Rushden & Diamonds 2 – 1 Brackley Town

Tuesday 29th April 2008 at Nene Park

(Northants FA Hillier Senior Cup Final)

Rushden & Diamonds came back from a goal down to retain the Hillier Senior Cup. After a goal-less first half, Tom Winters corner crept in to give Brackley the lead, but after Michael Rankine had been brought down, Curtis Woodhouse converted a penalty before Lee Tomlin scrambled the ball over the line with little over a minute left on the clock.

Having won last year’s Final at Woodford United, Rushden were looking to retain the Trophy and win the competition for the fourth time, having also won in 1994 and 1999. They had reached this year’s final with wins over Corby Town, Cogenhoe United and Northampton Spencer. Brackley Town had put out last years finalists Woodford United in the first round, and had also beaten Raunds Town and Rothwell Town. It was only the second time in their history they had reached the final – losing to Rothwell Town in the 1988 / 1989 final. Brackley had played once before at a very different Nene Park when they were Diamonds first ever opponents in the competition in October 1992.

Manager Garry Hill fielded a strong side making just one change from the side which had drawn against Aldershot at the weekend. Michael Rankine, who had missed the last three games of the season following concussion in the Exeter game, returned to the starting line up in place of Tom Shaw, with Andy Burgess dropping back to midfield.

Brackley’s player-manager David Oldfield was in charge for the last time having been offered a coaching role at Peterborough United, and made four changes from the side which had secured 8th place in the Southern League Premier Division with a 0-0 draw at Clevedon Town on Saturday. Oldfield himself dropped to the bench, together with former Diamond Ryan Semple. Jamie Kearns was injured, while Jamie Paterson was cup-tied. Phil Murphy came in at the back, leading scorer Tom Winters returned on the left wing, with Alex Fisher (on work experience from Oxford United) and Jerome Anderson (on loan from Stevenage Borough) providing the strike force.

The game kicked-off with the rain pouring down on a cold April evening. Both sides had difficulty coping with the slippery surface, with the conditions getting worse as the half progressed. An early mistake in the Diamonds defence let in the lively Jerome Anderson for an early chance and forcing Martyn Margarson to save low down. Diamonds first chance came on 8 minutes, when Michael Corcoran’s deflected shot fell to Rankine, but the striker shot just wide from 15 yards.

Both sides struggled to create chances as Diamonds failed to trouble the Brackley defence led by another former Diamond Dave Savage. Sam Smith’s shot from distance was the nearest either side came during the next half hour, although the game did liven up in the final ten minutes of the first half.

A poor clearance by Savage saw Andy Burgess shoot wide, while Brackley finished with a couple of good chances. On 41 minutes, Tom Winters’ shot from the edge of the area was pushed around the post by Margarson while from the corner, Margarson pulled off another great save from Chris Harper.

Half-time: Rushden & Diamonds 0 – 0 Brackley Tn

Brackley had certainly finished the half strongly and didn’t look like a team two Leagues below Rushden. Lee Tomlin came on for Sam Smith on 52 minutes and within a minute, shot inches wide after a flick forward from Rankine. Brackley responded well and were extremely unfortunate when Anderson’s shot from a Chris Harper cross rebounded back off the crossbar – Phil Gulliver clearing the ball away for a corner. But it was from the corner that the visitors took the lead as Tom Winters sent in a teasing ball to the near post. With the ball going over Woodhouse on the near post, Margarson was unable to stop the ball crossing the line and could only scoop the ball inside the side netting.

The goal obviously unsettled the young keeper as he had difficulty dealing with a cross from Kamran Abbassi, but he was fouled trying to retake the loose ball. Moments later though, Rushden got back on level terms as Michael Rankine raced onto a through ball. As he went into the area, he was brought down from behind by Phil Murphy and referee Burt pointed the penalty spot. Curtis Woodhouse made no mistake sending a powerful shot the keeper Richard Knight’s left.

Brackley immediately came back at Diamonds and Alex Fisher appeared to be offside as he raced clear on 62 minutes, but Margarson produced another fine block to deny the forward. As the ball rebounded to Harper, he tried to chip the ball back towards goal, but it was off target.

Diamonds made another two changes with Jake Beecroft and Lawrence Lambley replacing Corcoran and El-Kholti, and with the game entering the final fifteen minutes, both side picked up the pace. Brackley thought they had regained the lead when Anderson converted Winters forward pass, but the linesman’s flag was raised for offside.

Margarson did well again on 78 minutes, tipping another Anderson effort over the bar, and had to be alert moments later as Winters sent in another dangerous corner to the near post. Brackley continued to press for a winner with Winters and Harper both going close, while at the other end Lee Tomlin squandered a good opportunity. But he was in the right place at the right time with just one minute remaining. Lawrence Lambley used his speed to get clear down the right flank to send in a cross. The keeper failed to take the ball cleanly and Lee Tomlin was on hand to bundle the ball over the line.

In injury time, David Oldfield came on for his final game for Brackley, but it was too late for the visitors. Tomlin nearly added another in stoppage time, trying to place the ball past Knight striking the post, but it didn’t matter as the final whistle sounded moments later.

Full-time: Rushden & Diamonds 2 – 1 Brackley Tn

So Diamonds keep hold of the Trophy for another year with Chris Hope holding the Cup aloft at the end of the game although battling Brackley can be proud of taking the tie to the wire. Although it is the end of the season for the senior side, the youth team still have two games remaining. After their final Puma Youth Alliance fixture at Wycombe Wanderers on Saturday morning, they too have the chance to take home some silverware with the Northants FA Under-18 Cup Final against Peterborough United taking place at Nene Park on Monday 5th May (7.45pm kick-off).

Teams:

Rushden & Diamonds – Margarson, Osano, Gulliver, Hope(c), Woodhouse, Burgess, Rankine, Howell, Corcoran (Beecroft 67), El-Kholti (Lambley 72), Smith (Tomlin 52). Subs not used: Shaw, Gooding.

