Oxford United 2 Rushden & Diamonds 1

 

After Rushden & Diamonds produced one of their best team performances in five seasons when they won at Wrexham under two weeks ago, it was very disappointing to witness the lack-lustre performance at the Kassam Stadium, especially in the first half.

Although things did improve in the second half, it was only after the team had gone two goals down, and meant that the dismissal of Gareth Jelleyman, whilst puzzling, should not be used as an excuse for the final scoreline.

Given that the Diamonds were facing Oxford after their opponents had suffered a difficult week, with a change of chairman following a defeat at Lewes, they failed to put an pressure on the home side during the first half that might have tested their abilities under pressure – in fact ex-Diamonds keeper Billy Turley was largely a spectator during that half.

Manager Garry Hill made four changes to the team that was so impressive in Wales at the end of September, with Phil Gulliver, Michael Corcoran and Andy Burgess all being relegated to the bench. One enforced change was the introduction of loan goalkeeper Dale Roberts in place of the injured Alan Marriott. Those preferred in the starting line-up and aiming to reproduce the performance of their team-mates at Wrexham were Sagi Burton, Gareth Jelleyman and Marcus Kelly.

Oxford manager Darren Patterson brought in Lewis Haldane for his injured top-scorer James Constable, and Barry Quinn also returned to the starting line-up.

The Diamonds started fairly brightly, and had the lion’s share of the possession in the first 10 minutes, but failed to create any attempts on the Oxford goal that forced Billy Turley into action. The pattern for the remainder of the half was then set when sloppy play first by Curtis Osano and then Rob Wolleaston gave the home team attacking opportunities. Sagi Burton then became the worst offender in terms of careless play, as he failed to make a simple header back to Roberts, and Jamie Guy was allowed to run through and shoot, with Dale Roberts producing a great save, although if Guy had spotted Haldane in space across the box the outcome would have been different. When the ball was fired back in Phil Trainer narrowly fired wide as he ran in towards the left-hand side of goal.

A couple of minutes later the home side won a throw near the right corner flag, and the Clarke long throw was flicked across the area towards Trainer ghosting in on the far post, but again Roberts saved the day.

The only action at the other end of the pitch was a Lee Tomlin run that was halted by Chris Carruthers with Tomlin going to ground in the area. The Diamonds lacked any attacking threat on the left, and Curtis Osano was more occupied covering for his fellow defenders than supporting Tomlin on the right.

All the Oxford midfield were getting into the action in the area, with Yemi Odubade also firing over, and on 25 minutes Sagi Burton made another poor error conceding the ball to Lewis Haldane, and again Dale Roberts had to make an excellent save.

It began to look as if the Diamonds might survive until half-time, and perhaps be able to restructure, but with five minutes to go Sagi Burton was again caught in possession in the centre of the pitch, although he looked unfortunate to be penalised as he fell on the ball. The U’s Joe Burnell took a quick free kick, with Curtis Osano playing Lewis Haldane onside. Although Osano did well to recover and stop Haldane getting through on goal, he was forced to concede a corner. That was taken by Chris Carruthers, and Barry Quinn found space from whoever was meant to be marking him to head high in the net past the defenders on the line.

Half Time : Oxford United 1 Rushden & Diamonds 0

After such a poor performance in the first half, it was perhaps a surprise that no changes were made at half-time, allowing any formation and role changes to be agreed, but equally it was surprising that the changes were then made without the traditional "give it fifteen minutes", as Lee Phillips replaced Sagi Burton seven minutes into the half.

This change was designed to allow the Diamonds to change to a 3-4-3 formation, but before Curtis Osano had settled into his more central role he was beaten in the air by Yemi Odubade, who headed into acres of space on the left for Phil Trainer to run onto – the space where Osano would have been, and where Lee Tomlin should have been briefed to cover in the new formation. Trainer coolly slotted past Roberts to give the home side a two goal lead which their play to that point deserved,

The Diamonds had managed to force Turley to make his first save of the game, with a Curtis Woodhouse run and shot down the left, and the home side saw Yemi Odubade booked for diving prior to the second goal.

