an attractive footballing side for most of the game. After taking a two goal lead the Diamonds will have been disappointed to let things slip, but there were very few at Nene Park who were surprised that Morecambe fought their way back for a draw.

Both Rushden and Morecambe fielded unchanged starting line-ups, with the only change in the 32 players on show being the return of Michael Bostwick to the bench after his one-match ban, replacing Glenn Wilson. Sammy McIlroy was able to use striker Matthew Blinkhorn for his second appearance of his loan spell from Blackpool, standing in for top scorer Michael Twiss who has a long term injury.

After all the recent rain it was a relief to find the pitch in good condition, and no sign of the nearby River Nene threatening the car parks. A rather disappointing attendance reflected the close proximity of the Exeter game, as well as the counter attractions of the Champions league, but those that did make the effort were well rewarded.

Morecambe kicked off attacking the De Banke end, with Diamonds playing the expected 4-4-2, as on Saturday.

The first half saw Morecambe with the majority of possession, as they swept it around the pitch at pace, with Wayne Curtis working the left flank and Garry Thompson the right. These raids resulted in several clear chances, notably for Curtis himself as he stole into left hand side of the area, but each time he failed to take advantage. He turned provider in the 10th minute when he hit a low ball into the area straight to Danny Carlton’s feet, but the striker could only hit a very weak shot which was easily dealt with. Blinkhorn also caused problems to the Diamonds defence, and saw one of his crosses flash across the goal with none of his teammates able to get what would have been an easy tap-in.

Other Morecambe attempts included a couple of dangerous looking shots from just outside the area from Carlton and then perhaps their best chance when Mark Albrighton attempted a clearance which hit the back of Thompson’s head and fell to Curtis on the left, and although he wrong footed Jon Ashton, Gary Mills managed to get in a challenge which deflected the shot onto the post and away to safety.

Finally as the game neared the 20 minute mark the Diamonds started to look more dangerous on their infrequent attacks, with Woodhouse starting to spray the ball around the pitch, notably across to Williams, whose layoff to Ashton saw the defender hit a cross which some thought hit a Morecambe player’s arm.

Michael Rankine also started getting the measure of the Morecambe defence, and won a number of headers, and he also put in a couple of deft flicks past his marker, one of which saw him fouled near the half-way line, but unfortunately had play proceeded Danny Williams pass had found Simeon Jackson in the clear. Rankine also executed a great dummy to set Simeon Jackson free, but his shot was scuffed.

The first real save that Morecambe goalkeeper Drench had to make was in the 27th minute, as a Danny Williams shot from just outside the box appeared to have a bit of swerve on it, but it was well cradled by Drench.

On 33 minutes Diamonds took the lead against the run of play, with good work by Gary Mills on the right winning a throw, and Mills then broke down the right, slipped in inside to Williams on the right hand edge of the box, and his cross found Michael Rankine, whose well directed header found the left hand side of the net.

This rattled Morecambe somewhat, and for a while their free flowing game became disjointed, with Danny Adams being booked for a foul. However, they continued their raids into the Diamonds area, and a weak Scott Tynan punch looked to give Morecambe a chance to equalise, but it was wasted.

Again Diamonds were soaking up pressure, but could easily have taken a two goal lead into half time, as a great move down the left involving Jackson and Kelly saw a Kelly cross finding Rankine who had found space away from his marker, but his attempt to head the ball down to bounce over the goalie also saw the ball go over the bar.

One final raid by Morecambe just before half-time down the right hand side saw a bad mistake by Paul Watson almost punished as Blinkhorn was able to cut into the area and lob the ball over Tynan, but Gary Mills, not for the first time, was there to clear the ball for a corner.

So Diamonds would have been more than happy with their half-time lead, but must have realised that they needed to stop the free-flowing Morecambe attacks or they would be punished.

Half-time: Rushden & Diamonds 1 – 0 Morecambe

The second half started with the Diamonds looking a bit brighter, and Marcus Kelly in particular looked to start taking on the Morecambe defenders, including a great run, nutmegging a defender, switching to his left foot, and hitting a decent shot which Drench couldn’t hold, but he was able to reach the loose ball before the oncoming attacker.

Morecambe then found their free-flowing style again, with Curtis and Thompson causing real problems to the Diamonds defence. A Michael Howard shot from just outside of the box was their best attempt on goal, and they also had a couple of shouts for a penalty as their hard low crosses hit defenders en-route.

On 61 minutes both Ashton and Mills were down injured, and Michael Bostwick replaced Mills shortly afterwards. Before he had time to get into position Diamonds had taken a two goal lead, following their best move of the game, with the ball being worked down the right to Danny Williams who cut inside and hit a great cross that appeared to be heading to Michael Rankine, under challenge from a defender. This challenge seemed to force Rankine away from the ball, and Marcus Kelly forced past the big striker to get in a great header and the second goal.