Brackley Town – Knight, Abbassi (Oldfield 90), Murphy, Hadland, Brown, Green, Harper, Savage(c), Fisher, Anderson, Winters. Subs not used: Semple, Carpenter, Willshere.

Goals: Winters 57 (0-1); Woodhouse 60pen (1-1); Tomlin 89 (2-1).

Booked: Nil.

Referee: Mr Stuart Burt (Northants)

Attendance: 355 (137 away).

Reporters Man of the Match – Martyn Margarson

By Dave Mason

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Rushden & Diamonds 1 Aldershot Town 1

Rushden & Diamonds finished the season with a draw against Blue Square Premier Champions Aldershot Town in an entertaining game at Nene Park. Only a Red Card challenge by a Shots defender deprived the Diamonds of a chance to end the season with a win. The Shots were backed by a large following, who were in party mood, and both sets of fans will have enjoyed the entertainment on the pitch, albeit the goal tally did not match the level of chances created..

As well as end-of-season pride, there was the potential before the game for two seasonal records to be set – Jon Challinor had appeared in every one of Diamonds 45 league games prior to Saturday, but his injury at Grays on Thursday evening meant that he lost his "ever-present" tag at the final hurdle – as well as missing a chance to play against his old club.

Michael Rankine had been a contender for the most appearances record until his concussion against Exeter meant he missed the final three games of the season – but despite missing these games he was still able to finish as the Diamonds top scorer in all competitions – with 19 goals to Simeon Jackson’s 18.

As a result of those two players missing, Garry Hill was able to name another youthful looking line-up – although the starting line up did not contain all eight of the players under 22 that had been seen on the pitch at the final whistle on Thursday evening, in what was one of the most youthful Diamonds sides in their league history, with an average age of only 21.

For this game Hill brought back Burgess for the injured Challinor, Corcoran and Woodhouse for Gooding and Platt, with Corcoran playing in a midfield five as the striker crisis meant that Sam Smith was the only fit striker available.

Goalkeeper Martyn Margarson continued in goal, making his home league debut. Before the game various awards were handed out, with Andy Burgess winning the Fans award, the Press award and the former-RDFCNet award.

Shot’s manager Gary Waddock had seen his team top the 100-point mark on Tuesday night, as well as receiving the Championship Trophy, but he stuck with the players who had featured for most of the season, although the injured Nikki Bull was replaced by penalty-save expert Mikhael Jaimez-Ruiz.

The Diamonds kicked off towards the AirWair end, and started the game very brightly, making all of the early running with some direct play down both wings. Andy Burgess and Curtis Osano were getting some joy down the right, and an interchange between the two saw the defender make a run into the box, but he couldn’t get his shot away.

On the left side Howell and El Kholti were also finding some space, and El-Kholti took advantage of this to hit a shot the Jaimez-Ruis did well to save. A few minutes later the same partnership combined to see an El-Kholti cross headed over by Corcoran.

Michael Corcoran was making a good impression in midfield, he and Burgess combining to give Corcoran room to hit a cross from the right, but his delivery let him down, although he did force a corner.

The Diamonds had a shout for a penalty on 14 minutes as an El Kholti cross hit the arm of Ricky Newman, but referee Scott waved away the claims. At the other end Dean Howell did well to clear a Lewis Chalmers shot off the line.

On the 15 minute mark the Shots should have taken the lead, as a ball in from the left found Ben Harding with space and time towards the right of the penalty box, but although Martyn Margarson did well to parry the shot, low to his right, it appeared to present a simple chance to John Grant, but somehow the striker blazed the ball over the bar.

A few minutes later Andy Burgess tried to link up with the Howell / El-Kholti partnership on the left, but his poor ball back to Howell saw the Shots able to latch onto the ball and make a quick break, forcing Chris Hope to wrestle John Grant to the ground and pick up a yellow card.

Joel Grant was getting some joy down the left for the Shots, and it was his cross that found John Grant in space in the area mid-way through the half – but this time the striker could only head the ball into the arms of the impressive Margarson, who was having his best game for the club to date.

Sam Smith was ploughing a lone furrow through the middle at times, although the newly shorn Woodhouse and Shaw were both getting through an impressive amount of work in closing down their Shots opponents. Smith turned provided on the half-hour as he hit a swirling cross from the right corner of the box that the Shots goalkeeper did well to deal with. Smith had a chance of his own a few minutes later as good work from Howell and Burgess saw the latter find Smith in some space in the box, but his shot sliced wide of the right hand post.

Burgess tried his luck from long range, but at the other end the Shots wasted two further decent chances, the first a free kick on the edge of the area, and then a Joel Grant run on the left found Soares, and his cross-shot was well cleared from under his own bar by Howell.

An entertaining half ended with the scores even.

Half time: Rushden & Diamonds 0 Aldershot Town 0

The match continued very much in the same vein in the second half, with both sides getting into the final third regularly, but without too many clear-cut chances. One of these did fall to Abdou El-Kholti early in the half, as he was found in space on the left side of the penalty box by Andy Burgess, and his powerful volley struck the far post, and then he could only head the rebound into the Shots goalkeepers arms.

Joel Grant continued to present the main threat for the Shots, but the Diamonds defence were covering each other well.

Both Curtis Osano and Tom Shaw had shots that were blocked before the Shots had their first chance of the half from a freekick from out on the right, taken by Harding, and the ball as the ball headed towards the far corner, John Grant could only get underneath it with his head, flicking it over and wide when it appeared easier to score.

On 64 minutes Garry Hill made his first change, bringing on Lawrence Lambley, and was immediately rewarded as the Shots tried to adjust, and an Andy Burgess cross found Abdou El-Kholti on the left, and he squared to Sam Smith who knocked home his first league goal.

Lambley was playing wide right, with Michael Corcoran dropping back into defence to replace Osano at right back, but Corcoran it was that gave away a penalty as he brought down Joel Grant just inside the box. His namesake John Grant knocked home the penalty to Margarson’s right.

