Rushden & Diamonds 1 Altrincham 0

A header from Michael Rankine after just 13 minutes was enough to secure three points against an Altrincham side struggling just above the relegation zone.

With Chris Hope out due to illness, manager Garry Hill was forced to make changes and former Oxford United central defender Michael Corcoran made his first start, with Phil Gulliver taking the captain’s armband. The only other change from the side which drew against Halifax Town last weekend was the return of Curtis Woodhouse, who replaced Jon Challinor.

Altrincham boss Graham Heathcote made just one change to the team which drew against Farsley Celtic last Saturday, with Rotherham United loan signing Tom Cahill replacing Chris Senior.

Diamonds lost the toss and kicked off towards the de Banke Terrace on a sunny but cold February afternoon. There was an early scare for the home side when Curtis Woodhouse was dispossessed deep inside his own penalty area but striker Colin Little was unable to take advantage. Diamonds started to press forward more and more and on 12 minutes, Michael Rankine did well to chase down a long ball to the by-line, cutting the ball back with David Brown’s effort blocked for a corner. Marcus Kelly’s corner was aimed at Phil Gulliver, but the ball was put behind again for another. This time, with the defence concentrating on the Diamonds captain, Michael Rankine stole in unmarked and headed in from close range past keeper Stuart Coburn.

 

The goal seemed to buoy Diamonds, as Woodhouse fired over the bar a few minutes later and on 19 minutes, they should have added a second. Tom Shaw did well to keep in a cross from Andy Burgess, and sent the ball across the goal line. As the ball drifted agonisingly across the goal, it seemed that David Brown would only have to tap the ball in at the far post for his first goal, but some brave defending saw the ball go wide.

 

Altrincham had little in the way of chances, although midway through the half, Colin Little’s header from a James Jennings cross was deflected over Dale Roberts, landing on the roof of the net. Jennings went into the referee’s notebook on 28 minutes after a foul on Michael Rankine as Diamonds mounted another attack. Marcus Kelly’s attempt on goal was deflected skyward and found Rankine in space but this time, his header was aimed straight at the keeper.

 

Rankine was causing problems for the Altrincham defence and on 35 minutes, came close again heading wide from a Kelly corner and Diamonds should have finished the half with more than just the single goal advantage.

 

Half-time: Rushden & Diamonds 1 – 0 Altrincham

 

Altrincham started to come forward more at the start of the second half, but were unable to really trouble the home defence. Diamonds back four looked comfortable and the only problems came from Ryan Shotton’s long throw-ins. Lee Tomlin came on after 58 minutes and replaced David Brown.

 

Neither side were able to impose themselves as the half progressed but Tomlin’s introduction saw Diamonds press forward again, trying to get the vital second goal. Shaw headed at the keeper, while there was a valid claim for a penalty as Tomlin seemed to be bundled off the ball by Jennings. Moments later, Tomlin did well to rob Ryan Shotton and run towards goal, but the defender did well to get back and deflect the ball behind for a corner.

 

At the other end, Robbie Lawton tried to kid the officials, going down in the Diamonds area but the referee saw through the dive. Altrincham made a couple of changes just after the hour with Chris Senior and Richard Battersby coming on for Tom Cahill and Ryan Toulson, but Diamonds looked to be in control. Andy Burgess had a shot blocked after Kelly’s cross went over the defenders, and Tomlin’s follow up went wide. Stuart Coburn then did well to take the ball off Marcus Kelly’s feet as he looked to take the ball past the keeper.

 

With just one goal in it though, it made for a rather nervy ending as Altrincham started to come forward. Darren Tinson’s header was easily taken by Roberts, while Little’s shot was deflected over. With 15 minutes remaining, Jon Challinor replaced Kelly for Diamonds, while Joe O’Neill came on for Warren Peyton. In the end, Diamonds were able to cope quite easily with the Altrincham attack. A shot from distance by Little and a Jennings free kick both failed to test Roberts.

 

Diamonds made their final substitution four minutes from time with Andy Gooding coming on for his home debut, replacing Tom Shaw. As Altrincham tried to press forward at the end, chances fell to Rankine, who tried unsuccessfully to chip the keeper after dispossessing Shotton, and Tomlin, whose fierce shot was deflected wide. With three minutes of injury time, there was just enough time for Jon Challinor to receive a yellow card for a foul on Jennings, but Diamonds held out easily for the win.

 

Full-time: Rushden & Diamonds 1 – 0 Altrincham

 

While relegation is not an issue, it was still nice to move further away from the bottom five and the aim for the rest of the season must be to try to secure a place in the top half of the table. There is also the possibility of a trip to Wembley on May 10th and Diamonds must concentrate on next Saturday’s FA Trophy Quarter Final. They were encouraged to hear that opponents York City’s long unbeaten run finally came to an end with a 3-1 defeat at Histon.

 

Teams:

Rushden & Diamonds – Roberts, Osano, Gulliver (c), Woodhouse, Brown (Tomlin 58), Burgess, Rankine, Shaw (Gooding 86), Kelly (Challinor 76), Howell, Corcoran.

Subs not used:. Bastock, El-Kholti.

 

Altrincham – Coburn, Tinson (c), Lawton, Little, Young, Peyton (O’Neill 77), Cahill (Senior 61), Shotton, Toulson (Battersby 64), Jennings, King.

Subs not used: Scott, Lane.

 

Goals: Rankine 13 (1-0).

 

Booked: Jennings 27 (foul), Challinor 90+3 (foul).

 

Referee: Mr S.Proctor-Green (Lincs).

 

Attendance: 1364 (115 away).

 

Marfrig Europe Man of the Match – Phil Gulliver.

 

 

By Dave Mason

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