Northwich Victoria 0 Rushden & Diamonds 4

Rushden & Diamonds progressed to the Northern Area Final of the Setanta Shield with a storming first half performance putting four goals past Northwich Victoria at the Victoria Stadium. Despite playing into driving wind and rain in the first period, some excellent finishing by Jon Challinor and Marcus Kelly meant the game was effectively over at the interval.

After losing on their previous two appearances at the Victoria Stadium, playing first in blue, then in red, it was third time lucky with the yellow strip.

Manager Garry Hill fielded a team of familiar faces, with Lee Tomlin getting a start as Michael Rankine was carrying a knock picked up in training. Abdou El-Kholti and Andy Gooding dropped to the bench with Burgess and Kelly returning to the starting line-up, along with Dean Howell, with Michael Corcoran cup-tied. A youthful looking bench included keeper Joe Day, Jake Beecroft and Alex Bolt. Jon Challinor had narrowly missed a suspenson, after his fifth booking of the season at Farsley was received just after the cut-off date for suspensions.

Vics manager Dino Maamria didn’t risk top scorer Lee Steele, and ex-Diamond Danny Williams remained out injured.

On a breezy winter afternoon R&DFC kicked off towards the 75 or so travelling fans. The game started rather tamely, as both sides struggled to get to grips with the blustery conditions, and although the majority of the early play was in the Vics half, only a storming run by Tom Shaw through the middle represented any goal threat.

After the first quarter of an hour the Vics started to get forwards, and won the first of several corners following good covering work by the Diamonds defence to block a shot by Josh Wilson. However, in keeping with most of what was to follow, the Vics failed to take any advantage of the dead ball opportunities.

Lee Tomlin was trying to make the most of his rare start, and a good run through the middle saw him ghost past two defenders before a third managed to block a powerful shot.

Further Vics corners came and went, and there was also good work from Tom Shaw to dispossess Joel Byrom after he had been found in space by Michael Byrne during a quick Vics break after a Diamonds free kick opportunity was wasted.

Marcus Kelly really seemed to have benefitted from the rest he was given in midweek, as he was chasing down his opponent at every opportunity, and it was this persistence that won the Diamonds a corner on 23 minutes. The hard and low corner was taken on the left by Tom Shaw, and when the defender on the near post failed to intercept it, it fell to Jon Challinor who netted easily with his left foot.

This goal signalled a period of Diamonds dominance, with Lee Tomlin having another good run and shot. The Vics did have one threatening moment when a long ball through the middle found Aaron Burns running in on goal, but what appeared to be a great tackle by Chris Hope just outside the “D” was flagged as a foul by the linesman, but the Byrne kick was deflected away for a corner.

Marcus Kelly was continuing to threaten down the left, and after being put through by an Andy Burgess header he was able to reach the by-line and hit a powerful low cross of great quality, but it was just cut out by an alert Belle before it reached Challinor as the game reached the half-hour mark.

Kelly was to get a reward for his efforts a minute or so later, as Andy Burgess fired the ball low from the right to find Marcus Kelly in space in the left channel, and the winger carried on his run into the box and fired a low shot that beat Tynan easily to the keeper’s left.

More was to follow shortly afterwards, as Cortez Belle fouled Jon Challinor just in from the right touchline, picking up a booking as a result. Marcus Kelly took the free kick, and although the kick did take a slight flick off a defender the goal was clearly Kelly’s. The goal reminded those with good memories of the goal scored by Tony Gallimore from the same spot when the Vics beat the Diamonds 4-1 in their first visit to the Vics new home.

Rather than settling for the three goal lead, the Diamonds players continued to push forwards, with Kelly and Challinor appearing to get in each other’s way as they were allowed time to move the ball forwards to the right edge of the six-yard box. The ball was cleared wide to Andy Burgess, and he picked up a free kick just in from the right touchline, but at a shallower angle than the one that brought the third goal. Marcus Kelly again took the free kick, and this time the ball rebounded off Scott Tynan and a Vics defender allowing Jon Challinor to chest the ball home to make the scoreline 4-0 to the visitors.

The half ended with Diamonds four goals to the good, and although they hadn’t totally dominated the action in the first period, the quality of their finishing had brought the goals that had effectively ended the game as a contest.

Half-time: Northwich Victoria 0 Rushden & Diamonds 4

Vics manager Dino Maamria brought on Natt Kerr at the break, and his performance in the second half, at both ends of the pitch, made him clearly the Vics best player.

The Diamonds did have the ball in the net for a fifth time, but Jon Challinor had been flagged offside well before he netted.

The second half was a fairly tame affair, with Dale Roberts continuing his good form in the Diamonds goal. It was a chance for a number of substitutions, with Abdou El-Kholti replacing Chris Hope, meaning that Dean Howell switched to a more central role, as well as a chance for youngster Jake Beecroft. For the Vics, Cortez Belle was pushed up front, but their best chances fell to Natt Kerr, with one goalbound shot following a corner being met with an excellent save from Roberts. Kerr was also allowed a free header following a free kick which he directed just wide.

Belle had one goalbound shot saved by Roberts, and El Kholti appeared unlucky to pick up a yellow card after appearing to win the ball cleanly. Perhaps the final indication that it was not to be the Vics day came when Kerr found space in the area, after Roberts was unable to gather a corner, but before he could convert what looked a simple tap-in he was robbed by Dean Howell.

The final action of the game saw an attempted lob by Jon Challinor go just over, as neither of the Diamonds goal-heroes could bag their hat-trick.

The game ended shortly after Lee Tomlin limped off leaving the Diamonds with 10 men, but an excellent team performance had meant that the result had been confirmed long before this.

Full-time: Northwich Victoria 0 Rushden & Diamonds 4

The Diamonds now face either Halifax Town or Burton Albion in the Setanta Shield Northern Section Final, provisionally planned for Nene Park on Wednesday 19th March (but watch for official confirmation on this site, along with details of the arrangements for televising this game, and any other fixture changes). The Halifax / Burton game is being played on the 13th March. The Southern Section Final is between Aldershot Town and Woking and is on Tuesday 18 March.

Teams:

Northwich Victoria (Green / White): Scott Tynan, Michael Bowler, Cortez Belle, Michael Welch (Natt Kerr 45), Ryan Brown, Michael Byrne (Luke Horrocks 76), Joel Byrom, Josh Wilson, Jamie Mullan, Aaron Burns, Cayle Hanley (Danny Meadowcroft 63)

Subs Not Used : Ben Connett (GK), Matthew Crowell

Rushden & Diamonds (Yellow) Dale Roberts, Curtis Osano, Dean Howell, Chris Hope (Abdou El-Kholti 57), Phil Gulliver, Marcus Kelly, Andy Burgess, Curtis Woodhouse (Andy Gooding 63), Tom Shaw (Jake Beecroft 71), Jon Challinor, Lee Tomlin

Subs not used:: Joe Day (GK), Alex Bolt

Goals : Challinor (24), Kelly (31), Kelly (36), Challinor (43)

Yellow Cards : Belle, Byrne, El-Kholti

Referee: Mr M Brown

Attendance: 495 (Away 76)

Diamonds Man of the Match: Marcus Kelly

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