On 80 minutes Martin Margarson made an excellent save, catching a Soares shot, and at the other end Jake Beecroft had a great chance for the Diamonds as his first touch wrong footed his marker in the area, but his shot was dealt with by the Shots goalkeeper.

As full-time neared both sides continued to press, with Margarson saving again from Mendes who should have done better after latching onto a low Joel Grant cross. However, it was the Diamonds who came nearest to clinching the winner, as a raid down the left was switched infield for the speedy Lambley to run onto. Just before he reached the area he was hauled down by Anthony Straker, and although it was unfortunate that a red card had to be shown on the Shots’ day of celebration, the referee had little choice. Tom Shaw could only put the free kick tamely over the bar, one of the few times he had disappointed all afternoon. The game ended with Andy Burgess playing up front for the Diamonds, but as referee Scott blew the final whistle both sides would have felt a draw a fair result as they acknowledged the cheers of their support.

The Diamonds run of three defeats in a row came to an end with a draw against the Champions, with their celebrations bringing back memories of a day in Chester almost six years ago.

Full-time: Rushden & Diamonds 1 Aldershot Town 1

The Diamonds season isn’t quite over, with the Hillier Cup Final against Brackley to be played at Nene Park on Tuesday evening – 29thApril, but the Blue Square Premier campaign has now ended. The season has been a rare season where the club was not involved with the promotion or relegation picture from well before the end of the season. Memories of the Rankine goal at Aldershot, the Kelly goal at Bristol, or the wins against Macclesfield and Oxford will linger until the pre-Season friendlies begin again in July.

Teams:

Rushden & Diamonds (White): Martyn Margarson, Curtis Osano (Lawrence Lambley 64), Dean Howell, Chris Hope (Capt), Michael Corcoran, Phil Gulliver, Andy Burgess, Curtis Woodhouse, Tom Shaw, Sam Smith (Jake Beecroft 82), Abdou El-Kholti (Conal Platt 89)

Subs Not Used : Andy Gooding, Ben Nunn

Aldershot Town (Navy Blue) : Mikhael Jaimez-Ruiz, Rob Gier, Anthony Straker, Ben Harding, Ricky Newman (Scott Donnelly 45), Anthony Charles, Louis Soares, Joel Grant, John Grant, Rob Elvins (Junior Mendes 57), Lewis Chalmers

Subs Not Used : Nikki Bull, Ryan Williams, Danny Hylton

Goals: Sam Smith (65), John Grant (Pen) (72)

Yellow Cards: Hope, Soares

Red Cards Anthony Straker

Referee: Mr G Scott

Attendance: 2197 (816 away)

Man of the Match chosen by Gareth Roberts (Carlsberg) : Sam Smith

Grays Athletic 3 Rushden & Diamonds 0

Rushden suffered a third defeat in five days as Grays Athletic coasted to a three goal victory. Defensive errors led to first half goals for Jamie Taylor and Danny Kedwell, while substitute Scott Taylor added another midway through the second half.

Manager Garry Hill made four changes to the side which lost at Oxford United on Tuesday night. On loan keeper Mikkel Andersen had returned to Reading Wednesday morning, leaving Martyn Margarson to take over between the posts. The three other changes were all in midfield with Andy Burgess, Curtis Woodhouse and Michael Corcoran all rested for Saturday’s game against the Conference champions. In came Tom Shaw, Andy Gooding and Abdou El-Kholti. Sam Smith and Conal Platt continued their partnership up front.

Grays were also having keeper problems with both Ross Flitney (broken arm) and Nicky Eyre (ankle) both out – Danny Knowles being recalled from Fisher Athletic on Monday. Manager Mike Woodward also made four changes with his side also suffering from fixture congestion following the postponement of the original game between the two clubs back in February due to fog. Jon Ashton picked up a knock during their 1-1 draw against Salisbury on Tuesday while Cam Mawer, Barry Cogan and Jeff Goulding all dropped down to the bench. Former Diamonds players Andy Sambrook replaced Mawer at the back, while Neil McCafferty replaced Cogan in midfield with Aaron O’Connor playing an attacking role in the middle. Jamie Taylor came in for Goulding in attack.

 

Diamonds kicked off towards the few faithful fans that had made the journey into Essex, but most of the early possession belonged to the home side. The Rushden defence appeared to be coping well with Margarson having little difficulty, and in fact the first real chance fell to Sam Smith after 8 minutes when he headed Cutis Osano’s cross wide.

 

A second Diamonds attack after 15 minutes saw El-Kholti send in a dangerous cross from the left but Smith was unable to get a touch as the ball was put out for a corner. From Tom Shaw’s corner however, the ball was cleared quickly up to Marlon Patterson on the half way line, leaving Chris Hope and Curtis Osano out of position. After the ball was pumped forward to Jamie Taylor down the left, Dean Howell allowed the Gray’s No.9 to slip inside and fire a fierce shot past Margarson.

 

Rushden tried to get back into the game and although Chris Hope struck the bar from around 12 yards following a free-kick, he was ruled offside. But the home side continued to look more likely to score and had several chances in the space of around ten minutes. Danny Kedwell sent in a dangerous cross which was put behind before there was a lucky escape when Taylor was unable to take advantage of a poor kick from Margarson. Taylor also fired into the side netting, while Aaron O’Connor should have done better from close range, miscuing his shot across the face of the goal.

 

The second goal finally came on 36 minutes and it was following a mistake from Margarson. The young keeper came out of the area to clear the ball, but he failed to get proper contact and the ball struck Danny Kedwell and bounced nicely for him to slot the ball home.

 

Grays continued to look for another goal, and a deft little chip from Kedwell just before the break saw Margarson scampering back with the ball landing on the roof of the net.

 

Half-time: Grays Athletic 2 – 0 Rushden & Diamonds

 

Towards the end of the first half, Jon Challinor picked up a knock on the ankle and Lawrence Lambley, back from a loan spells with Bromsgrove Rovers and Bourne Town, replaced him. Rushden tried to step up a gear as the second half progressed and a goalmouth scramble saw efforts from both Sam Smith and Lambley blocked as the ball was cleared away.

