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.


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)


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