Eastbourne Borough 0 Rushden & Diamonds 1

 

Rushden & Diamonds will be pleased to have avoided the potential banana skin of playing a newly promoted team on the first Saturday of the season, but will feel rather fortunate that the home side wasted a number of excellent chances to snatch a point, especially in the last half hour.

The Diamonds came down to Sussex without Michael Rankine who was still recovering from injury, and preferred Marcus Kelly to Scott Mitchell in the starting line-up, allowing Andy Burgess to play in central midfield.

With this being the first Blue Square Premier game of the campaign it meant that those of the new signings that took to the pitch would be making their league debuts for the club – Alan Marriott , Gareth Jelleyman , Sagi Burton . Dean McDonald and Lee Phillips all started the game, and Rob Wolleaston was to make his debut later in the game.

On a wet and blustery afternoon in Sussex, the home side kicked off with the wind and weather at their backs, and within a minute they might have snatched the lead, as one of their many long balls of the first half flicked off the head of Sagi Burton for a corner. The dangerous corner from Crabb was flicked on by Matt Smart, and rebounded off the body of keeper Marriott.

After the initial surprise, and the clear indication that the hosts were to be no pushover, the Diamonds started to get stuck in, with Woodhouse and Burgess looking strong in midfield, although the Sports took advantage of the wind at any opportunity to pump the ball long, with ex-Diamond Jean-Michel Sigere looking especially dangerous as he anticipated the trajectory and bounce better than the Diamonds defenders.

Lee Tomlin demonstrated his abilities by latching onto a Curtis Osano throw, beating his man, and then setting off on a run on goal parallel to the goalline, but Keeper Hook did well to gather the shot at the second attempt.

The Diamonds weren’t coping very well with the Sports offside trap, despite the fact that the wind meant that balls forward were being held up for McDonald and Phillips to run onto. Matt Smart was lucky to escape without a booking after a lunge into Andy Burgess, and from the free kick Burgess flicked the ball across the area for Lee Tomlin to hit on the volley but the shot flashed wide.

Smart then received a deserved yellow card for a challenge on McDonald mid-way through the half. The offence, just outside the area, was almost punished, as a Lee Tomlin freekick took a deflection off the wall allowing Hook to catch.

Within a couple of minutes the Diamonds were ahead, and again it was Tomlin that was instrumental, as he beat a man on the right-hand edge of the box and ran powerfully in on goal, being brought down by Jenkins for a clear penalty.

 

Curtis Woodhouse stepped up and stroked the spot kick home for the first Conference goal at Priory Lane.

 

Burton and Hope continued to have to cope with the aerial threats from the long ball over their heads and from dangerous crosses from Armstrong, as Eastbourne continued to look dangerous.

Curtis Woodhouse was given his first yellow card of the season as, although he won the ball from Smart, the referee felt he went through in the tackle.

On 38 minutes, perhaps the best team move of the half from the Diamonds saw Woodhouse feed McDonald who found Tomlin, who checked inside and out past his man and hit a powerful shot that took a slight deflection before Hook acrobatically tipped the ball around the post for a corner.

The last action of the half saw Dean McDonald run into the area from the left to feed Tomlin, whose shot was well blocked, before it broke to Andy Burgess who flicked the ball back to Tomlin who hit an acrobatic shot over his shoulder just wide of the goal.

The half ended with the Diamonds feeling they had just "shaded it" playing into the wind, but realising there was still a lot more work to do.

Half time: Eastbourne Borough 0 Rushden & Diamonds 1

With the wind at their backs, the Diamonds started the second half much the brighter, with Lee Hook struggling to reach the half-way line with his kicks out of his area. Marcus Kelly was starting to move inside to find more space, and he had an early shot that went over the bar. Lee Tomlin was carrying on where he left off, as he controlled a long cross-field ball from Jelleyman with great skill, then turned his man inside and out and hit a dangerous looking cross that just eluded Phillips and McDonald. McDonald also looked more dangerous, with a good turn followed by a chip that went just over the bar with Hook beaten.

Matt Crabb continued to pose a threat down the left for the home team, and he hit a pass that eluded Chris Hope toward Andy Atkin, but Sagi Burton was able to match a latch ditch tackle to prevent the forward having a clear run on goal.

