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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