Ebbsfleet United 0 Rushden & Diamonds 3

Rushden & Diamonds made it five away wins in a row with an impressive 3-0 win at Ebbsfleet United. This makes it the best sequence of away wins since the start of the 2000-2001 season and it takes them into the top half of the Blue Square Premier table for the first time this year.

Well taken goals by Challinor, Rankine and Tomlin capped a great team performance, where the entire team deserves praise with coping with difficult conditions to record another clean sheet away from home.

After losing twice at Stonebridge Road in the first season back in the Conference, the Diamonds were looking for their first victory at this level over the Kent club.

Manager Garry Hill made three changes to the side that beat Northwich Victoria on Saturday, with Tomlin, Gulliver and Woodhouse replaced by Ademeno, Corcoran and Gooding respectively. Gulliver and Tomlin were joined on the bench by Michael Rankine, Conal Platt and Abdou El Kholti.

Fleet manager Liam Daish started with three ex-Diamonds, Ronnie Bull at left back, Peter Hawkins in central defence and Michael Bostwick in midfield in a line up that had few changes from the line-up that started in the semi-final of the FA Trophy, Bull replacing Opinel being the main change.

On a gusty evening Ebbsfleet kicked off towards a sparsely populated home end. The feature of the first quarter was how both teams struggled to get to grips with the wind that was at the Fleet backs. Charles Ademeno showed pace early on to outstrip Gary MacDonald, but in doing so he took a knock which seemed to slow him down for much of the remainder of the half.

Andy Burgess was showing great determination in his tackling, and he and Jon Challinor were linking up well on the right. At the other end goalkeeper Roberts was doing well to cope with the long wind-assisted through balls, often having to take the role of sweeper to clear the danger from the Fleet strikers.

Diamonds had a number of early corners, but the Fleet defence were coping with the aerial threat easily.

The first serious attempt on goal came in the 11th minute when a long Cronin clearance was flicked on to Chukki Eribenne, but his well-hit volley flew across goal and just wide of the left-hand post.

On 19 minutes Andy Burgess picked up a Yellow card that had looked like coming for a while, following a challenge on Ronnie Bull. A few seconds later it was the Diamonds that won a free kick just inside their own half and after some debate about whether Roberts would take it, Chris Hope stepped up and hit a powerful kick down the right channel. Andy Burgess and Jon Challinor were there, and up against Ronnie Bull and Peter Hawkins, and although it looked like Hawkins had a chance to clear, it came off his body and fell to Jon Challinor who hit a looping volley into the far corner of the net, right in front of the 65 or so Diamonds fans.

Challinor almost repeated the feat a few minutes later as he turned and hit a Hope free kick, but this time it was straight at Cronin.

The Diamonds defence continued to impress as they held their own against Ebbsfleet pressure assisted by the strong wind, but on 39 minutes Ebbsfleet should have equalised, as a long McPhee throw was flicked on by Barrett to John Akinde who was clear on goal, but Dale Roberts was able to parry his shot and Andy Burgess was there to tidy up.

There was still time for Jon Challinor to get in a great clearing header from a dangerous free kick as the entire Diamonds side showed how much they wanted to win this game.

The half ended with Diamonds deservedly ahead, as although they had been under some pressure, their organisation and effort had earned them the lead.

Half-time: Ebbsfleet United 0 Rushden & Diamonds 1

Fleet manager Liam Daish made a half-time substitution to try to get some more attacking threat in his side, but the pattern of play was largely unchanged, with both sides struggling to make an impact in the box. One great chance fell to Jon Challinor as he appeared to have a free header about 12 yards out, from a Shaw free kick, but he could only direct it wide.

Shaw incurred some criticism from the bench as he tried a 40 yard shot that bounced twice before reaching Cronin, but it did show the Diamonds attacking intent,  Referee Beck then gave Chris McPhee a yellow card for dissent after the Fleet midfielder felt that Marcus Kelly had dived to win a free kick near the corner flag – and did a top quality impression of how a dive should look – but Referee Beck saw this as dissent.

Manager Hill wasn’t content to try to defend the one goal lead, and with such an attacking bench he was able to bring on three forward players. First to come on was Michael Rankine, who replaced Charles Ademeno, and immediately started seeing some return on his ability to win headers against the Fleet defence.

Challinor made one of many good runs on the night on 65 minutes, and as the ball bounced off Ronnie Bull he had a great chance to find Marcus Kelly unmarked in the area, but his cross was cut out by Cronin.

Shortly after Lee Tomlin had replaced Challinor he played his part in a move that almost brought the Diamonds second goal, as he rose to flick on a through ball into space for Michael Rankine, and once the striker had beaten Peter Hawkins for pace he was unlucky to see his shot deflect off Cronin and creep just wide.

Although the big striker was getting a few taunts from the Fleet fans after his miss, he was able to silence those taunts in the best possible way a few minutes later.

A quick Diamonds throw on the left found Andy Gooding about 30 yards out. He ran straight at the Fleet defence, beat one man, played a one-two with Kelly to beat a second and get to the goalline, where he laid the ball off to Michael Rankine to fire home the Diamonds second goal.

Shortly after the goal manager Hill was able to introduce Conal Platt to make his Diamonds debut. The Diamonds were still in command in defence, notably when Michael Corcoran “took one for the team” blocking a powerful shot with his body.

Most of the Fleet fans had left after Rankine’s goal, but those that remained saw what was possibly the best goal of the three, and good work by Conal Platt on the front of the penalty box on the left saw him lay a great pass across the area to the on running Lee Tomlin, who went past Ronnie Bull at great speed and hit a powerful shot into the far corner to put the icing on the cake.

There was still time for the Fleet to have what was perhaps their best chance of the game, but a desperate block by Michael Corcoran meant the clean sheet was maintained, and the Diamonds can go into the game at Histon on Saturday with confidence they are playing better than when Histon came to Nene Park before Christmas. Although there have been many difficult away trips in the past month, those able to follow the Diamonds over this period have been rewarded by seeing five consecutive away wins.

Full-time: Ebbsfleet United 0 Rushden & Diamonds 3


Ebbsfleet United (Red / White): Lance Cronin, Mark Ricketts, Ronnie Bull, Peter Hawkins, Gary MacDonald, Stacy Long, Chris McPhee, Neil Barrett, Michael Bostwick (Luke Moore 60), Chukki Eribenne (Raphael Nade 76), John Akinde (George Purcell 45)

Subs Not Used : Sam Mott, Sacha Opinel

Rushden & Diamonds (Yellow) : Dale Roberts, Curtis Osano, Dean Howell, Chris Hope, Michael Corcoran, Marcus Kelly (Conal Platt 86), Andy Burgess, Andy Gooding, Tom Shaw, Jon Challinor (Lee Tomlin 74), Charles Ademeno (Michael Rankine 65)

Subs Not Used : Phil Gulliver, Abdou El-Kholti

Goals : Challinor (21), Rankine (81), Tomlin (92)

Yellow Cards : Burgess (20), Eribenne (31), McPhee (51), Corcoran (63), McDonald (74)

Referee: Mr S Beck

Attendance: 546 (Away 66)

Diamonds Man of the Match: Michael Corcoran


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