At this point the half appeared to swing in the Sports favour, and after 57 minutes a Harding shot looked to be heading towards goal but Jean-Michel Sigere tried to divert it into the net, but could only put it wide. After a foul by Burton, Matt Crabb hit the free kick towards Matt Smart, whose shot took a big deflection, wrong-footing everyone, including Marriott, but it squirmed just wide.

At the other end the Diamonds still had a threat, with a Marcus Kelly shot hitting the bar after he had again cut inside, and then a dipping shot form Curtis Woodhouse falling just behind the goal.

Shortly afterwards Jean-Michel Sigere had his best chance of the game as he ran onto a long ball beating Marriott to the ball and chipping it back at an angle over the keeper’s head, but Gareth Jelleyman was alert enough to cover back and clear the ball off the line for a corner.

Matt Smart then had a totally free header from the corner, as nobody in the Diamonds defence picked him up, but he could only head wide when it looked easier to hit the target.

The third of the home substitutions saw the introduction of Simon Wormull , another ex-Diamond, and he was guilty of missing the best chance of the game, as both he and Nathan Crabb ran clear of the diamonds defence onto a through ball from another substitute Allan Tait, but with time to spare he seemed to rush his shot and hook the ball over the bar with the goal at his mercy. It was the sort of chance that would be scored 99% of the time – or at least force a decent save, so perhaps it was a sign this wouldn’t be the home side’s day.

 

Rob Wolleaston had joined the action, and immediately looked lively as he joined up with Tomlin and Phillips, to force a corner. From that kick the ball was cleared as far as Woodhouse on the left, who had the vision to find the corner-taker Lee Tomlin on the right, and his pass into the area was directed to Chris Hope, but he could only direct the ball wide of the post, meaning the Diamonds would have a nervous ending to the game.

Referee Halliday signalled an extra five minutes at the end of a half that had not seen any significant interruptions, although he had warned Diamonds a couple of times for time-wasting, including a yellow card for Gareth Jelleyman, these would only have warranted an extra 30 seconds or so. One assumes that the referee might be applying the strategy of adding on 30 seconds for each substitution, but if that is adopted across the board in the Blue Square Premier then 6 or 7 minutes of injury time will become commonplace.

Ironically during this period the one significant injury of the half occurred, following a Lee Tomlin challenge on Smart that also saw the Diamonds player given a yellow card, although even this only seemed to generate an extra 30 seconds of added time to the five minutes already signalled.

The Diamonds survived these jittery minutes without real danger, but were pleased to hear the final whistle which confirmed their first victory of the season.

Manager Garry Hill confirmed how impressed he was with the job that Garry Wilson was doing, and will be hoping his side do not concede as many chances to Ebbsfleet United on Tuesday evening in their first game of the season at Nene Park. He will also be concerned about the three yellow cards picked up on opening day.

Full-time: Eastbourne Borough 0 Rushden & Diamonds 1

Teams:

Eastbourne Borough : (Red / Black) : Lee Hook, Ben Austin, Paul Armstrong, Andy Atkin, Darren Baker, Matt Crabb, Pat Harding, Neil Jenkins, Marc Pullan, Jean-Michel Sigere, Matt Smart

Subs : Simon Wormull (for Matt Crabb 64), Allan Tait (for Sigere 75), Nathan Crabb (for Atkin 66)

Subs Not Used : Chris Winterton, Jay Lovett

Rushden & Diamonds (Yellow): Alan Marriott : Curtis Osano – Chris Hope – Sagi Burton – Gareth Jelleyman : Lee Tomlin – Curtis Woodhouse – Andy Burgess – Marcus Kelly : Lee Phillips – Dean McDonald

Subs : Phil Gulliver (for Kelly 86), , Rob Wolleaston (for McDonald 70), Michael Corcoran (for Burgess 81),

Subs Not Used : Scott Mitchell, Sam Smith

Goals: Curtis Woodhouse (Pen 25)

Yellow Cards : Smart (21), Woodhouse (35), Jelleyman (88), Tomlin (90)

Referee: Mr A Halliday

Attendance: 1609 (away approx 150)

Diamonds Man of the Match : Lee Tomlin

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