Altrincham 0 Rushden & Diamonds 4

 

After the much improved performance the previous weekend, Rushden & Diamonds were able to continue the good form with one of their best performances of recent seasons, as they secured a valuable three points with a comfortable 4-0 victory over Altrincham on a foggy afternoon in Cheshire. Four well-taken goals will also have pleased the Diamonds management as much as the travelling fans.

The Diamonds lined up with two changes from the side that beat Eastbourne, with Andy Burgess returning to replace the departed Brendan Moloney (with Michael Corcoran moving to right back), and new loanee Simon Brown replacing Lee Phillips, whose absence from the squad meant that the same five substitutes were named.

Altrincham manager Graham Heathcote was able to name the same side that had beaten high-flying Cambridge United last weekend. The home side’s policy of putting numbers directly onto striped kit would make it difficult to identify shirt numbers at the best of times, but this was made doubly difficult for the fans due to the poor conditions.

The Diamonds started in a very lively manner, with the home team restricted to attacking on the break. The Diamonds midfield was looking a far more coherent outfit with two natural wide men in Tomlin and Bolasie causing the Altrincham defence real problems – although unlike against Eastbourne they stuck to the arrangement of Tomlin on the right once it was clear he had the beating of Matt Doughty.

Up front Michael Rankine was winning his share of headers, and a couple of them fell to Simon Brown who showed agility and vision although he was unlucky with the final ball, seeing one good turn and shot blocked, and seeing appeals for a penalty turned down after another good move.

The Diamonds defence did need to counter the movement of Little and the support from Senior, but with both Corcoran and Jelleyman having good games there was always the assurance that Curtis Osano was able to cover any overlaps.

When Little and Senior did combine well they saw a Little effort saved by Roberts after 10 minutes, and then when they set up Dale Johnson five minutes later, Dale Roberts was well positioned to pull off a smart save.

The main talking point of the game came on 19 minutes when a ball forwards saw the speedy Bolasie looking to get clear down the left, but the pace was just too much for Shaun Densmore as he tried to challenge. Perhaps the speed of the challenge was enough to influence referee Joyce to award the red card rather than a yellow card that most expected.

The Diamonds took the lead on 30 minutes when Michael Rankine won a freekick after a challenge in midfield, and the kick was spread wide to Gareth Jelleyman whose cross was floated into the area, and Rankine challenged home keeper Ralph for the ball, who could only half-punch it clear to Andy Burgess who hit a 30 yard shot with his right foot low into the right corner of the net. As the goal was his first of the season it was quite a way to get off the mark.

The home side had a chance for a quick reply, when a rapid move down the left saw Colin Little finding space for a cross which found Chris Senior, but his first shot appeared to hit Dale Johnson and his attempt at the rebound found the side netting.

Shortly afterwards the home fans were hopeful that referee Joyce might even things up after a Bolasie challenge on Lawton, but it was clear that there was no malice in the challenge and a yellow card was appropriate.

A minute later Wolleaston and Corcoran combined on the right, and the Corcoran cross was headed towards goal by Michael Rankine, but deflected wide for a corner. Bolasie on the left was finding a lot of room, and saw one long range effort fly into the travelling Diamonds fans, and another into the side netting.

Yannick Bolasie continued to run into space on the left, and his cross put Simon Brown free, and although the striker squeezed his shot through Keeper Ralph’s legs, the deflection took enough pace off the shot to allow a home defender to clear off the line.

The Diamonds dominated the remainder of the first half and scored a deserved second goal just before the break when Burgess and Tomlin combined allowing Lee Tomlin to hit a low shot into the right hand corner of the net with his left foot.

Half-Time : Altrincham 0 Rushden & Diamonds 2

Both Managers made a change at half-time, with Garry Hill bringing on Marcus Kelly for the excellent Bolasie. Whether this was as an injury precaution or because of the risk of him picking up a second yellow wasn’t clear at the time.

As the fog thickened the home side had their one spell of the game where they applied some pressure on the Diamonds defence, and did almost get a goal back in controversial circumstances, as Dale Johnson took a tumble on the right edge of the area under very little contact from Curtis Osano, and although the home fans appealed for a penalty whilst the Diamonds fans felt a goal kick should have been awarded, referee Joyce awarded a free-kick just outside the box. From the kick, taken by Senior, Colin Little saw his effort hit the post for the only time that Roberts was beaten all afternoon.

