Bristol Rovers 5 Rushden & Diamonds 1

Rushden & Diamonds took an early lead against Bristol Rovers in challenging conditions at the Memorial Stadium, but the excellent pace and movement shown by Rovers meant that they were able to create a succession of clear cut chances that were converted to seal a convincing victory for the League One side. Despite the 5-1 scoreline, there was some good football on show from both sides, and with better finishing in a spell towards the end of the first half the Diamonds might have stayed in the game for rather longer.

Manager Garry Hill was able to return to the touchline following the expiry of his ban, and he made two changes to the side that lost at Northwich, with Paul Bastock preferred to Paul Nicholls in goal, and Andy Burgess returning from injury to replace Martin Foster who had been carrying a knock for a while. Burgess took his place in right midfield with Jon Challinor reverting to the centre.

Rovers Coach Paul Trollope was already struggling to put out a back four, and with a third suspension starting he used David Pipe at right back.

The talking point before the game started was the weather. After poor weather on Friday, the succession of storms in Bristol on Saturday morning was followed by a longer spell of hail and rain from 12:30, and although the pitch had recovered well from the recent cup replay, the heavy rain meant that an inspection was called for at 2pm, with the gates kept locked until the verdict was received. Referee Melin quickly decided the pitch was playable, and as the weather was improving he appeared to have little hesitation to confirm the game would be started.

With a strong wind blowing towards the South Stand where the Diamonds fans were seated, the teams changed ends, giving the visitors the advantage of the wind in the first half.

Rovers started much the brighter, with Pipe and Igoe combining well on the right, with Igoe able to hit a succession of crosses that the Diamonds defence had to scramble for corners, with Curtis Osano needing all of his composure to keep the ball the right side of the post on more than one occasion. The short corner move used from the left was working well too, with several dangerous crosses threatening the opening goal, with Andy Burgess helping out the defence as he cleared on goal bound effort from on the six-yard line.

Diamonds did have some attacking threat, with Dean Howell getting forward and finding Craig McAllister, whose touch went narrowly behind his strike partner. Marcus Kelly was putting in some good runs down the left, and well as harrying Pipe into a couple of mistakes. Following such pressure, on 10 minutes he received the ball from Curtis Woodhouse not far from the half way line, wide on the left, and he hit what looked like an adventurous "up and under" ball, 45 yards from goal, towards the strikers for them to run and challenge the defence. However, the strong wind gave the ball extra impetus, and Steve Phillips in the Rovers goal couldn’t back pedal quickly enough to prevent the ball going over his head and into the net to give the Diamonds the lead. Whether he meant it as an attempted lob over the keeper only he will know, but it was enough to send the Diamonds fans behind that goal wild, and also receive Alan Shearer’s nomination for goal of the day on Match of the Day – so it was certainly quite a goal !

As the Diamonds managed to hang on to their lead, despite a number of near misses, especially following dangerous breaks down the right by Igoe, and resultant corners, the Rovers fans were getting impatient, and made little effort to get behind their team whilst they were behind. Curtis Osano was starting to find freedom to combine with Andy Burgess on the right, and he and Marcus Kelly were both able to force corners via runs to the by-line. One of these saw a chance fall to McAllister as a Challinor shot was blocked, but he was facing away from goal and couldn’t feed a team-mate before the Rovers defence got in their challenges. Another dangerous move saw Marcus Kelly run at the Rovers defence through the middle, but his shot was over the bar this time. Simeon Jackson also made himself room to get in a decent looking shot, but Phillips was able to smother to his left.

However, just as it looked like Diamonds might be able to preserve their lead, everything changed on the half-hour mark. Suddenly the heavens opened again, and a squally shower hit the ground. This seemed to distract the visitors, and they allowed a loose ball in midfield to be gathered by Rickie Lambert, and gave him time to pick out a pass to Andy Williams, who had plenty of time and space to slot it low past Bastock.

Before Diamonds had regrouped they were 2-1 behind, as once again the Rovers midfield were allowed too much time in the build up to a move which saw the ever threatening Igoe feed Craig Disley via a low cross which saw the midfielder again get too much time in the heart of the penalty box, and he slotted into the net.