 

Grays made a couple of changes with Barry Cogan and Scott Taylor replacing Aaron O’Connor and Stuart Thurgood which seemed to steady the ship, although on 63 minutes, Diamonds had another good chance as Abdou El-Kholti played in Conal Platt. The makeshift striker sent a fierce shot towards goal which Knowles was unable to hold – and with Smith following up, the keeper did well to dive at his feet onto the loose ball.

 

What little chance Rushden had of getting back in the game was snuffed out however on 68 minutes as Grays got a third. Patterson chipped the ball up to substitute Scott Taylor as Gooding and Gulliver seemed to be in two minds and he made no mistake from 10 yards. Two minutes later Taylor had another effort just wide.

 

As the time ticked away, youngsters Jake Beecroft and Ben Nunn (making his League debut) replaced Gooding and Hope, while Grays went to a 3-4-3 with the introduction of Jeff Goulding as they looked for another goal. Beecroft went in to the central midfield, while Nunn went to his preferred right back position, with Osano moving inside.

 

Grays gained in confidence over the closing fifteen minutes, with Danny Kedwell and Jeff Goulding going close on several occasion, while in the dying moments Platt shot wide as Diamonds failed to find the target again – some 292 minutes since Jon Challinor’s goal against Torquay United.   

 

Full-time: Grays Athletic 3 – 0 Rushden & Diamonds

 

Although there are not many positives in a three goal defeat, Sam Smith’s deserves credit for his tireless effort up front, while Lambley, Beecroft and Nunn all did well when they came on in the second half. This third consecutive defeat leaves Diamonds in danger of finishing on a losing run with the final League game of the season against Conference Champions Aldershot Town on Saturday (5.15pm kick-off).

 

Teams:

Grays Athletic – Knowles, Sambrook (Goulding 73), Gross, Stuart (c), Downer, Thurgood (S.Taylor 61), O’Connor (Cogan 52), J.Taylor, Kedwell, Patterson, McCafferty.

Subs not used: Whincup, Mawer.

 

Rushden & Diamonds – Margarson, Osano, Gulliver, Hope (Nunn 77), Challinor (Lambley HT), Shaw, Gooding (Beecroft 71), Platt, Howell, El-Kholti, Smith.

Subs not used: Woodhouse, Bolt.

 

Goals: J.Taylor 16 (1-0), Kedwell 36 (2-0), S.Taylor 68 (3-0).

 

Booked: Nil.

 

Referee: Mr Andy Hendley (West Midlands)

 

Attendance: 542 (25 away).

 

Reporters Man of the Match: Sam Smith.

 

 

By Dave Mason

Oxford United 1 Rushden & Diamonds 0

After failing to win any of the past eight meetings between the two sides, a Yemi Odubade goal seven minutes from time finally ended Oxford’s poor run of results against Rushden. In a game of few chances, it appeared both sides recent good run of results would continue with a draw until the lively Oxford forward struck for his third goal in four games.

Manager Garry Hill made four changes from the side which lost against play-off contenders Exeter City on Saturday. Michael Rankine had received a head injury during that game and is unlikely to play any further part in Diamonds League campaign, so youngster Sam Smith made his first senior start partnering Conal Platt up front. In midfield, Andy Gooding and Lee Tomlin dropped down to the bench, with Jon Challinor coming in and former U’s defender Michael Corcoran moving up from the back. Phil Gulliver replaced Adbou El-Kholti.

Oxford’s recent run of results had moved them into the top half of the table, and only Aldershot were above them in the recent form table. Manager Darren Patterson made just one change to the side which beat Woking on Saturday, with Luke Foster (who received the club’s ‘player of the year’ award before the game) replacing James Clarke. Michael Howard had recovered from a knock at the weekend to play at the back, but former Diamonds Marvin Robinson and Rob Duffy remain sidelined through injury.

 

Oxford set the game in motion and Michael Howard was lucky not to enter the referee’s notebook early on after a poor tackle on Conal Platt. The home side looked lively with Yemi Odubade and former Diamond Craig McAllister leading the attack. It was McAllister who had the first effort on goal forcing loan keeper Mikkel Andersen to save low down. Another Oxford attack on 11 minutes saw Odubade weave past Phil Gulliver on the right and cross the ball to the far post, but Phil Trainer fired his shot over the crossbar.

 

Diamonds, playing in their red strip, had a lucky escape on 14 minutes when Luke Foster’s header appeared to strike the hand of Chris Hope but the referee waved away the penalty appeals. Both sides were fairly evenly matched with the home side determined to avenge the 5-0 defeat at Nene Park earlier in the season. Conal Platt was looking more confident going forward than he had done in previous games with some strong running, and also did well to cover back and foil another effort from McAllister after Odubade had turned inside Curtis Osano.

 

Although Oxford had the better chances, Diamonds were looking fairly comfortable and were in quick with challenges not allowing the home side any time on the ball as both teams kept the ball on the ground. On 30 minutes, Andy Burgess, playing on the left, sent Dean Howell away down the wing, but no-one was able to get on the end of his dangerous cross as the ball whizzed across the box.

 

Oxford continued to press forward and Andersen had to back-peddle to get to Odubade’s deflected shot. Their best chance of the half fell on 34 minutes, when Jamie Hand’s shot from the edge of the area was blocked. The ball fell to Adam Murray, who chipped the ball over the stranded Andersen, but the ball bounced off the op of the crossbar to be cleared away. As helf time approached, both sides had final chances, with Odubade chipping over the bar for the home side, and urges shooting wide for Diamonds.

 

Half-time: Oxford United 0 – 0 Rushden & Diamonds

 

Yemi Odebade continued to cause Rushden problems as the second half got underway and on 52 minutes, Eddie Anaclet set up the striker again as Hope did well to block the shot away for a corner. Matt Green came on to replace McAllister before Adam Murray sent the corner kick into the centre. Although Mikkel Andersen dropped the centre, he made up for his error with afine save from Luke Foster at point blank range.