Any thought that the two goals might be enough were quickly dispelled as Morecambe started to look even more threatening, and a great run from Thompson forced a Morecambe corner to their right. From the corner the ball went right across the area towards Chris Hope, whose attempt to clear saw the ball loop across the six-yard box and into the right-hand side of the net for an own-goal.

Within three minutes the scores were level, when a raid down the centre saw the ball sprayed to Wayne Curtis in acres of space towards the left hand edge of the box. As Tynan advanced he was able to lift the ball over him and into the net.

At this point it looked like either team might win the game, but Morecambe seemed to start thinking defensively, and Rankine and Jackson started to get some joy up front, with both having attempts on goal – a header and shot respectively, but the best chance fell to Mark Albrighton from a corner that looked identical to the one against Exeter on Saturday, but this time his header was fractionally high and wide.

Scott Tynan still had to pull out a great save from Gary Thompson as the winger enjoyed continuing freedom down the right hand side.

The match thus ended as a draw, and perhaps both sides would have been disappointed with that – Diamonds because they had lost a two goal lead, and Morecambe as they had had the best of the play. The Nene Park pitch really seemed to suit Morecambes’s approach, but if they can reproduce that style of play on their remaining away trips this season they look a good bet for the playoffs. Only Gravesend have looked as good a footballing side at Nene Park this season.

The Diamonds now have a Saturday off before the Tuesday outing to Yorkshire to face Halifax.

Full-time: Rushden & Diamonds 2 – 2 Morecambe

Teams:

Rushden & Diamonds (Red) : Scott Tynan, Jon Ashton, Paul Watson, Chris Hope, Mark Albrighton, Danny Williams (Lee Tomlin 82), Gary Mills (Michael Bostwick 65), Curtis Woodhouse, Marcus Kelly, Simeon Jackson, Michael Rankine

Subs not used: Matt Baker, Chris Beardsley, Jason Goodliffe

Morecambe (Blue): Steven Drench, Adam Yates, Jim Bentley, Danny Adams, Michael Howard, Gary Thompson, Craig Stanley, Neil Sorvel, Wayne Curtis, Danny Carlton, Matthew Blinkhorn.

Subs not used: Davies, Hunter, Blackburn, Burns, Brannan

Goals: Rankine 34, Kelly 66, Hope (OG) 74, Curtis 66

Booked: Adams 37 (foul)

Referee: Mr Graham Scott (Oxfordshire)

Assistants: M McLaughlin, S Phipps. Fourth Official : C Reeve

Attendance: 1701 (Away 52).

Diamonds Man of the Match sponsored by Stratos Control Systems : Michael Rankine

Rushden & Diamonds 3 Exeter City 0

New Diamonds boss Garry Hill got his term in charge off to the perfect start with a 3-0 win against high flying Exeter City. First half goals from Simeon Jackson and Mark Albrighton, plus a wonder strike from Curtis Woodhouse after the break secured the points.

The win was a climax to a rather hectic week off the field which saw the departure of Graham Westley. Diamonds were seven games unbeaten, while 3rd placed Exeter had not lost or conceded a goal in the previous five games, dropping their only points in the 0-0 draw with Diamonds eleven days ago.

After much speculation about the team selection, suspensions and injuries played a big part in who was available. Michael Bostwick was out following his sending off at Aldershot, while Wayne Hatswell was also suspended after picking up his fifth booking. Five changes were announced to the team which started at Aldershot. Paul Watson, Michael Rankine, Marcus Kelly and new signings Curtis Woodhouse and Danny Williams all started. Jamie Cook remained side-lined with a foot injury, while Gary Mills had recovered from a toe injury. There was no place in the squad for Dino Maamria or David Perpetuini.

Grecians boss Paul Tisdale was able to field Lee Elam in midfield after serving his suspension, while former Diamond Jon Challinor was out after picking up his fifth caution in last weekends 3-0 win against Burton Albion. Richard Logan and Adam Stansfield replaced Jamie Mackie and Dean Moxey.

As Diamonds kicked-off towards the Airwair Stand, the home supporters must have wondered how much the events of the last seven days had affected the players. Exeter probably had the better of the early exchanges with a couple of corners, and Adam Stansfield nearly got behind the defence, although Scott Tynan came out quickly to claim the ball. Diamonds looked confident passing the ball around, with both Curtis Woodhouse and debutant Danny Williams showing some good touches.

Diamonds first chance fell to Woodhouse, when his shot from outside the area was deflected off a defender for a corner. Williams’s first corner for the club on 10 minutes proved to be something special. As the big players were jostling for positions at the far post, he sent a perfect ball for Simeon Jackson to nip in at the near post and guide the ball into the net.

With a midfield of Kelly, Mills, Woodhouse and Williams, Diamonds seemed to be taking control of the game, and Exeter were not allowed time on the ball to open up the defence. On 19 minutes, the lead was extended as Danny Williams won another corner on the right. Woodhouse lifted in another superb kick to the far post. Mark Albrighton had time to aim a header at goal, beating the keeper and dropping inside the far post off the underside of the bar.

