Forest Green Rovers 0 Rushden & Diamonds 1

 
A strong second half performance saw Diamonds take all three points as Andy Burgess struck the winning goal on 62 minutes. Forest Green were left to rue several missed first half chances and they must have wondered how the two teams had come into the half time break on level terms.

 

Manager Garry Hill made four changes from the side which lost against play-off candidates Cambridge United on Tuesday. Curtis Osano had recovered from his hamstring injury and joined the back four in place of Phil Gulliver who dropped to the bench. In midfield, Andy Gooding and Abdou El-Kholti came in for Jon Challinor and Lee Tomlin, while on loan attacking midfielder Conal Platt was given the chance to partner Michael Rankine up front. Marcus Kelly was still sidelined with a knee injury.

 

Forest Green boss Jim Harvey, was without the services of defender Anthony Tonkin who was suspended after a double booking in the midweek draw at Northwich Victoria, although Conference top scorer Stuart Fleetwood returned after his three match ban. Darren Jones and Simon Clist were still out with groin injuries, while John Hardiker had joined the injury list. Michael Preece returned to the defence, with Ishmael Welsh came into the midfield.

 

Still with a faint hope of a play-off spot, Forest Green came at Diamonds immediately from the kick-off, and had two great chances in the opening three minutes. After just 56 seconds, Les Afful sent a high ball up to top scorer Stuart Fleetwood as the windy conditions deceived the Diamonds defence. With just Dale Roberts to beat, the keeper pulled off a great save, holding on to Fleetwood’s fierce drive. Just two minutes later, there was almost an exact repeat of the move, but although Fleetwood managed to put the ball past Roberts, he also sent the ball the wrong side of the post.

 

Diamonds looked severely troubled by the swirling wind and were unable to mount much in the way of counter attacks. Conal Platt has a shot blocked on 11 minutes after captain Michael Brough lost the ball in is own half, but Rovers continued to look the better side. Another golden opportunity fell to Fleetwood on 15 minutes after a long ball out from keeper Terry Burton. Once again, the defence were caught out allowing the ball to bounce and putting Fleetwood clear again. This time, he fired his shot over the bar.

 

Diamonds should have been dead and buried by this stage but they gradually came to terms with the windy conditions. Abdou El-Kholti, playing in Marcus Kelly’s normal position was making some good runs down the left and on 21 minutes, put in a good cross which Alex Lawless did well to put out for a corner. Michael Corcoran headed just wide from the Andy Burgess corner.

 

Neither side were able to make the final ball count as Diamonds started to look more composed at the back. Corcoran went into the referee’s notebook on 35 minutes for a foul on Lee Dodgson, and from the Alex Lawless free kick, Adriano Rigoglioso shot wide. In the final three minutes, Rovers had further chances and Roberts did well to clear a Lawless corner at the near post. As Lawless put in another corner to the same area, Roberts was unable to get to the ball and Jonathan Smith put the ball in the net, but luckily for Diamonds, the referee blew for a foul on Roberts.

 

The disallowed goal seemed to spur on Diamonds was they came back strongly before the half time whistle. Conal Platt set up a chance for Rankine, but his shot was blocked with Corcoran heading over from the resultant corner. Rankine then had another chance in stoppage time, but his shot went straight at Burton.

 

Half-time: Forest Green Rovers 0 – 0 Rushden & Diamonds

 

Diamonds started second half in a more positive frame of mind. Michael Rankine had two efforts – one over and one wide as they took the game to Rovers. Dean Howell and Abdou El-Kholti were starting to get a good understanding down the left flank and were starting to cause the home side problems.

 

Rovers first chance of the second half came on 52 minutes after Andy Burgess gave away a free-kick 5 yards outside the area but Alex Lawless fired the shot directly at Dale Roberts. Six minutes later, Lee Dodgson took the ball in from the right and sent a powerful shot from the edge of the area towards goal. Again, Diamonds were fortunate as Stuart Fleetwood tried to deflect the shot past the diving Dale Roberts, but only succeeded in knocking the ball off target and out for a goal kick.

 

With Dean Howell venturing dangerously down the left wing, he was starting to create some good chances for Diamonds. His shot from a narrow angle was well blocked by keeper Terry Burton and it was Howell who sent Abdou El-Kholti away down the left on 62 minutes. His cross from the by-line found Rankine challenging the keeper at the near post and as Burton flapped at the ball, he could only palm the ball out to Andy Burgess, who fired in a low shot from 15 yards to give Diamonds the lead.

 

The home side made an immediate change with Danny Carey-Bertram coming on for Lee Dodgson but Diamonds grew in confidence as the minutes ticked away with Burgess trying to catch the keeper out from the half-way line. Jon Challinor replaced Conal Platt up front after 73 minutes with Diamonds looking to make the game safe.

 

Rovers looked like they had given up any hope of making he play-off’s as Diamonds were looking comfortable at the back. They were restricted to long range shots with Rigoglioso shooting wide, and Lawless sending another free-kick over the bar. It was Diamonds who were looking more likely to score again and Burton had to make two attempts to save from El-Kholti. Tom Shaw replaced Andy Gooding with 11 minutes remaining.

 

The home side were still having difficulty defending down the left flank, with Howell having another shot saved by the keeper. Jon Challinor thought he had added a second on 88 minutes, when he got on the end of another Howell cross, but the linesman was well positioned to rule the ball had not crossed the line before it was hooked away to safety.

 

As the game entered stoppage time, Curtis Osano broke down the right and sent the ball inside to the Sam Smith who had replaced Michael Rankine a few minutes earlier. The youngster fired in a powerful shot that beat keeper Terry Burton, but rebounded back out off the post. There was still time for Jon Challinor to make a strong run from midfield and send in a shot which Burton managed to deflect onto the outside of the post for a corner.

 

Full-time: Forest Green Rovers 0 – 1 Rushden & Diamonds

 

After a poor first half performance, Diamonds looked by far the better team during the second half and took their chance when it came. Rovers were left to regret their missed first half chances. Youngster Sam Smith was given a slightly longer time on the field than he had on Tuesday evening (6 minutes instead of 5) and was extremely unlucky not to have got on the score-sheet. That just might be a good reason for giving him a starting role on Tuesday evening when Diamonds visit Stafford Rangers (1945 kick-off).

 

Teams:

Forest Green Rovers – Burton, Lawless, Rigoglioso, Brough(c), Preece, Fleetwood, Welsh, Afful. Stonehouse, Smith, Dodgson (Carey-Bertram 63).

Subs not used: Robinson, Giles, Pitman, Davis.

 

Rushden & Diamonds – Roberts, Osano, Hope(c), Woodhouse, Burgess, Rankine (Smith 84), Gooding (Shaw 79), Platt (Challinor 73), Howell, Corcoran, El-Kholti.

Subs not used: Gulliver, Beecroft.

 

Goals: Burgess 62 (0-1).

 

Booked: Corcoran 35 (foul), Rankine 82 (foul).

 

Referee: Mr C.Harwood (Gtr Manchester)

 

Attendance: 1177 (94 away).

 

Reporters Man of the match: Dean Howell.

 

 

By Dave Mason

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