 

Diamonds were not causing Billy Turley much of a problem and when they did have a chance to put the former Diamonds keeper under pressure, Burgess fired a free kick from just outside the area over the bar. Andersen did well again just before the hour, saving well from Odubade’s flick. Danny Rose replaced Phil Trainer on 60 minutes and almost immediately, Michael Corcoran received a yellow card for a foul on the former Manchester United midfielder.

 

The arrival of Lee Tomlin for Sam Smith on 64 minutes provided some much needed pace into the attack and he created a couple of chances within minutes of his arrival. His cross to Jon Challinor at the far post was intercepted well, while a neat lay-off to Conal Platt produced a good save from Turley.

 

In the final fifteen minutes, Oxford tried to push forward as they continued to look more dangerous going forward. Dean Howell was fortunate when he allowed a high ball to bounce in the area allowing Odubade to get a shot on goal, Andersen saving brilliantly from close range. Moments later, Jamie Hand’s cross saw Rose rise at the far post and head just wide, but Diamonds luck finally ran out with seven minutes remaining. Yemi Odubade ran on to a flick from Matt Green and held off Gulliver’s challenge to send a right foot shot past Andersen.

 

As the minutes ticked away, Tom Shaw and Abdou El-Kholti replaced Corcoran and Platt as Diamonds pushed for an equaliser. Green fired over for Oxford, while Challinor shot wide from Howell’s cross. A flare up in injury time saw Curtis Woodhouse receive a yellow card for a challenge on Rose as Diamonds slipped to a second defeat on three days.

 

Full-time: Oxford United 1 – 0 Rushden & Diamonds

 

After five games in eleven days, Diamonds look ready for a rest, but they still have another game to complete before the final game of the season next Saturday. They play the re-arranged fixture against Grays Athletic at the Recreation Ground on Thursday evening (1945 kick-off), after the original game scheduled for February had been postponed due to fog.

 

Teams:

Oxford United – Turley, Anaclet, Quinn(c), Odubade, McAllister (Green 52), Howard, Foster, Trainer (Rose 60), Day, Murray, Hand.

Subs not used: Hutchinson, Fisher, Clarke.

 

Rushden & Diamonds – Andersen, Osano, Gulliver, Hope (c), Challinor, Woodhouse, Burgess, Platt (El-Kholti 84), Howell, Corcoran (Shaw 84), Smith (Tomlin 64).

Subs not used: Gooding, Beecroft.

 

Goals: Odubade 83 (1-0).

 

Booked: Corcoran 64 (foul), Hand 72 (foul), Woodhouse 90+2 (foul).

 

Referee: Mr Steven Rushton (Staffs).

 

Attendance: 4631 (169 away).

 

Reporters Man of the Match: Mikkel Andersen.

 

 

Report by Dave Mason

Rushden & Diamonds 0 Exeter City 2

 

Rushden & Diamonds failed to make it four wins in a week as Exeter City kept up their challenge for the play-offs with a 2-0 victory over the Diamonds, their first victory at Nene Park.

Diamonds Manager Garry Hill made four changes from the team that defeated Torquay United two days earlier, with Abdou El-Kholti, Andy Gooding, Michael Corcoran and Lee Tomlin returning to the side.

Grecian’s manager Paul Tisdale left top scorer Richard Logan on the bench, starting with Adam Stansfield and Steve Basham up front.

The Diamonds kicked off towards the AirWair end, and started the game very brightly, making all of the early running with some direct play through the middle. Michael Rankine quickly started making himself space, and he won a free kick in a dangerous position on three minutes as he was fouled by Seabourne. Andy Gooding was given the responsibility of trying to make something of a free kick 20 yards out, but he could only hit the ball into the wall and the danger was cleared.

Two minutes later Chris Hope’s ball forwards was flicked on by Lee Tomlin finding Michael Rankine in space, but although he controlled the ball well, his shot went wide of the left hand post.

A minute later Rankine had another chance to reward Diamonds early pressure with a goal, as he showed great ball control with a long ball from Andy Gooding, but again his finishing let him down as he blazed over the bar.

It was thus against the run of play that Exeter took the lead on 9 minutes. Good work in midfield by Rob Edwards saw Steve Basham in a great shooting position on the edge of the box. Mikkel Anderson appeared to get down well to save the powerfully hit shot, but he could only knock it towards the corner of the 6-yard box, allowing Adam Stansfield to run on and knock the ball across the line from a narrow angle, with the linesman on the North Stand side confirming that the ball had crossed the line.

The Grecians fans appealed for a penalty a few minutes later as the ball struck Michael Corcoran in the area, but referee Coote dismissed the claims.

Andy Burgess had moved into third place in the all-time Diamonds appearance list by playing in this game, and he came close with a left foot shot after good play by Curtis Woodhouse, but might have done better than a rather weak header after El Kholti and Howell combined on the left for Howell to hit a dangerous looking cross.

The Diamonds had a scare when a mix-up between Woodhouse and Andersen saw a back-pass almost intercepted by Stansfield, but the Diamonds goalie showed his worth a minute later as a poor Corcoran clearance resulted in a chance for Wayne Carlisle, and his powerful shot was tipped over the bar by the Danish keeper.

The game remained fairly even for the remainder of the half, with Andy Burgess again showing his skill on 39 minutes as he beat two men just outside of the box and found Abdou El-Kholti in space on the left, but he could only win a corner with his attempt on goal.

Gooding and Burgess combined with a snappy one-two a minute later, but Lee Tomlin’s shot hit a defender. As half time approached Tomlin had a chance to get the equaliser in a similar fashion to Thursday evening, but on this occasion his well hit shot was caught by the excellent Paul Jones in the Exeter goal.

There was just time for a Curtis Woodhouse cross to elude everyone after two attempts at capitalising on the Rankine long throw on the left saw him fed the ball by Lee Tomlin on the right.

