Stevenage Borough 2 Rushden & Diamonds 1

 

Rushden & Diamonds were denied the victory their second half performance deserved by two late goals and a refereeing controversy at Broadhall Way. After a fairly tame first half, an excellent second half performance by the Diamonds should have been rewarded when a clear penalty was not seen by the Officials, but justice appeared to have been done when Michael Rankine gave the Diamonds the lead, but two late goals gave a surreal feel to the final scoreline.

Manager Hill reflected the busy Holiday period by again making several changes to the starting eleven, with Jon Challinor and Simeon Jackson only on the bench, and Martin Foster not featuring in the squad. This meant recalls for Lee Hales and Marcus Kelly after they sat out the Northwich game, with Lee Tomlin returning to partner Craig McAllister up front. This meant the line-up was similar to the team put out for the game versus Stevenage on Boxing Day, with McAllister for Jackson the only difference.

Boro manager Peter Taylor brought in Tyrone Berry for Daryl McMahon, and gave a start to recent signing Scott Laird, although there was no place in the squad for Ashley Westwood. John Martin had recovered from a hamstring injury that caused him to miss the game at Altrincham.

On a dull afternoon at Broadhall Way, Diamonds kicked off towards the sparsely populated home end, with Andy Burgess playing in central midfield, with Lee Hales and Lee Tomlin sharing duties wide right. Diamonds had a couple of early attacks with Dean Howell getting forwards down the left. The only threat on goal in the first fifteen minutes came from a Phil Gulliver header from a free-kick which was narrowly wide.

For Stevenage their first really threatening attack came on 16 minutes when a loose ball across the field from Curtis Osano was quickly switched to the Stevenage right and their main threat Craig Dobson, whose dipping cross was headed backwards and away for a corner. The Diamonds defence had their hands full with Dobson and Morison at times, but Dean Howell was able to combine some excellent covering tackles with a couple of dangerous runs forwards.

On 34 minutes Lee Tomlin won the ball off Daryl McMahon on the half-way line and ran at the Boro defence, finding room to hit a powerful shot from 20 yards that was grasped at the second attempt by Julian.

This was perhaps Diamonds best chance of a half that was rather reminiscent of the Boxing Day stalemate, although the Diamonds did seem to present a greater attacking threat.

Half-time: Stevenage Borough 0 Rushden & Diamonds 0

Although the first half had been reasonably even, and fairly tame, the same couldn’t be said for the second. The Diamonds team inspired by Lee Tomlin’s attacking flair, backed by a solid defence and midfield took the game to their promotion seeking opponents. Those in yellow were constantly harrying their opponents into mistakes, and always willing to stretch for interceptions or run down any loose ball.

Right at the start of the half Lee Tomlin set the scene for his second half performance by winning a free kick on the edge of the area after being fouled by Mark Arber, but Lee Hales could only blast the free kick into the wall.

A succession of Diamonds attacks were the highlight of the first 30 minutes of the half, with Peter Taylor fielding his remaining two substitutes in an attempt to reverse the tide, and the Boro crowd venting their feelings towards the underperforming players.

Lee Tomlin was showing great confidence and touch, with a couple of sublime turns in the penalty box resulting in powerful shots that were unfortunately straight at Julian. Andy Burgess was tracking more out to the right, and he too was able to leave the Boro defence flailing with his touch and ball control. Marcus Kelly remained a threat with his pace on the right, and Curtis Woodhouse combined a battling performance in midfield with a number of runs through the middle, although his shooting was rather waywards, or like Tomlin’s, was well blocked by last ditch defending. The Diamonds were able to penetrate the Stevenage defence almost at will, with one great flick over his head by Tomlin finding Marcus Kelly in space in the area, and although he was closed down he passed to Osano, who completed the circle back to Tomlin whose shot was deflected for a corner.

Boro did have one dangerous attack during this period, and after a mistake by Osano and shot by Stuart Lewis, Daryl McMahon should have done better with a free shot that he could only drag across goal.

On 73 minutes came the major talking point of the game. Another great run by Tomlin after excellent control saw his shot deflected away for a corner. As Kelly’s corner came in it was deflected out towards the penalty spot where Wayne Hatswell was in space. His volley looked bound for the bottom left corner of the goal until a falling Barry Fuller cradled the ball with his arm against his body and then away from the goal. All the players looked at the referee, expecting him to award what appeared to be an inevitable penalty and red card, but he could only look across to his assistant on the right, who ought to have had a perfect view of the offence. For some reason the assistant failed to confirm what everyone had seen, so Mr Hopkins had to wave play on. The Diamonds bench of course were vocal in their protests as the Stevenage contingent could only keep a low profile.

Curtis Osano was also able to get forwards, and on one such run he beat three opponents as he cut inside and hit a left foot shot that

On the 83rd minute it looked like some justice was done, as Diamonds took the lead. Good work by Andy Burgess in central midfield found Marcus Kelly on the left, and he beat his man and hit a powerful shot that took a slight deflection on it’s way to Michael Rankine who slotted home from ten yards.

Manager Hill then took off the impressive Tomlin and replaced him with Jon Challinor in an attempt to seal the victory, as the travelling fans celebrated rather prematurely, and as was seen so many times in previous seasons, there was still time for things to go wrong for the Diamonds.

In the 89th minute Steve Morison picked up the ball on the right, held off his marker and hit a powerful shot that Bastock did well to parry, but the ball fell to substitute Zak Burke who had a simple chance to equalise.

As the fourth official signalled three minutes of added time, the Diamonds were suddenly under pressure for almost the first time in the half, and good work on the left involving Burke and McMahon saw Phil Gulliver bring down McMahon for a penalty as clear as the one the Diamonds had been denied. Mark Arber stepped up and netted easily. There was still time for a couple of Diamonds attacks that threatened a dramatic equaliser, but referee Hopkins brought the game to an end shortly afterwards.

Boro manager Peter Taylor confirmed shortly after the game that he thought that R&DFC deserved to win – although he didn’t see the "penalty" when Fuller handled, he felt R&DFC deserved to be 2 or 3 up before the late drama.

Once again the Diamonds have produced an excellent performance away from Nene Park – albeit with no reward. The result brought back memories of late turnarounds as far back as the Cheltenham game in 1999, and many others in the Tippett and Hunter reigns, yet the quality of performance in this game was a major consolation. They must now try to bring that level of performance back to Nene Park, starting with the visit of Salisbury City on Saturday.

Full-time: Stevenage Borough 2 Rushden & Diamonds 1

Teams:

Stevenage Borough (White / Red) : Alan Julian, Mark Arber, Ronnie Henry, Luke Oliver, Scott Laird, Junior Lewis (Barry Fuller 62), John Martin (Daryl McMahon 27), Stuart Lewis, Craig Dobson, Tyrone Berry (Jak Burke 58), Steve Morison

Subs Not Used : James Russell, Tony Stokes

Rushden & Diamonds (Yellow) : Paul Bastock, Curtis Osano, Dean Howell, Wayne Hatswell, Phil Gulliver, Lee Hales, Andy Burgess, Curtis Woodhouse, Marcus Kelly, Lee Tomlin (Jon Challinor 86), Craig McAllister (Michael Rankine 74)

Subs Not Used : Chris Hope, Tom Shaw, Simeon Jackson

Goals : Michael Rankine (83), Zak Burke (89), Mark Arber (pen) (90+1)

Yellow Cards : Ronnie Henry, Phil Gulliver, Andy Burgess

Referee: J Hopkins

Attendance: 2702 (Away Fans 333).

Diamonds Man of the Match : Lee Tomlin

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