Rushden & Diamonds 1 Grays Athletic 1

Simeon Jackson gave Diamonds the perfect start with a goal after just 9 minutes, but during a poor second half performance, Grays equalised through Karl Murray and probably felt unlucky not to have returned to East London with the three points.

Manager Garry Hill made two changes to the side which gained an injury time draw at Halifax at the weekend. Andy Burgess and Chris Hope had both recovered to make the starting line up, while Simon Rusk and Phil Gulliver dropped to the bench. Dean Howell was playing against one of his former clubs and continued at left back, while Curtis Woodhouse was serving his final match ban following his sending off at Salisbury.

Grays manager Justin Edinburgh made four changes from the side that lost at home to York City on Saturday. Jamie Stuart was suspended after his dismissal during that game, while Craig McAllister and Charlie Hearn dropped down to the bench and Adam Gross failed to make the sixteen. In came Ernie Cooksey following his suspension, Mark Marshall, Jack Haverson and Danny Kedwell who partnered Gavin Grant up front.

Both sides had early efforts on goal with Gavin Grant shooting wide for the visitors, and Andy Burgess firing well over the bar. Diamonds looked to close Grays down quickly and started to control the midfield from an early stage with Andy Burgess and Jon Challinor taking on the defence at every opportunity. After just 9 minutes, Diamonds took the lead. Curtis Osano made a forward run down the right and passed the ball forward to Simeon Jackson, who fired in a 25 yard shot past keeper Ross Flitney into the corner of the net.

After the goal, Grays were unable to make much headway up field and created very little in the way of chances. Burgess was causing problems and Flitney had to be quick off his line taking the ball off the head of Michael Rankine. Diamonds wouldn’t let the visitors settle and chased down at every opportunity although neither side were creating much in front of goal. Jackson’s cross after a lovely cross field ball from Burgess was just too high for Lee Tomlin, while on 27 minutes, Dennis Oli had the first real chance for Grays, heading over from close range following a Stuart Thurgood corner.

On 37 minutes, Jackson tried his luck again from long range, but although his 30yard effort bounced awkwardly, striking the keepers chest, it was gathered at the second attempt. Rankine also shot over the bar from long range. As the half drew to a close, a collision between two Grays defenders allowed Rankine to gain possession at the edge of the penalty area. His cross went behind Jackson, but fell to Lee Tomlin whose goal bound shot struck Jon Ashton and deflected for a corner. Jon Challinor’s corner was then dropped by Flitney, but gathered at the second attempt.

Half-time: Rushden & Diamonds 1 – 0 Grays Athletic

Grays made a change at the start of the second half with Charlie Hearn replacing Jack Haverson who was injured in the collision at the end of the first half. Andy Sambrook moved inside to partner Jon Ashton in the centre of defence. The visitors certainly came out looking a different side as they became much more competitive in midfield. In the opening ten minutes, Danny Kedwell had a shot blocked by Chris Hope, and then Charlie Hearn shot wide from the resultant corner. Gavin Grant also forced a good save from Paul Bastock.

Diamonds attacking options seemed to diminish, although Dean Howell’s dangerous cross was punched away by the keeper. With Diamonds on the back foot, Grays drew level on 58 minutes. After Curtis Osano had fouled Ernie Cooksey five yards outside the area, Thurgood fired in the free kick, forcing Bastock to palm away his fierce drive. Karl Murray was first to follow up the loose ball and drilled his shot past the keeper.

Over the next fifteen minutes both sides made changes with James Lawson replacing Mark Marshall for Grays and Marcus Kelly and Michael Malcolm coming on for Lee Tomlin and Simeon Jackson. Malcolm had Diamonds best chance of the half shortly after coming on, heading just wide after some great work by Kelly on the left.

Goalmouth action was in short supply as both sides struggled to find some sort of form. James Lawson’s shot on 82 minutes was caught by Bastock at the near post, while Lawson turned provider moments later, Kedwell heading over. Diamonds only goal-bound attempt was from a Chris Hope free-kick five minutes from time, but it went straight at the keeper.

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

Having controlled the midfield for the first 45 minutes, the first half performance was an improvement on some of the recent games, but Diamonds fell away in the second half with Jon Challinor and Andy Burgess largely anonymous. On a positive note, Diamonds are now undefeated in seven games although five draws takes the shine off the achievement with goals a rare commodity at the moment. The attendance seems to reflect the recent performances with the gate being the lowest at Nene Park for a League match for over twelve years. With Stafford Rangers struggling at the bottom of the League, Garry Hill must be hoping for a vast improvement on Saturday afternoon.

Teams:

Rushden & Diamonds – Bastock, Osano, Hope(c), Hatswell, Challinor, Jackson (Malcolm 74), Burgess, Rankine, Tomlin (Kelly 67), Foster, Howell.

Subs not used: Nicholls, Gulliver, Rusk.

Grays Athletic – Flitney, Sambrook, Thurgood(c), Oli, Kedwell, Murray, Ashton, Marshall (Lawson 59), Cooksey, Grant (O’Connor 81), Haverson (Hearn HT).

Subs not used: Knowles, McAllister.

Goals:      Jackson 9 (1-0); Murray 58 (1-1).

Booked:    Nil.

Referee:    Mr R.Wigglesworth (Yorks)

Attendance:  1345 (48 away).

Pest Free Man of the Match – Chris Hope.

By Dave Mason

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