The half ended with Diamonds perhaps feeling that they had done enough to go in level at the break, but it was the Grecians that held the half-time lead.

Half time: Rushden & Diamonds 0 Exeter City 1

Unlike Thursday evening, the Diamonds second half showing did not match what they had showed in the first – perhaps a sign that the four games in the past week were taking their toll.

Adam Stansfield was getting a lot of freedom on the right side, and Dean Moxey should have done better with his free header on the end of a Stansfield cross. This was then followed by a series of corners and half-chances to the visitors, but they did not trouble Andersen.

At the other end a Rankine long throw was knocked out for a corner by Friend, and the Burgess corner wasn’t gather by Jones, falling to Chris Hope, but his shot was rather weak.

Lee Tomlin was only getting into the game on rare occasions, and when he did it was mostly outside of the box, as on the hour he ran on to a quick free-kick taken by Andy Burgess on the right, got to the byline, and hit what looked like an excellent cross, low and hard into the 6 yard box, but although Michael Rankine got his head to the cross he couldn’t divert the ball into the goal for the equaliser.

A Moxey corner for Exeter saw Matt Taylor head over after he escaped from his marker, as the Diamonds defence started to come under more pressure at a time they needed to be threatening at the other end. Recognising this, Manager Hill decided to bring on Sam Smith for Chris Hope, but this move quickly backfired. Initially it looked like Abdou El-Kholti might drop back to allow Dean Howell to move into the middle, but as they tried to sort this out Adam Stansfield took advantage to reach the by-line on that side, and hit a powerful low cross for Ryan Harley to ghost in and knock the ball easily past the stranded Andersen.

This second goal confirmed that Diamonds would play with three at the back, but their tactics were almost immediately forced to change following an incident when Michael Rankine ran on to a long ball to challenge with Jones. The big striker took a blow to the head which required him to be stretchered off after a three minute delay. Ex-Grecian Jon Challinor came on to replace him, but he had to watch as most of the action was now in front of the Grecians fans as their team looked like increasing their lead. Poor finishes by Moxey, Harley and Carlisle meant that the scoreline remained 2-0, and Michael Corcoran had to pick up a yellow card to thwart a run on goal by Adam Stansfield.

As promised, Garry Hill also gave a chance to Jake Beecroft, as he replaced Curtis Woodhouse, and he was part of the only real chance the Diamonds had to reduce the deficit as he latched on to a pass from Lee Tomlin to feed Andy Burgess, but the shot could only force a corner.

There was still time for two further excellent chances for the Grecians to increase their lead as the late substitute Watson immediately got involved, laying the ball into space for Dean Moxey who fed Wayne Carlisle but he could only shoot over the bar.

The Diamonds run of three wins came to an end as the Grecians claimed their first win at Nene Park, and although by the end of the game the visitors had seen the lion’s share of possession and chances, the Diamonds had not been disgraced against a team desperate for points in their push for a play-off place.

Full-time: Rushden & Diamonds 0 Exeter City 2

Teams:

Rushden & Diamonds (White): Mikkel Andersen, Curtis Osano, Dean Howell, Chris Hope (Sam Smith 61), Michael Corcoran, Andy Gooding, Andy Burgess, Curtis Woodhouse (Jake Beecroft 73), Lee Tomlin, Michael Rankine (Jon Challinor 66), Abdou El-Kholti.

Subs Not Used : Phil Gulliver, Conal Platt

Exeter City (Blue) : Paul Jones, Steve Tully, George Friend, Matt Gill, Dan Seabourne, Matt Taylor, Rob Edwards, Dean Moxey, Ryan Harley, Adam Stansfield (Ben Watson 92), Steve Basham (Wayne Carlisle 21)

Subs Not Used : Andy Marriott, Bertie Cozic, Richard Logan,

Goals: Stansfield 9, Harley 63

Yellow Cards: Corcoran

Referee: Mr D Coote

Attendance: 1572 (359 away)

Man of the Match chosen by Mr Wiggs : Curtis Woodhouse.

Rushden & Diamonds 2 Torquay United 1

 

Rushden & Diamonds staged an excellent fightback to beat second placed Torquay United by two goals to one at Nene Park. After a shaky start the Diamonds came into the game on the half-hour mark, and a Michael Rankine goal on the stroke of half-time seemed to knock the stuffing out of the visitors as the Diamonds went on to dominate the second half and a Jon Challinor goal gave them victory.

Andy Burgess was making his 285th appearance for the first team, equalling Darren Collins record to move into joint third place in the overall appearance list, and his performance in this game was one of the best seen from him in all of that time.

Manager Garry Hill made four changes to the side that had beaten Stafford Rangers only two days earlier, with Chris Hope, Dean Howell and Tom Shaw recalled to the starting line-up, and loanee goalkeeper Mikkel Andersen making his Diamonds debut against the team he had played for only a few weeks ago.

Gulls Manager Paul Buckle rested six players to reflect their busy schedule, with the prospect of at least two playoff games and the FA Trophy final to be played after the main season ends next weekend.

On a cold evening the Diamonds kicked off towards the Peter De Banke Terrace, with Andy Burgess on the right, Conal Platt on the left and Jon Challinor playing just behind Michael Rankine. Within two minutes the chasing down of the Gulls midfield almost paid dividends, with Curtis Osano forced to make a hurried backpass that Andersen had to head clear with his first touch for the Diamonds.

Unfortunately, it may well have been that Andersen’s second touch was to pick the ball out of his net, as an excellent header forwards from Kevin Hill could only be cleared out to Kevin Nicholson on the left wing, and his cross was met by the head of Elliot Benyon for the opening goal.

Although there was a sign of the things to come from the Diamonds with some sweeping 30 yards balls across field by Shaw, Challinor and particularly Andy Burgess, it was the Gulls who had the best of the first half-hour, with several threatening breaks being thwarted by last-ditch defending.

Burgess showed his class on 13 minutes when he beat two defenders at close quarters just outside the right edge of the box, and swept a 20 yard ball to Conal Platt in space on the left-side of the box, but Platt rushed his shot and put the ball wide of goal.