Marcus Kelly was harshly yellow carded after the restart for a foul on Wayne Carlisle. Both Carlisle and Richard Logan looked capable of causing some damage, with Lee Elam’s trickery always likely to cause problems, but as the half progressed, they lacked any cutting edge, with the Diamonds defence standing firm. Diamonds were so close to a third on 26 minutes, when Kelly sent Woodhouse away down the right. He unselfishly turned the ball back to Jackson, but the attempt on goal was charged down.

Just after the half hour, Exeter nearly got one back when Tully lobbed the ball into the area. Tynan seemed to hesitate before finally coming for the ball, almost allowing Matthew Gill to sneak in. Some good movement between Logan and Carlisle saw a shot skim across the front of the goal, but the ball evaded players from both teams. Moments later, Carlisle tried to catch Diamonds out with a quick free kick, but Mills was alert and put the ball out for a corner.

With Exeter threatening more and more, it allowed Diamonds to make some quick breaks out of defence and three great chances fell in quick succession in the final five minutes of the half. Woodhouse had a shot well saved after a quick ball from Rankine sent Jackson away, and a Rankine shot from a Williams cross was just tipped away by Exeter keeper Paul Jones. Finally Jackson had a snap shot tipped over after receiving a through ball from Woodhouse.

Half-time Rushden & Diamonds  2 – 0 Exeter City

As the second half commenced, Exeter tried to recover an early goal, pressing forward at every opportunity. Carlisle put in a dangerous cross, but Tynan gathered easily. Despite the attempts to push forward, the Diamonds defenders rarely looked troubled.

On 52 minutes, Curtis Woodhouse made the game safe for Diamonds with a special goal. Michael Rankine received the ball inside the Exeter half and took it forward. As his path was blocked, he sent a cross field ball for Kelly on the left. Kelly laid the ball off with one touch to Curtis Woodhouse, who sent a stunning 20 yard volley into the back of the net.

City continued to press forward trying to get something out of the game. Stansfield had a shot tipped over by Tynan on 56 minutes, and Carlisle’s corner was nearly turned in by Rankine, his header just clearing the bar. They certainly started to have greater possession, but Diamonds were able to cope without too much difficulty. Elam continued to cause a headache but the final ball did not have the accuracy to beat the Hope and Albrighton.

Exeter made a couple of changes with Bertrand Cozic and Lee Phillips replacing Buckle and Logan in an attempt to change things around. Phillips nearly nipped in behind the defence, but Paul Watson was on hand to nod the ball back to Tynan. With 15 minutes left on the clock, Stansfield was brought down by Albrighton on the edge of the area, earning the on loan defender another yellow card, his tenth of the season. The free kick was scrambled away and the danger cleared.

Stansfield had a shot palmed away by Tynan on 77 minutes as Diamonds tried to keep a clean sheet. Both Rankine and Gill were yellow carded for some rather innocuous fouls. With 5 minutes left, Lee Tomlin was brought on for Jackson, while Rankine made way for Chris Beardsley. As Diamonds played out the remaining time, both teams had chances in added time. A Woodhouse free-kick found Beardsley clear, but his header struck the bar and away to safety. At the other end, Jamie Mackie, who had come on for Stansfield blasted a long range shot just over the bar. Tomlin also tried some fancy footwork in the box but was just unable to get a shot away before the ball was cleared.

Full-time: Rushden & Diamonds 3 – 0 Exeter City

A great start for the new manager, who was full of praise for the two young strikers – Rankine providing the strength and Jackson the skill causing the Exeter defence problems. The score line might have been a bit harsh on the visitors, but Diamonds took their chances well and in fact could have had more. Mark Albrighton’s tenth booking will mean a suspension commencing next Saturday, but Diamonds will be looking for another battling performance against Morecambe at Nene Park next Tuesday evening.

Teams:

Rushden & Diamonds – Scott Tynan, Paul Watson, Jon Ashton, Chris Hope (c), Michael Rankine (Chris Beardsley 89), Marcus Kelly, Simeon Jackson (Lee Tomlin 86), Gary Mills, Mark Albrighton, Curtis Woodhouse, Danny Williams.

Subs not used: Matt Baker(GK), Glenn Wilson, Jason Goodliffe.

Exeter City – Paul Jones, Billy Jones, Matthew Gill, Chris Todd (c), Adam Stansfield (Jamie Mackie 86), Rob Edwards, Steve Tully, Richard Logan (Lee Phillips 70), Lee Elam, Wayne Carlisle, Paul Buckle (Bertrand Cozic 58).

Subs not used: Martin Rice(GK), Jon Richardson..

Goals: Jackson 10 (1-0); Albrighton 19 (2-0); Woodhouse 52 (3-0).

Booked: Kelly (21 – foul on Carlisle); Albrighton (76 – foul on Stansfield); Rankine (83 – foul on Todd); Gill (85 – foul on Jackson).

Referee:         D.Coote (Newark)

Attendance:   2344 (351 away)

Gap Personnel Man of the Match: Curtis Woodhouse

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