Grays Athletic 0 Rushden & Diamonds 0

Rushden & Diamonds picked up another away draw, after a bright start, and a failure to convert early chances, meant the game ended goalless at the New Recreation Ground in Essex.

The Diamonds had to replace the suspended Michael Corcoran in defence, and with Curtis Osano still on the injured list, Justin Edinburgh switched Jake Beecroft to right back, with Neil Cousins taking a wide-right role in midfield. That meant that Michael Rankine returned up front to partner Lee Tomlin. The Diamonds bench had a youthful look, with Lewis Hilliard alongside Jamie McGuinness, Chris Arthur, Nick McNamara and Sam Smith. Justin Edinburgh was returning to face the club he once managed, and Simon Downer to face his former team. Ex-Diamond Tyrone Berry was named on the bench for the Blues.

The first half was very similar to the recent games at Crawley and Salisbury, with the Diamonds dominant from the first whistle, and they should have scored from at least a couple of a number of excellent chances.

The first fell to Andy Burgess on 5 minutes, after he laid the ball off to Lee Tomlin, collected the return, and then juggled the ball with great skill and control past two defenders before hitting a powerful shot that was too close to Steve Arnold and the keeper was able to parry the ball away, with Michael Rankine being flagged offside before he could attack the loose ball.

The second fell to Rob Wolleaston after 9 minutes, as a 35 yard crossfield ball from Andy Burgess was brought under control superbly by Lee Tomlin, and the striker unselfishly flicked the ball sideways to Wolleaston who ran in and hit a shot, but again it was too close to Arnold who fisted it away.

Before the midway point in the half was reached the Diamonds had their third clear chance on goal, and this time is was Lee Tomlin who failed to put away the chance, after he was put clear by a Kurt Robinson long ball which defender Jones misjudged and slipped, leaving Tomlin with a free run on goal, but again he blasted his shot too close to Arnold and the keeper was able to snuff out the danger.

The game calmed down in the second quarter, with the home side starting to settle, with Welsh and Cogan starting to run into space down the wings – with one Cogan cross well cut out in front of the onrushing Pugh. Dale Roberts also had to tip a looping ball over his bar and to safety.

Neil Cousins picked up a yellow card for a high kick close to George Beavan, but Beavan himself was very lucky not to receive similar treatment when he caught Lee Tomlin in the face.

The Grays defence looked shaky just before the interval when keeper and defender Stuart collided under pressure from Rob Wolleaston, but the Diamonds player saw the loose ball squirm too close to the by-line and his effort on goal was cleared.

Michael Rankine had the Diamonds other good chance of the half. He was doing a lot of good work outside the box, as well as causing danger with his long throws, and he did well to flick the ball to Neil Cousins, but could not get his head on the Cousins cross.

Half-Time : Grays Athletic 0 Rushden & Diamonds 0

The Diamonds almost started the second half with a bang, with Michael Rankine finding Lee Tomlin in space, who left two defenders floundering, but his shot deflected for one of many Diamonds corners – but in common with others a poor delivery meant the opportunity was wasted – in fact a greater threat came from the Rankine long throws.

Neil Cousins then had a chance after playing a one-two with Lee Tomlin down the right, but his well hit shot was just over the bar. Michael Rankine then showed good ball control to bring down a long pass, turn and shoot just over the bar.

The remainder of the half was a more even affair, with Grays having their best chance of the game as Dale Roberts did well to save a shot from Andy Pugh, and for the second time in the game he had to tip a looping ball over he bar, this time when a Pugh shot was half-blocked by Simon Downer. From the resultant corner work-experience defender Ronnie Jones did well to make space to meet a well delivered corner, but failed to hit the target.

Neil Cousins and Michael Rankine had the best chances for the Diamonds in the remainder of a half lacking in quality. The Diamonds players never gave up running, something demonstrated by Jake Beecroft as he ran the full width of the pitch covering for his fellow defenders when they had gone up for a corner move. Rankine was very impressive in the third quarter of the pitch, both in terms of winning balls in the air, and with some of his finest touches and layoffs of the season, but he didn’t threaten in the penalty box very often. Simon Downer, ably supported by Chris Hope, was thwarting anything Grays could throw at him.

Nicky McNamara was given his Diamonds debut with seven minutes left, and he made an immediate impression, linking up with Sam Smith who laid the ball off for Neil Cousins whose cross was cut out. Cousins was having one of his best games for the club in a wide right position, having seen a shot headed over the bar by Stuart Elliott.

The home side also felt aggrieved when Jamie Taylor challenged Simon Downer in a one-on-one sprint towards goal, but it was the Diamonds defender that was adjudged to have been fouled before he blocked the Blues striker.

Mick Woodward was calling the shots from the sidelines for the home-team, with manager Gary Phillips keeping a watching brief, and he sent on ex-Diamond Tyrone Berry just before the end, and he might have snatched a late winner as Welsh crossed Pugh flicked the ball across the box, but Kurt Robinson got in a vital interception to ensure the game ended goalless.

Once again it was the Diamonds lack of a ruthless streak that cost them a comfortable early lead, but the continued ability to create good changes, as well as provide much more entertainment than earlier in the season indicate a good foundation for next season. With tonight’s result confirming that the Diamonds cannot make the playoffs, the remaining games will be used with next season in mind, starting with the visit of Salisbury City on Saturday.