Finally the Diamonds side seemed to get into top gear, and Daryl Clare won a free-kick as he was fouled by Adam Murray about 25 yards out. The 352 travelling fans expected, Daryl Clare to reproduce the free-kick effort seen in the Burton Albion game, and he duly delivered a carbon copy shot that easily beat Turley.

The Diamonds then showed what they were capable of, with a period of concerted pressure, forcing a series of corners that seemed unerringly to end on the head of a home defender.

Mid-way through the half came what could have been the turning point of the game. Daryl Clare showed great touch near the half-way line to flick a ball out of defence into space for Leon Knight to run onto. He easily outpaced the chasing defenders, and rounded Turley, but in doing so allowed Chris Carruthers to catch up and cover on the goalline. Knight chose to blast the ball at Carruthers rather than placing it past him, and the ball bounced out to safety.

Futher substitutions were made with 20 minutes left, with Diamonds danger man Daryl Clare being replaced by Michael Rankine, and Andy Burgess replacing Tomlin, but again the impact of these changes was to the advantage of the home side as Jamie Guy found space on the right to make a run on goal, challenged by Gareth Jelleyman. It appeared Jelleyman had made a good tackle inside the six-yard box to concede a corner, but the whole ground was surprised to see Mr Coote suddenly brandish a second yellow card of the game to Jelleyman, Many were unsure of the reason, as clearly if Jelleyman’s final tackle had been a foul then a penalty would have been awarded, and there was no obvious serious foul in the move that might have warranted a retrospective card. It transpired later that Mr Coote felt that Jelleyman had tugged Guy’s shirt early in the move, and although the striker was still able to run twenty yards the referee felt this still deserved a yellow.

This meant the Diamonds needed to make further positional changes, and as a result had very little in the way of attempts on goal for the remainder of the game – in fact it was the home side that came closest when Haldane cut across the area from right to left, and hit a left foot shot that rattled the bar. Andy Burgess was perhaps fortunate to receive only a yellow card as he hauled down Yemi Odubade whilst in his makeshift centre-back role as the player ran through on goal – but Odubade himself might have seen a second yellow moments earlier when he hauled down Marcus Kelly.

The game thus ended with the home side victorious for only the third time this season.

The Diamonds now have only three days to conduct an appropriate enquiry into why the performance was in such contrast to that seen at Wrexham, with Grays Athletic visiting Nene Park on Tuesday evening. The performances of Burton, Kelly and Jelleyman will be under particular scrutiny given they had been preferred to others that had won in Wales.

Full-time: Oxford United 2 Rushden & Diamonds 1

Teams:

Oxford United (Yellow / Black) : Billy Turley, James Clarke, Barry Quinn, Luke Foster, Chris Carruthers, Joe Burnell, Adam Murray, Phil Trainer, Yemi Odubade, Jamie Guy, Lewis Haldane

Subs : Chris Wilmott (for Quinn 70)

Subs Not Used : Ben Hinchcliffe, Sam Deering, Matt Taylor, Eddie Hutchinson

Rushden & Diamonds (White) : Dale Roberts : Curtis Osano – Sagi Burton – Chris Hope – Gareth Jelleyman : Lee Tomlin – Curtis Woodhouse (Capt) – Rob Wolleaston – Marcus Kelly : Daryl Clare – Leon Knight

Subs : Lee Phillips (for Burton 52), Michael Rankine (for Clare 69), Andy Burgess (for Tomlin 71)

Subs Not Used : Michael Corcoran, Phil Gulliver

Goals: Barry Quinn (41), Phil Trainer (54), Daryl Clare (56)

Yellow Cards: Jelleyman, Odubade, Burgess

Red Cards : Jelleyman

Referee: Mr D Coote

Attendance : 4645 (away 352)

Reporter’s Man of the Match : Dale Roberts

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