Just as the Diamonds fans were starting to wonder how their team might get into the game, and their minds were starting to wander to subjects such as the colour of Dean Howell’s hair or Andy Burgess’ boots the Diamonds seemed to realise their opponents were starting to run out of ideas. As the half-hour mark approached came the Diamonds best chance of that period, with a long ball upfield by Chris Hope finding Michael Rankine one-on-one with Rayner in the Torquay goal, and although favourite the keeper allowed Rankine to challenge and the ball slip past him, but as he appeared to bring down the striker the referee signalled a goal kick rather that the penalty many would agree could have been given.

Both sides now looked threatening, with a Diamonds attack breaking down and Jody Banin running 60 yards to set up Elliot Benyon, whose control let him down.

Not content with stroking 30 yard crossfield passes and tricking his way around defenders, Andy Burgess also tried out his shooting skills, hitting a powerful shot from well outside the angle of the area, but it flew wide past a surprised Rayner.

As half-time approached Diamonds made their pressure pay better than the Gulls had done while they were on top. A long ball out of defence wasn’t dealt with by Mark Ellis, allowing Michael Rankine to run on to the loose ball and hit his shot early, low to Rayners left the get the equaliser just before the interval.

Half time: Rushden & Diamonds 1 Torquay United 1

As often happens, a goal just before halt-time against a team that has possibly had the best of the period can knock the stuffing out of the team on the receiving end, and that was certainly the case here, as the Diamonds dominated the second half for much, if not all, of the period.

Within 4 minutes of the restart Michael Rankine made the first of several free runs on to the United goal – in this case he was fed through by Jon Challinor, and appeared to have his shirt tugged by Mark Ellis, but no penalty was given.

A few minutes later the long awaited goal from Curtis Osano almost came, as he went on a powerful run towards the penalty box, but his powerful shot was just over.

The Diamonds forced a series of corners, although their recent spell of failing to create much from these opportunities continued. Sam Smith made another appearance just before the half-hour mark, and again looked at home at this level of football.

Most of the Gulls chances were coming on the break, but Chris Hope showed that he still has the pace to make the necessary tackles when his two fullbacks had raided up-field. The Diamonds had one scare when a speculative volley by Jody Banim from the left corner of the box threatened to dip down under the crossbar, but it didn’t trouble Andersen as it clipped the frame of the goal.

Great play on the left involving Burgess and Challinor linked up with a storming run from Dean Howell, but his powerful cross was well fielded by Rayner. The Torquay stopper did even better a few minutes later, when an Andy Burgess back heel to Curtis Osano wrongfooted both of the defenders trying to clear the danger, and Osano found Tom Shaw in a great position in the box, but somehow Rayner and his defenders managed to block the shot from Shaw.

However, the Diamonds dominance was soon rewarded, as they won a freekick 35 yards out on the right. Andy Burgess took the kick, and it was too high for the central defenders to deal with, and curved into the path of Jon Challinor outside of the far past, who fired home to give the Diamonds the lead.

The Gulls then brought on their "a-team" strikers in Zebroski and Phillips, and immediately looked more threatening with each of them finding their way to the by-line an hitting dangerous crosses low across goal – but nobody was able to apply a telling touch.

At the other end Michael Rankine had two chances in quick succession to make the game safe. To his credit he played a major part in creating the chances as the Gulls defence became rather static, running on to hit shots, the first of which was straight at Rayner, and the second was straight into the De Banke terrace.

After one more scare when Zebroski should have done better after a Hill flick on to a Phillips cross, the game ended with the Diamonds deserved winners based on their recovery and second half dominance. The win maintains the Diamonds unbeaten record over their Devon opponents at Nene Park.

It is now less than 48 hours before the Diamonds face the other Devon side – Exeter City, who have an even greater need for the three points, but with three wins inside six days the Diamonds will be able to go into the game with confidence.

Full-time: Rushden & Diamonds 2 Torquay United 1

Teams:

Rushden & Diamonds (White): Mikkel Andersen, Curtis Osano, Dean Howell, Chris Hope (Capt), Phil Gulliver, Tom Shaw, Andy Burgess, Curtis Woodhouse, Jon Challinor (Abdou El-Kholti 89), Michael Rankine, Conal Platt (Sam Smith 58)

Subs Not Used : Jake Beecroft, Andy Gooding, Michael Corcoran

Torquay United (Yellow) : Simon Rayner, Paul Hinshelwood, Kevin Nicholson, Chris Robertson, Lee Mansell (Capt), Elliott Benyon (Chris Zebroski 73), Kevin Hill, Jody Banim (Lee Phillips 73), Matt Hockley, Darren Mullings (Roscoe D’Sane), Mark Ellis,

Subs Not Used : Chris Todd, Martin Rice

Goals: Benyon 5, Rankine 44, Challinor 69

Yellow Cards: Mullings

Referee: Mr C Sarginson

Attendance: 1276 (Away 175)

Man of the Match chosen by Mr Hiscoe : Curtis Woodhouse

Stafford Rangers 0 Rushden & Diamonds 1

 

Rushden & Diamonds made it two victories in a row by a single goal on their travels, and although this performance did not reach the level seen in the second half at Forest Green, they will be pleased to have come away with a victory and a clean sheet despite having to play a not fully fit goalkeeper when their plans for an emergency loan were thwarted.

Following the victory at Forest Green, Garry Hill made three changes in personnel, with Martyn Margarson making a surprise league debut after the emergency registration of loan keeper Mikkel Anderssen was not completed.

Jon Challinor replaced Dean Howell, Abdou El-Kholti dropping back into defence, with Phil Gulliver replacing Chris Hope both in defence and as captain.

Diamonds lined up with a traditional back four, but the rest of the formation behind Michael Rankine was rather fluid, with a 4-3-3 approach at times with Challinor and Platt pushed forwards, with Andy Burgess in a more central role alongside Woodhouse and Gooding.

