Rushden & Diamonds 0 Stevenage Borough 0

 

Rushden & Diamonds had a touch of the Boxing Day blues as they were held to a stalemate by high-flying Stevenage in a match devoid of entertaining football for long periods. They may have some satisfaction from gaining a point, but the above average crowd were left wondering why it took until the 65th minute for Garry Hill to bring on Craig McAllister and finally produce football to keep them from their post-Christmas slumbers.

Manager Hill reflected the busy holiday period by making several changes to the starting eleven, with Jon Challinor, Craig McAllister and Martin Foster dropped to the bench, with Lee Hales getting his first league start, and Lee Tomlin partnering Simeon Jackson up front.

Stevenage manager Peter Taylor reverted to the majority of the players that had featured prior to the Setanta Trophy defeat at Woking, playing a 4-5-1 formation with Steve Morison up front.

As the cloud gathered over Nene Park to end a sunny winter afternoon Diamonds kicked off towards the Peter De Banke terrace, but it was the visiting side that had all of the early pressure, with a shot from Stuart Lewis bouncing just in front of Paul Bastock, who did well to spoon the ball over the bar for a corner.

A succession of corners followed, with Andy Burgess being guilty of trying to prevent the ball going out and only presenting Boro with a chance to get the ball back into a dangerous position. Diamonds were there own worst enemies at time, with several mix-ups in defence on the left resulting in further corners conceded.

There was little attacking threat from the Diamonds in the early stages, with no outlet down the middle other than the occasional run by Lee Tomlin, and one shot from the striker after good work by Lee Hales. Dean Howell and Marcus Kelly did combine well on the left on a couple of occasions, and in one attack created by a great crossfield ball by Andy Burgess, Kelly was able to burst into the area, but the threat was cleared away for a corner.

On 20 minutes Diamonds had a rare chance, with a Marcus Kelly free kick finding Andy Burgess who cut back onto his right foot, but could only hit a shot well over the bar. There was some decent link up play between Burgess and Osano at times, but too often these moves resulted in a high-ball to the diminutive strikers who were easily out-jumped by the tall Stevenage defenders.

On the half-hour Stevenage almost took the lead, as a long ball forward flew over the heads of Gulliver and Hatswell, but they were able to cover back as Steve Morison threatened, forcing him wide enough to allow Paul Bastock to make a decent save at his near post.

Bastock almost gave away a simple goal to Morison a few minutes later as he dwelt on a simple ball back to him, and it appeared more luck that judgement that his kick missed on oncoming striker and was scrambled away.

Perhaps the best Diamonds move of the half was on 33 minutes, as Andy Burgess gathered the ball in his own box following a Stevenage corner, carried the ball 10 yards and fed Lee Tomlin near the half-way line. The striker then ran at two defenders, getting the better of them and attempting to feed Simeon Jackson, but his strike partner was forced to check back and his final shot under pressure then went behind.

So the half ended with Stevenage perhaps the more disappointed that they were not ahead.

Half-time: Rushden & Diamonds 0 Stevenage Borough 0

On the restart, Diamonds had a claim for a penalty within three minutes, as Lee Tomlin held the ball up and then laid it into the area for the onrushing Curtis Woodhouse, who appeared to be bodychecked by Luke Oliver, but referee Rayner waved away claims for a penalty.

Further controversy followed on 50 minutes, with Lee Hales putting in a great tackle to halt a run out of defence by Stuart Lewis. Lewis stayed down for a short while, but had got back to his feet before Alan Julian cleared the ball to touch to allow him to receive attention. On the restart, Lee Tomlin failed to realise that the throw was meant to be returned to Julian, and burst into the area, gaining a "corner". Julian and a number of team mates jostled Tomlin, who realised his mistake, but referee Rayner still decided to book Julian for his actions, and also Tomlin – although it was not clear why. The corner was duly kicked straight out for a goal kick.

Just after the hour came Stevenage’s best chance of the game, with Craig Dobson receiving the ball in his own half, beating Marcus Kelly for pace as he burst forwards, and as Kelly gave up the chase he took on Dean Howell, cutting back inside and hitting a decent shot which Bastock did well to save.

This save, followed by the introduction of Craig McAllister shortly afterwards, saw a change in direction of the game, and now there was an outlet for the midfield via McAllister, the Diamonds suddenly looked to have an attacking threat, with a number of chances created, although wayward finishing by Jackson, Kelly and Burgess meant that Alan Julian didn’t have a lot to deal with.

With three minutes to go McAllister was awarded an indirect free kick as he was obstructed on the edge of the box following good work by Burgess and Osano on the right, with Osano notably starting to get forward more. As too often happens, Wayne Hatswell was too far from the ball when it was touched to him, and his shot was easily charged down.

Andy Burgess had the final real chance of the game, but his curling dipping shot was just over the bar,

Boxing Day games often attract a number of occasional visitors to Nene Park, but few of them will feel they have been missing much when they reflect on the football on show in the first hour. The game did liven up with the introduction of McAllister, but by then both sides were tiring and perhaps a goalless draw summed up the afternoon, and was a fair result in the end. The Diamonds must now reconsider tactics before the visit of Northwich Victoria on Saturday, especially given the Cheshire side’s victory over the Diamonds only a few weeks ago.

Full-time: Rushden & Diamonds 0 Stevenage Borough 0

Teams:

Rushden & Diamonds (White) :

Paul Bastock, Curtis Osano, Dean Howell, Wayne Hatswell, Phil Gulliver, Lee Hales (Jon Challinor 80), Andy Burgess, Curtis Woodhouse, Marcus Kelly, Lee Tomlin (Craig McAllister 66), Simeon Jackson

Subs Not Used : Michael Rankine, Tom Shaw, Martin Foster

Stevenage Borough (Sky Blue / Blue) : Alan Julian, John White, Ronnie Henry, Luke Oliver, Mark Arber, Craig Dobson, Junior Lewis, Stuart Lewis, Daryl McMahon (Tyrone Berry 76), John Martin, Steve Morison

Subs Not Used : Barry Fuller, James Russell, Zoltan Liptak, Tony Stokes

Goals : None

Yellow Cards : Martin, Julian, Tomlin, Hales

Referee: A Rayner

Attendance: 2405 (Away 644).

Man of the Match sponsored by Stagecraft : Andy Burgess

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