Rushden & Diamonds 2 Peterborough United 1

 

Rushden & Diamonds claimed the NFA Maunsell Cup for the fourth time with an excellent two goals to one victory over Coca-Cola League One side Peterborough United at Nene Park. Dean McDonald added to the hat-trick in the first game he played for the club with a debut goal from the bench in this his first senior game.

With Manager Hill absent, his backroom staff put out a strong line-up – yet it was still possible to reflect on the quality of players who didn’t feature – team captain Curtis Woodhouse having picked up a slight strain and being rested as a precaution, plus Andy Burgess and Rob Wolleaston still fighting their way back to fitness.

Triallist Justyn Roberts was named amongst the substitutes as the Diamonds lined up 4-4-2, with Scott Mitchell and Jon Challinor in central midfield, plus Lee Tomlin on the right, Marcus Kelly on the left. Peterborough put out a very strong side, with Aaron Mclean, Craig Mackail-Smith, Dean Keates and George Boyd all making the starting X1, along with England squad member Joe Lewis in goal. Sagi Burton captained the Diamonds against his old club in the absence of Burgess and Woodhouse. It was also the first chance for the Nene Park crowd to see Gareth Jelleyman and the strike pair of Lee Phillips and Daryl Clare starting for the Diamonds in a senior game.

The game started very brightly on a warm and muggy July afternoon. For the Diamonds Chris Hope hit a pinpoint crossfield pass 40 yards to Lee Tomlin, whose excellent first touch took him inside Williams to then pass the ball to Lee Phillips, whose deft flick found his strike partner Daryl Clare in the area, but he was challenged before he could get his shot away.

Within a minute, though, the Posh could have taken the lead – a good run down the left by the initially dangerous George Boyd found space for a good cross which was straight to Craig Mackail-Smith. He hit a powerful shot which looked to be heading for the top left corner of the net, but a flying Marriott got his Diamonds career at Nene Park off to a great start in front of the Peter De Banke terrace.

Shortly afterwards Tom Williams also found space down the Posh left, with his cross finding Whelpdale who should have done better with his shot which flew over the bar.

The early Posh play threatened a goal, and it took a great tackle by Chris Hope on Mackail-Smith to stop the striker having a shot on goal in a dangerous position.

At the other end both Phillips and Clare weren’t afraid to pull out wide and get in crosses themselves, and first Kelly and then Challinor narrowly failed to get on the end of them. Kelly returned the complement to Clare a few minutes later, but smart defending prevented him getting his shot away.

As the half-hour approached, Lee Phillips showed the Diamonds fans the sort of power he has to turn defenders as he muscled past Morgan and got in a decent shot which was beaten down by Lewis. He then chased what looked like a lost cause with smart acceleration past a sluggish marker, hitting a shot from a narrow angle that ended up amongst the 100 or so Posh fans.

On 42 minutes the Diamonds made a break down the left, with Kelly and the impressive Mitchell combining to generate space for Mitchell to hit a cross which saw Daryl Clare ghost past his marker and head home for what should have been his debut senior goal for the Diamonds. It was one of those instances where you feel there is no need to check the linesman for any offside decision, given it looks so clear-cut to see the player running past his marker, but the official must have spotted an offside infringement not seen by those in line with him on the other side of the pitch.

However, justice was done shortly afterwards, when, after Aaron McLean had once again failed to test Marriott from a decent chance, the Diamonds broke quickly down the left, switched the ball to Clare on the right, who beat Williams and passed to Lee Tomlin, who in turn found Jon Challinor, in space about 30 yards out, to hit an excellent shot past Lewis for the first goal, just moments before half-time.

Half time: Rushden & Diamonds 1 Peterborough United 0

Although the first half went rather flat before the Challinor goal, with honours fairly even, it was the Diamonds who had the best of the second – perhaps their recent trip to Portugal had not only sharpened their fitness and improved their team-play, but also acclimatised them to playing in the heat of an afternoon that seemed at least as hot as when they played in the Algarve due to the extra humidity.

Both sides resisted any changes at half-time, although the competition rules allowed them to use all 5 of the named subs.

Within seven minutes of the restart Posh were level, as ex-Posh defender Gareth Jelleyman fouled Dean Keates 25 yards out. Keates himself stepped up to take the kick, and hit a powerful shot that easily found the back of the net.

This was a signal for the Diamonds to increase the tempo, with Lee Tomlin starting to find space and make dangerous looking runs down the right, often supported by Curtis Osano, although Tomlin often seemed to find his best chance for a shot or cross came to his weaker left foot.