The half started with an initial dangerous looking Rangers attack, as Michael Corcoran miscued a clearance, not for the last time on the night, and Martyn Margarson made a valuable early contribution as he saved from Tom Ingram.

On 4 minutes the Diamonds took the lead as an excellent flick by Michael Rankine diverted the ball wide and to the left for Andy Burgess to run onto. Burgess was able to take the ball forwards and hit a curling inswinging cross which Michael Rankine had made up enough ground to sidefoot low into the net.

Margarson was called into action again on 10 minutes as he caught a shot from Nathan Smith who had latched on to a Damien Jarrett cross from the right. Curtis Osano was taking the goalkicks for the young Diamonds keeper to avoid aggravating his injury.

The visitors then forced a succession of corners as they threatened to extend their lead courtesy of some great chasing down in midfield. However, although the corner count increased, a number of them were wasted with short corner moves where the ball didn’t even get inside the box, Andy Burgess being guilty of trying too many trips whilst his team-mates looked on.

In the 15th minute when Burgess and Woodhouse combined to make space for Woody on the left edge of the box to hit a dangerous cross into the box. Although cleared by Flynn it appeared to most of the crowd he had barged into the back of Michael Rankine in order to do it, but a corner was the only reward.

Despite the tricky pitch, the diamonds midfield emphasised their dominance with a number of slick passing moves, with Platt and Challinor linking up with Burgess and Woodhouse on several occasions.

As the game approached the half-hour mark things were quietening down both on and off the pitch, after Steve Bull had been given a long lecture by both the fourth official and the referee. Michael Corcoran showed great vision to find Conal Platt in good space on the edge of the box, and after his first attempt was blocked, Platt was able to get in a second shot from a very narrow angle that was saved by a combination of Alcock and the post.

At the other end Rangers were able to have several attempts on goal, with Samy Mawene hitting the best strikes, with the Diamonds defence doing well to block. The home strikeforce should have done better on 36 minutes when Margarson flapped at a high ball, as substitute Wellecombe put in a challenge, and the ball span out to Damion Jarrett who appeared to have time to compose himself, but he rushed his shot and it sailed harmlessly over the angle of the goal. On the left hand side Ishmale Reid was also guilty of some wayward shooting, especially when there were players the box in good positions.

Five minutes before the break the second goal almost came, as a poor Alcock goalkick was controlled by Jon Challinor, and he appeared to have a free run on goal, but he was well tackled by Djoumin Sangare – one of many such occasions on the night. This was then followed by good work by Challinor and Curtis Osano wide on the right flank, with the resultant cross falling to Andy Gooding, who tried a one-two with Michael Rankine, and although Rankine’s back-flick was well executed, the defence were able to clear the danger.

The half ended with the Diamonds having deservedly maintained their one goal advantage, but had seen enough of the Rangers attacking threat to know that if their strikeforce found their form then there was every chance a further goal would be needed to seal the result.

Half-time: Stafford Rangers 0 Rushden & Diamonds 1

The second half started as quietly as the first half had ended, but Neil Grayson was showing he was still able to cope with 90 minutes as his running and strength in holding off defenders freed up Jarrett, but he was unable to execute the necessary pass to Wellecombe who was free in space on the right.

Manager Hill sensed the lethargy creeping into the game, and quickly pushed on three substitutes around the hour mark. Once again Sam Smith impressed as he came on to replace Conal Platt, and almost netted his first senior goal as he made space to get in a header on the end of an Andy Burgess cross, and was unlucky to see the ball bounce up into Alcock’s arms.

The Diamonds then had a ten minute period where it looked like they were about to get the second goal that would have made the game safe, but to Stafford’s tremendous credit they did not give up fighting, and Samy Mawene against showed his powerful shot with an attempt that Margarson did well to palm away.

Rangers had a couple of other good attempts, notably when Ross Draper ran straight at the defence and should have done better with his final strike. At the other end the Diamonds continued with the odd break that looked dangerous, not least on 69 minutes when a crossfield ball from Andy Burgess looked to have found Sam Smith free on goal, but the linesman felt that Michael Rankine had been involved with the move from an offside position, although it appeared he was keeping out of the way. Shots by Grayson at one end and Shaw at the other did not trouble either goalkeeper, as neither side was able to inject the desired quality into their play.

As the game moved into injury time they gave the Diamonds goal a couple of real scares, most notably in the third minute of injury time, when first a break into the box by Ross Draper saw his attempt forced wide, and then from the resultant corner there were shades of earlier battles as a Neil Grayson header squirmed across goal and behind for a goal kick.

Although the performance wasn’t as impressive as the second half showing at Forest Green, a difficult pitch had an impact on what was a poor quality game. The Diamonds will be pleased to have kept a clean sheet after having to use a goalkeeper who was clearly not fully fit, and will now look forward to the stiffer home challenges of Torquay United and Exeter City on Thursday and Saturday respectively.

Full-time: Stafford Rangers 0 Rushden & Diamonds 1

Teams:

Stafford Rangers (Black / White): Danny Alcock, Wayne Daniel, Djoumin Sangare, Chris Flynn,), Tom Ingram, Ross Draper, Samy Mawene, Ishmale Reid, Damion Jarrett (Jon Loukes 89), Neil Grayson, Nathan Smith (Nick Wellecombe 8)

Subs Not Used : Alan Dodd, Sebastian Arnold, Danny Allen

Rushden & Diamonds (Yellow) : Martyn Margarson, Curtis Osano, Abdou El-Kholti (Dean Howell 54), Phil Gulliver, Michael Corcoran, Conal Platt (Sam Smith 61), Jon Challinor, Andy Gooding, Curtis Woodhouse (Tom Shaw 57), Michael Rankine, Andy Burgess,

Subs Not Used : Chris Hope, Jake Beecroft

Goals : Michael Rankine (5)

Yellow Cards : Shaw, Draper, Ingram

Referee: Mr P Tierney

Attendance: 436 (Away 54)

Diamonds Man of the Match: Michael Rankine

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