To their credit, the heads of the Diamonds players didn’t go down, and in fact they then had their best spell of the game leading up to half-time. They had realised that Phillips was struggling to deal with the windy weather, and tried their luck on goal at every opportunity. Shots from Burgess and Challinor flew well over, but a Simeon Jackson shot was only parried into a dangerous position by Phillips, but luckily his defence were alert and cleared the ball to touch. Another Burgess shot was on target, but Phillips palmed it away, narrowly eluding Simeon Jackson.

Half-time: Bristol Rovers 2 Rushden & Diamonds 1

The old adage about how important the next goal would be was clearly very relevant as the two teams restarted. After an initial Diamonds flurry, it was Rovers who began to find more and more space, especially on the right. The Diamonds did still manage to threaten, with Jon Challinor shooting over, and a dangerous Burgess cross being well dealt with by the Gas defence.

Perhaps it was no surprise though when Rovers extended their lead, although poor defending was to blame, as an innocuous ball in from the right flew across the area towards the goal line on the left of the Diamonds goal, with Andy Burgess looking to have a simple job to get the ball away. He dwelt on the ball however, allowing Lambert to get a cross back into the box. It looked like Curtis Osano should have been able to deal with this cross, but he let the ball go over his head, leaving Craig Hinton with an easy header to make it 3-1.

Shortly afterwards Rovers went four ahead, thus killing off any hope of a Diamonds revival. Woodhouse and Challinor got into a tangle in midfield, both appearing to leave the ball to each other, and a simple ball from Campbell found Igoe, and he fed Disley who in turn set up a gilt-edged chance for Rickie Lambert to slot home.

As expected both sides then made use of their substitutes – with Diamonds bringing on the alternate strike pairing of Tomlin and Rankine. Tomlin in particular looked very lively, and he carried on where his team-mates left off in testing the nervous looking Phillips, with one shot squirming out of the keeper’s hands and going past him, but, fortunately for him, he had done enough to force it wide of the post. Another Tomlin effort saw another Phillips fumble, but this time it hit his own boot and flicked away thus preventing the consolation goal.

In fact it was Rovers who scored the final goal of the game, with Stuart Campbell finding time and space to feed a poorly marked Rickie Lambert to score his second of the game.

Although Paul Bastock couldn’t really be blamed for the five goals, he hadn’t really had much opportunity to show what he could do, but this changed in the last few minutes, as he was forced to make two excellent saves to prevent the scoreline taking on an embarrassing look.

Full-time: Bristol Rovers 5 Rushden & Diamonds 1

Although Rovers gave the Diamonds a lesson in effective set-up play, there was enough of merit on show from the Diamonds against a team two leagues higher to offset the disappointment of the final scoreline and missing out on the potentially lucrative third round tie.

In a well fought and well refereed game, despite the squally conditions, it was also pleasing to see such flowing football combined with excellent discipline from both sides.

Diamonds only have a short time to put thoughts of Cup glory out of their minds as they must prepare for the visit of Histon on Tuesday night, a team that is challenging for a play-off spot.

Teams:

Bristol Rovers (Blue / White):

Steve Phillips, Sammy Igoe, Craig Hinton, Stuart Campbell, Andy Williams (Matt Groves 77), Rickie Lambert, Chris Carruthers, David Pipe, Craig Disley (Tom Parrinello 87), Lewis Haldane (Chris Lines 65), Aaron Lescott

Subs Not Used : Mike Green, Alex Kite

Rushden & Diamonds (Yellow): Paul Bastock, Curtis Osano, Dean Howell, Chris Hope, Phil Gulliver, Curtis Woodhouse (Lee Hales 90+1), Andy Burgess Jon Challinor, Marcus Kelly, Craig McAllister (Michael Rankine 65), Simeon Jackson (Lee Tomlin 65)

Subs Not Used : Paul Nicholls, Wayne Hatswell

Goals : Marcus Kelly (10), Andy Williams (23), Craig Disley (24), Craig Hinton (51), Rickie Lambert (54 and 86)

Yellow Cards : None

Referee: Paul Melin

Attendance: 4816 (Away 215)

Diamonds Man of The Match : Marcus Kelly

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