Altrincham 1 Rushden & Diamonds 2

Diamonds extended their unbeaten League run to nine games as Michael Rankine and Simeon Jackson fired them into a first half lead. But they made hard work of what should have been a comfortable win after a defensive error allowed Chris Senior to get a goal back for the home side which made for a rather nervous ending.

Manager Garry Hill announced two changes from the side which drew against Stafford Rangers the previous weekend. Simon Rusk was suspended after picking up his fifth booking last Saturday (having received 2 yellow cards with Northwich Victoria), while Michael Malcolm dropped to the bench. Jon Challinor returned to midfield, while Michael Rankine joined Simeon Jackson in attack.

Altrincham manager Graham Heathcote had first choice keeper Stuart Coburn still sidelined with a groin injury sustained three weeks ago, while Gareth Whalley (ankle) and Stephen Aspinall (knee) were also unavailable. He was however, able to name the same side which won away at Crawley Town last Saturday and they were looking for their third successive win.

The home side looked to take Diamonds by surprise and within the first twenty seconds, squandered a good chance to take the lead as Robbie Lawton went forward on the right and sent in a cross for Pat McFadden. The midfielder making only his second start of the season failed to get a proper connection and the ball went wide of the goal.

After the excitement of the opening seconds, both sides seemed to settle for mediocrity as they both found it difficult to create any clear-cut chances. With Altrincham and Rushden struggling to score goals this season, it seemed more likely that any goal was likely to be caused by a mistake at the back. During the opening half hour, possession was fairly even. Diamonds and Altrincham had opportunities from free kicks outside the area, but neither keeper was troubled.

Diamonds had to wait until midway through the first half for their first chance. Marcus Kelly made a mazy run through the centre, his shot from just outside the area was deflected wide by Ryan Shotton. Diamonds seemed to be gaining in confidence as Jon Challinor and Martin Foster started to gain control in midfield. The Robins were quite successful in trying to close them down at every opportunity and Paul Nicholls was tested on 34 minutes when he had to save low from Colin Little.

It was Diamonds that made the breakthrough on 36 minutes as Kelly caused more problems for the home side. His forward pass found Jon Challinor in space on the left and he had time to centre the ball away from the reach of Richard Acton. As Gary Scott and Michael Rankine challenged for the ball, it was Michael Rankine who was the stronger, and slid the ball in from six yards.

Nicholls had to punch clear from a Val Owen cross, while Pat McFadden blasted over following another cross, but Diamonds were looking more confident going forward. Jackson’s shot from the edge of the area was saved low down by Acton, while another great ball from Kelly saw Rankine challenge with the keeper, the ball going loose for Jackson to shoot wide. Simeon Jackson was looking lively and within the minute added on at the end of first half, he got his just rewards. He took the ball into the left side of the area and with the defence standing off, fired a shot past the keeper and into the corner of the net.

Half-time: Altrincham 0 – 2 Rushden & Diamonds

Diamonds had not had the luxury of a two goal lead at any stage this season, and they looked as if they would increase it in the opening ten minutes. Burgess shot just wide with the keeper out of position, Rankine had a shot and header wide, while Jackson shot over from long range.

Diamonds looked confident on the ball but as they tried to play the ball out of defence on 55 minutes, they came unstuck. The Robins were continuing to chase every ball down, and as Wayne Hatswell tried to play the ball wide, he was dispossessed by Colin Little. His pass forward sent Chris Senior clear on goal, and as Nicholls came out, he took the ball wide and slotted the ball into the empty net.

The goal certainly gave Altrincham hope as they tested the visitors defence. Chris Lane and Chris Senior both tried long range shot, but Nicholls’ handling was safe. At the other end, Burgess and Kelly tried to test Acton. Kelly had certainly been a threat to the home side, and they were relieved on 70 minutes, when he was replaced by Lee Tomlin. Tomlin had impressed in the midweek game at Corby Town, and he was immediately into the action by taking a quick free-kick to Jackson, but his shot was blocked for a corner. Tomlin’s corner found Hatswell, but his strong header went straight into the keeper’s arms.

Michael Malcolm replaced Rankine with 15 minutes to go as Diamonds tried a different front man. Altrincham’s Val Owen received a yellow card for a foul on Martin Foster, and Malcolm shot wide from Curtis Osano’s free kick. As Altrincham tried to come forward, Malcolm and Tomlin both shot wide with the clock running down. With three minutes added time, Simeon Jackson came off to the applause of the visiting fans, Robbie Lawton’s complaints to the referee earning him a yellow card. In Altrincham’s final attack, Val Owen shot through a crowded penalty area, his drive going wide of the far post.

Full-time: Altrincham 1 – 2 Rushden & Diamonds

Diamonds unbeaten run continues as they look to make it 10 games at Cambridge United on Tuesday night’s televised game. That will be manager Garry Hill’s last game in charge before his two week suspension and five game touchline ban comes into force.

Teams:

Altrincham – Acton, Lane, Tinson (c), Shotton, Scott, Lawton, Owen, Peyton (Potts 70), McFadden (Logan 52), Little (O’Neill 79), Senior.

Subs not used: Munroe, Sedgemore.

Rushden & Diamonds – Nicholls, Osano, Hope (c), Hatswell, Challinor, Jackson (Shaw 90+2), Burgess, Rankine (Malcolm 75), Foster, Kelly (Tomlin 70), Howell.

Subs not used: Bastock, Gulliver.

Goals: Rankine 36 (0-1), Jackson 45+1 (0-2), Senior 55 (1-2).

Booked: Owen 81 (foul), Lawton 90+2 (dissent).

Referee: Mr M.Brown (Yorks)

Attendance: 941 (80 away)

Reporters Man of the Match – Marcus Kelly.

By Dave Mason

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