Aldershot Town 2 Rushden & Diamonds 1

Diamonds failed to dent Aldershot’s hold on top spot as goals from John Grant and Ben Harding either side of the half time break gave the home side a two goal advantage. Simeon Jackson got one back with half an hour remaining, scoring for the 13th time in 11 games, but unlike last season, they were unable to get back on level terms.

Garry Hill, still serving his touchline ban, made just the one forced change to the team that knocked Macclesfield Town out of the FA Cup last weekend. Lee Tomlin came in to replace Craig McAllister following his loan recall from Grays Athletic. New loan signing Lee Hales was on the bench, together with Curtis Woodhouse, who had come through the Hiller Senior Cup game in midweek without any setbacks.

Shot’s manager Gary Waddock made four changes to the side that lost at Cambridge United last weekend. Rob Elvins and Scott Davies were both serving suspensions, while defender Ricky Newman failed a late fitness test. Louis Soares was also out. In came Dave Winfield and Anthony Charles starting in defence, while Lewis Chalmers played in midfield, and John Grant returned up front. John Grant had spent a short period on loan at Nene Park back in November 2001, while another former Diamond, Rob Gier was in the starting eleven.

Diamonds kicked off towards the covered stand, playing in their now familiar yellow away strip and they looked confident in the opening exchanges. They certainly started the stronger of the two sides, with Andy Burgess and Simeon Jackson having attempts on goal in the opening ten minutes. The home side were losing possession too frequently, and apart from Anthony Charles’ header over the bar, failed to trouble the Diamonds defence.

On 17 minutes, Burgess sent a great ball in from the right wing to Lee Tomlin at the far post. He struck the ball goal wards with the outside of his foot, only for captain Rhys Day to clear the ball off the goal line for a corner. Two minutes later, Tomlin turned provider with another precise pass to Simeon Jackson who had escaped his marker, but his 20 yard strike was saved by keeper Nikki Bull.

Tomlin’s persistence was causing the Aldershot defenders problems and his partnership with Jackson was looking better as the game progressed, but on 23 minutes, Aldershot made a quick break out of defence. Joel Grant and John Grant combined well and John Grant’s shot from 15 yards sailed past Paul Nicholls, but struck the post. As the ball rebounded across the goalmouth, Nicholls pounced and gathered the loose ball safely.

Diamonds failed to heed the warning as just two minutes later, Aldershot took the lead as the same two players combined. Joel Grant switched to the left and from the edge of the area, sent the ball over Phil Gulliver and onto the head of John Grant. The striker appeared to get under the ball, but it lopped agonisingly over Nicholls and into the net. Diamonds could consider themselves unfortunate to go a goal behind, and they continued to put pressure on the home defence. Both Burgess and Foster had shots which the keeper safely dealt with, while on 31 minutes, Simeon Jackson should have done better when Andy Burgess sent him clear, shooting over the bar with only the keeper to beat.

Lee Tomlin was inches wide minutes later when Marcus Kelly’s corner was flicked on by Chris Hope. Tomlin was looking for a permanent starting place and continued to close down at every opportunity, but his efforts were rewarded with a yellow card on 36 minutes after being penalised for a foul. As the half drew to a close, Jackson shot over the bar again, while Tomlin and Kelly combined well on the left side of the penalty area, Andy Burgess being just unable to bundle Kelly’s cross over the line. At the other end, Joel Grant’s quick feet was still causing Dean Howell problems and luckily for Diamonds, his dangerous cross failed to find another Aldershot player just before the break.

HT: Aldershot Town 1 – 0 Rushden & Diamonds

Aldershot started the second half more positively than the first as they looked to consolidate their lead, and on 50 minutes, that is exactly what they did. Diamonds were left outnumbered on the left flank, and Anthony Straker crossed the ball into the middle where the unmarked Ben Harding fired a left foot volley past Nicholls to make it 2-0.

Diamonds continued to create chances as they tried to reduce the arrears. Chris Hope struck a free kick over the bar on 53 minutes after Kelly had been brought down ten yards outside the area, while Jackson brought the ball forward from the left, but shot wide. Kelly also had an effort wide.

After 57 minutes, the home side had the chance to put the game beyond doubt after a poor clearance from Paul Nicholls on the edge of the area. Harding fired the ball straight back towards the empty goal, but was well off target with his effort. Diamonds went to three up front with the introduction of Michael Rankine in place of Phil Gulliver as they strived to get a goal back, but John Grant continued to cause trouble, a neat flick from Straker allowing him to bare down on Nicholls. The keeper did well to steer him away from goal and block the ball away from danger.

Diamonds got back in to the game on 62 minutes when former Aldershot midfielder Jon Challinor chipped the ball forward to Simeon Jackson who slipped the ball past Nikki Bull. Lee Hales came on after 66 minutes for his League debut, replacing Jon Challinor, with Kirk Hudson replacing Dave Winfield for the home side. Five minutes later, there was a warm reception from the visiting supporters with the introduction of Curtis Woodhouse for Martin Foster.

Diamonds continued to press for an equaliser and Jackson’s cross for Rankine was intercepted by Anthony Charles. Aldershot’s Joel Grant continued to be a danger with Dean Howell continuing to have problems marking the 20 year-old. His chip on 76 minutes found John Grant and Kirk Hudson both clear on the keeper, but Nicholls did well again to smother the ball. Nicholls was alert again on 84 minutes, when the same two players found space inside the area. Grant’s shot was blocked, while Hudson sent the rebound high over the bar. In the final five, Joel Grant fired into the side netting.

Tomlin and Rankine both tried to run at goal as the clock ran down, but the Aldershot defence stood firm. Shot’s brought on youth team player Danny Simmonds for his debut with just seconds remaining and as the four minutes of added time came to an end, Rhys Day deflected a shot from Curtis Osano just past the post, as Diamonds attempt to gain a point vanished with the referee whistle

FT: Aldershot Town 2 – 1 Rushden & Diamonds

Although it was a defeat, Diamonds recent good run of form was evident and they could probably consider themselves unlucky not to have come away with a share of the points in a highly entertaining game. It is difficult to say if the presence of Craig McAllister would have made a difference, but Lee Tomlin impressed after his recent loan spell at Brackley Town. After playing the team at the top of the Blue Square Premier, Diamonds visit bottom of the table Northwich Victoria next weekend, and Simeon Jackson must fancy his chances of continuing his run of scoring going. After the last 10 League games, he has now only failed to score in the 0-1 defeat against Cambridge United.

Teams:

Aldershot Town – Bull, Straker, Day(c), Charles, Chalmers, John Grant, Dixon (Simmonds 90+4), Winfield (Hudson 66), Harding, Gier, Joel Grant.

Subs not used: Milletti, Huggins, Jaimez-Ruiz.

Rushden & Diamonds – .Nicholls, Osano, Hope (c), Gulliver (Rankine 57), Challinor (Hales 66), Jackson, Burgess, Tomlin, Foster (Woodhouse 71), Kelly, Howell,

Subs not used: Bastock, Hatswell.

Goals: John Grant 25 (1-0); Harding 50 (2-0); Jackson 62 (2-1).

Booked: Tomlin 36 (foul).

Referee: Mr N.Kinseley (Essex)

Attendance:  3110 (159 away).

Reporters Man of the Match – Lee Tomlin.

By Dave Mason

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