Rushden & Diamonds 1 Halifax Town 0

It is often said that in cup competitions it is the final scoreline that matters, and using that principle Rushden & Diamonds will be happy with the victory and progression to the final of the Setanta Shield. The performance may not have been convincing, and only Halifax’s striker crisis prevented them from making something from the many chances they created, but the win takes R&DFC to their first final in a national Cup competition.

Manager Garry Hill restored the five players he had rested on Monday, but there was no place in the starting line-up for Lee Tomlin, Hill preferring the Rankine and Challinor partnership.

Halifax Manager Chris Wilder had a different challenge in naming his starting line-up – with only 15 fit players to choose from he could only name 4 substitutes, and had to name the makeshift strike partnership of Daryl Taylor and Lewis Killeen.

Halifax kicked off towards a sparsely populated Peter De Banke end, and it immediately became clear they were planning to play a sweeping passing game.

After a poor clearance by Phil Gulliver was compounded by a miskick by Curtis Osano a Lewis Killeen shot was saved by Roberts.

The first sign of the Diamonds defence’s struggle to deal with the ball over their heads into space was on 9 minutes, as a Kearney through-ball looked to be threatening little danger, but as Roberts headed towards it, he seemed to hesitate, and Dean Howell headed the ball past him, seemingly giving Daryl Taylor an open goal, but Phil Gulliver was able to get in a saving challenge.

A great run by Simon Heslop saw an excellent save by Roberts as he tipped the ball over the bar.

Jon Challinor did have the ball in the net on 13 minutes, but the flag had been raised and whistle blown for offside well before he netted.

On 15 minutes a Diamonds raid down the left saw Michael Rankine cleverly beat the Halifax offside trap by dodging back onside just as the ball was passed to him (something very clear to those in the pressbox, even if the Halifax fans at an angle didn’t spot the correct decision. Rankine laid the ball off to Marcus Kelly, who ran past his marker and hit a shot towards goal that flicked off a defender for a corner – again the travelling fans weren’t happy with the decision, but the flick was clearly audible. The corner was taken on the left by Tom Shaw, and it found Chris Hope on the far side of the box, who had made space to head the ball back into the six yard box, where Michael Rankine was quick to react and knock the ball into the net.

The goal was against the run of play at that time, and the Shaymen continued to press towards goal with fluent passing moves.

Another flowing move saw Kearney feed Heslop passing the ball right through the heart of the Diamonds defence, who in turn passed to Whitehouse, whose shot was saved by Roberts.

Dean Howell was again showing his worth going forwards, as he and Kelly linked up well on several occasions, and in one notable move he cut back to hit a cross with his right foot, but Tom Shaw could not get enough power into his header as he met the cross, resulting in an easy save.

Simon Heslop continued to get forwards to support the strike pair, and he hit a dangerous shot just wide of the right hand post on 24 minutes.

Jon Challinor was having to drop back to assist the midfield, and he and Kelly combined for Kelly to hit a great cross which looked to be heading towards Michael Rankine until Matt Doughty cut it out and headed clear over the bar.

Curtis Woodhouse found more joy by switching to the left, and fired a cross-field ball to Michael Rankine who showed great ball control but his shot was blocked by Jake Wright.

As with the league game earlier a few weeks earlier there were problems between Roberts and Howell when it came to clearing up loose balls, with Howell conceding a needless corner. From that corner Matt Doughty was able to hang back unmarked, and he hit a powerful shot that was saved by Roberts.

Chris Hope committed himself to a challenge on Heslop as half-time approached, but the midfielder was able to evade the challenge to run through and see his shot saved by Roberts.

The half ended with the Diamonds relieved to be ahead, and with a chance to work out how to counter the threat from the sweeping Halifax moves, as it was clear that if the visitors improved their strike threat there was every chance that they would get an equaliser.

Half time: Rushden & Diamonds 1 Halifax Town 0

The second half started in a similar pattern as the first, with the Diamonds only having a single meaningful attack in the first 10 minutes, as Dean Howell swept down the left, shook off a foul, but saw his cross blocked.

In fact it was Howell again who escaped his defensive challenges to sweep forwards 11 minutes into the half, and this time his cross was caught by Legzdins.

At the other end good chances were missed by Matt Doughty after Tom Shaw was harshly penalised for a tackle on Mark Whitehouse, and several good runs by Daryl Taylor failed to deliver an end product.

The Diamonds team did start passing the ball through the middle, rather than just relying on a threat down the left, with Andy Burgess moving inside, selling a couple of dummies to set Jon Challinor away on a run that was stopped by good defending.

Halifax started to try to change things by bringing on substitutes, but this only seemed to make the game more scrappy, and apart from Michael Rankine getting on the end of a Marcus Kelly corner but being adjudged to have fouled the goalkeeper, there was a long period with little goalmouth action.

The game did stir back into life when Lee Tomlin replaced Jon Challinor on 75 minutes, and he immediately started running at a tiring defence, although perhaps was too unselfish when his run had taken him past two defenders, but laying the ball off to Andy Burgess had seen the move slow down and the defence be given time to get in their challenges.

Tomlin did show that he was prepared to go it alone, as he burst past two defenders and hit a wickedly curling shot which just screwed wide of the top-right angle of post and bar.

As time ran out Halifax forced a couple of corners and free kicks in dangerous positions, but although Diamonds had pulled back all their players into defence, apart from Marcus Kelly, the Shaymen still kept two defenders and the goalkeeper back to mark him.

The final chance fell to Simon Ainge from a corner, but his hooked shot over his head flew over the goal, and the referee blew for full time.

The victory takes R&DFC to the final of the competition, currently scheduled to be played at the Recreation Ground, Aldershot next Thursday evening – April 3rd.

Full-time: Rushden & Diamonds 1 Halifax Town 0

Teams:

Rushden & Diamonds (White): Dale Roberts, Curtis Osano, Dean Howell, Chris Hope (Capt), Phil Gulliver, Marcus Kelly, Andy Burgess, Curtis Woodhouse, Tom Shaw, Jon Challinor (Lee Tomlin 75), Michael Rankine

Subs Not Used : Martyn Margarson (GK), Andy Gooding, Lawrence Lambley, Abdou El-Kholti

Halifax Town (Yellow / Blue) : Adam Legzdins, Tom Harban, Matt Doughty, Peter Atherton, Jake Wright, Nicky Gray (Simon Ainge 89), Tom Kearney (Capt), Simon Heslop (Danny Forrest 63), Mark Whitehouse, Lewis Killeen (Anthony Griffith 68), Daryl Taylor

Sub Not Used: Craig Mawson (GK)

Goals: Rankine (15)

Yellow Cards: Atherton (74), Woodhouse (79)

Referee: Mr G Sutton

Attendance: 880 (Away 51)

Man of the Match sponsored by the Rolton Group : Dale Roberts

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