A Whelpdale cross looked dangerous at the other end, with Sagi Burton conceding a corner, cutting out the ball just in front of Marriott. With Boyd fading it was Keates who was starting to be the main playmaker for the Posh.

Peterborough then brought on a batch of three substitutes within a couple of minutes, and the change almost brought a rapid dividend as substitute Charlie Lee delivered a cross narrowly behind Aaron McLean, and his ambitious overhead kick was narrowly wide.

The Diamonds then followed suit, giving a Nene Park debut to Dean McDonald, following his four goals in the friendly games to date, to play alongside Michael Rankine up front. With Rankine showing the benefit of the work he has done during the summer on his footwork, this pairing presented a growing threat to a tiring defence.

At the other end though, it was Mackail-Smith who showed Burton a clean pair of heels and found McLean, but once again the striker was unable to trouble Marriott.

Curtis Osano and Lee Tomlin started looking more and more of a threat down the right, with an Osano shot having the power but not the direction needed, and good work from Tomlin (who was taking most of the corners) saw him receive the ball back from a corner, beat his man, and hit a looping cross with his left foot which seemed to confuse Lewis, although the ball was scrambled clear. Moments later another run from Tomlin seemed to be ended by a trip on the edge of the box, but Premiership referee Walton waved away calls for a penalty.

As the match entered its last quarter, it was the Diamonds who took a lead their second half performance deserved, as Dean McDonald received the ball towards the left edge of the box, tricked his way past a challenging defender and hit a powerful shot that beat Lewis at his near post. As the County Cup is the first senior game of the season, this means McDonald scored on his Diamonds debut – and in fact this was the fifth fastest time for scoring for the Diamonds on a player’s debut.

Posh replied by bringing on Scott Rendell, but it was his opposite number Michael Rankine who had the bigger impact on the remainder of the game, as a deft touch to beat his man near the centre circle saw him hit a 20 yard pass to find Lee Tomlin on the right who raced on, cut inside past his marker, but again didn’t trouble Lewis with his left foot.

Tomlin and Osano combined again moments later, and this time Lewis did well to palm away Osano’s cross shot to a defender as McDonald waited to pounce,

At the other end, Chris Hope was continuing to shadow whoever the Posh put up front, and he made a saving clearance on a dangerous Posh break before McLean headed over agsin, this time from a Lee cross.

One worry for the Diamonds as the match neared the end was that Scott Mitchell was substituted shortly after needing attention from Simon Parsell.

The final chances to the Posh were thwarted by the Linesman’s flag as McLean tried to gain an extra yard or two over the markers that had marshalled him so well all afternoon – he had certainly had far less joy than when he terrorised the Diamonds defence the first time Grays visited Nene Park.

The game ended 2-1 to the home side, meaning the Diamonds lifted the Maunsell Cup, and they reflected that this might be the best test they have in pre-season  – in a game that is similar to what they will get in league games, as they expect a different style of play from the higher league opposition due to visit Nene Park in the next 10 days, starting with Derby County on Tuesday evening.

Credit must also go to the Nene Park Groundsmen for turning out such an excellent playing surface – as well as all of those who worked to ensure the stadium was ready for the start of the season.

A photo gallery for this game is available in the Gallery section of http://www.thediamondsfc.com.

Full-time: Rushden & Diamonds 2 Peterborough United 1

Teams:

Rushden & Diamonds (White): Alan Marriott : Curtis Osano – Chris Hope – Sagi Burton – Gareth Jelleyman : Lee Tomlin – Jon Challinor ( Michael Corcoran 64 ), Scott Mitchell ( Phil Gulliver 88 ) – Marcus Kelly : Lee Phillips ( Dean McDonald 59 ) – Daryl Clare ( Michael Rankine 59 )

Sub Not Used : Justyn Roberts

Peterborough United (Black) : Joe Lewis : Tom Williams (Dan Andrews 58) – Craig Morgan – Chris Westwood (Kevin Charnock 56) – Russell Martin : George Boyd – Michael Hyde – Dean Keates – Chris Whelpdale (Charlie Lee 56) : Aaron McLean – Craig Mackail-Smith (Scott Rendell 76)

Sub Not Used : Alfie Potter.

Goals: Challinor 44, Keates 52, McDonald 69

Referee: Mr P Walton (Long Buckby)

Attendance: 941

Man of the Match : Chris Hope

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