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

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