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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