Rather unusually, Lee Tomlin had been switched to play on the left wing for the first part of this half, with Kelly playing down the right, but the tactic worked well, as although Kelly was not able to torment his marker as much as Tomlin and Bolasie had done in the first half, there were still quality chances being created down the Diamonds right, one of which gave Simon Brown a chance near the penalty spot, but he dwelt rather too long and his shot was blocked.

Rob Wolleaston had followed his commendable performance against Eastbourne with his best performance away from Nene Park of the season, and he combined well with Kelly to make a run into the right side of the box near the goalline, and was unlucky to see his effort hit the side netting.

It appeared only a matter of time before the Diamonds third goal came, and in fact they were denied by a very late flag for offside against Michael Rankine when it appeared he ran from an on-side position. The fact that the linesman on the far side continued to spot other occasions where Rankine was offside confirmed that the visibility was not an issue. Other chances fell to Chris Hope, who headed wide from a corner, and to Marcus Kelly, whose shot was blocked.

Although the fog had worsened at half-time, and the weather was one of the main concerns, it was always clear enough to see across the pitch and to see Curtis Osano score his first goal for the club (after almost 80 appearances) with a deft near post flick of a Lee Tomlin corner.

One rather bizarre incident saw the Linesman on the tunnel side of the pitch flagging for a throw-in as a Jelleyman forward pass looped into touch then back onto the field of play, allowing Michael Rankine to run into the area largely unchallenged, but saw his attempt cleared to an Altrincham player, and it appeared the referee was trying to play advantage until the insistent linesman pointed out that such an advantage cannot be played when a ball goes into touch.

Tomlin and Kelly switched wings as Daryl Clare joined the action for the last quarter, and the chances continued, with the number of Diamonds efforts on goal well into double figures, approaching twenty by the end of the game.

Graham Heathcote resorted to taking off the two players who normally have been the most reliable for him in attack – Chris Senior and Colin Little, as they had been kept so quiet by the dominance of Hope, Osano, Jelleyman and Corcoran in one of the best defensive displays of the season. Lee Elam and Alex Meechan renewed their acquaintance with the Diamonds, but neither could make any impact.

It was the Diamonds who threatened their fourth goal, with substitute Luke Boden getting forwards and shooting over, and then an Andy Burgess shot was tipped around the post by keeper Ralph.

The best goal was saved for last, as Andy Burgess picked up the ball with six or seven defenders in front of him, but he danced through them to slot low into the net for the fourth goal. Few Diamonds fans can remember a better Burgess goal since the Football league days – and indeed his first goal and overall performance reminded them of his game at Blackpool in Division 2, two leagues higher.

Referee Joyce blew the final whistle and prepared to face the home fans who wanted to make their feelings known, the Diamonds players celebrated an excellent performance, that clearly would have easily won them the game even if the home side had managed to keep all eleven on the pitch.

Full Time : Altrincham 0 Rushden & Diamonds 4

Teams

Altrincham : Andy Ralph, James Smith, Mark McGregor, Greg Young, Shaun Densmore, Robbie Lawton (Capt), Anthony Danlyk, Matt Doughty, Dale Johnson, Colin Little, Chris Senior

Subs : Warren Peyton (Lawson HT), Alex Meechan (Little 68), Lee Elam (Senior 68)

Subs Not Used : Stuart Coburn, Chris Lane

Rushden & Diamonds : Dale Roberts, Curtis Osano, Gareth Jelleyman, Chris Hope, Michael Corcoran, Lee Tomlin, Rob Wolleaston, Yannick Bolasie, Andy Burgess (Capt), Michael Rankine, Simon Brown

Subs : Marcus Kelly (Bolasie HT), Daryl Clare (Brown 62), Luke Boden (Wolleaston 68)

Subs Not Used : Clayton Fortune, Sam Smith

Goals : Burgess ( 30, 87), Tomlin (40), Osano (64)

Yellow Cards : Yannick Bolasie (24)

Red Cards : Shaun Densmore (20)

Referee : R Joyce

Attendance : 924 (approx 80 travelling fans)

Diamonds Man of the Match (chosen by the Travel Club) : Andy Burgess

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