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

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