Full-Time : Grays Athletic 0 Rushden & Diamonds 0

Teams :

Grays Athletic (Blue): Steve Arnold, Jamie Stuart (Capt), Stuart Elliott, George Beavan, Ishmael Welsh, Barry Cogan (Tyrone Berry 87), Ronnie Jones, Tommy Black (Sam Long 60), Jamie Slabber (Jamie Taylor 67), Stuart Thurgood, Andy Pugh

Subs Not Used: Fabian Wilnus, Joe Sweeney,

Rushden & Diamonds (Yellow): Dale Roberts, Jake Beecroft , Kurt Robinson, Simon Downer, Chris Hope, Neil Cousins, Andy Burgess (Capt), , Rob Wolleaston (Nicky McNamara 84), Marcus Kelly, Lee Tomlin (Sam Smith 67), Michael Rankine.

Subs Not Used : Chris Arthur, Jamie McGuinness, Lewis Hilliard.

Yellow Cards : Cousins (dangerous play), Cogan (foul), Elliott (dissent)

Referee : S Ross

Attendance 695 (away 60)

Reporters Man of the Match: Simon Downer

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Northwich Victoria 4 Rushden & Diamonds 2

The Diamonds lost their unbeaten away record under Justin Edinburgh at the Victoria Stadium in Cheshire as their 10 men conceded four goals to the relegation threatened Vics. The Diamonds had fought back to 2-2 through a Rankine Penalty and a great goal by Rob Wolleaston, but then Joel Byrom went on to complete his hat-trick before Luke Joyce completed the scoring as five goals were scored in a fifteen minute period.

The Diamonds had to replace the injured Curtis Osano as he missed his first game of the season, meaning that Chris Hope is the sole remaining “ever-present” this season. Simon Downer was able to start after his recent injury, being preferred at Centre Back, with Michael Corcoran showing his versatility by moving to right back. Neil Cousins replaced Michael Rankine up front,and new signing Nicky McNamara again had to be content with a place on the bench, alongside Rankine, Sam Smith, Jamie Mc Guinness and Lewis Hilliard.

Those travelling Diamonds fans who had packed away their hats and gloves for the remainder of the season had to retrieve them for one of the coldest games of the season – despite it being almost April.

The Diamonds started quite brightly with an early Marcus Kelly shot testing Clarke in the Vics goal. Kyle Perry then almost took advantage of a slip by Simon Downer in the area, but Roberts knocked the ball away off Allen for a goal kick. Rob Wolleaston then turned well on the edge of the penalty box and hit a shot that was tipped onto the bar by Clarke, after Andy Burgess had found him with a controlled pass after a Corcoran throw on the right.

The Vics took the lead after 13 minutes when Kurt Robinson failed to deal with a long ball, being unsure whether to head back to Roberts or to try to force the ball clear as he received it at a difficult angle, but he could only head the ball wide, and it fell to Luke Joyce on the right, and his cross was easily headed home by Joel Byrom.

The Diamonds were still struggling to create many chances (although they were still looking more dangerous than they had been earlier in the season), with the nearest they came to a goal being a deflection back to goal by Matthew Crowell that Clarke did well to save.

Dale Roberts was rarely called into action at the other end, but he did also have to cover when an Elam cross looped off Chris Hope.

Lee Tomlin then picked up a yellow card after he broke clear when fed by a flick from Neil Cousins, but a combination of his pace and a poor touch meant he was unable to get in a shot, and fell under the challenge from Clarke, but the referee felt he had dived and showed a yellow card. Tomlin also went down in the area a few minutes later, and although it looked like it was as a result of a legitimate challenge the striker was taking a risk in his protests.

The game took a major turn as half-time approached, as Michael Corcoran dived in for a challenge on Luke Horrocks, his momentum taking him “through the man”, with the challenge seen as reckless and a red card being shown. Although the incident happened right in front of the benches, there was no repeat of the sort of incident seen at Ebbsfleet.

The half ended with the lacklustre Diamonds reflecting on how they struggled to create many attempts on goal in the first half, but otherwise it was a very poor showing from the Diamonds. At the back the Diamonds defence were struggling to cope with the wind and the physical presence of Perry, Byrom and Allan.

Half Time : Northwich Victoria 1 Rushden & Diamonds 0

The second half started quite slowly, with the Diamonds quickly bringing on Michael Rankine and Sam Smith to try to get the equalising goal, with Rankine’s long throw immediately being used to good effect. The Diamonds players were covering extra space to make up for being a player short, with Marcus Kelly being prepared to cover in a three-man defence. However, the Diamonds went two down when Rob Wolleaston fouled Ryan Brown, and Brown was alert enough to take a quick free kick into the area to find an equally alert Joel Byrom who was able to fire the ball home past the sleeping Diamonds defence.

The Diamonds were not beaten though, as Lee Tomlin set off on a good run past  two defenders and into the penalty area, and in the resulting scramble, he was the victim of a high foot in the area, and this time referee Brown pointed to the penalty spot, and Michael Rankine scored the spot kick.

Better was to come two minutes later, as a Rankine long throw was then headed out to Rob Wolleaston who controlled with his chest and then volleyed in-off the bar for the equaliser for the ten-man Diamonds. At this point the question was whether the 10-man Diamonds would attempt to settle for the draw, or try to go on and score a winner.

The home side made their intentions clear – to go for the win their position in the league demanded, as Jonny Allen fired over after a long kick from Clarke was flicked on to him by the ever dangerous Perry. They went ahead again on 67 minutes, as Sam Smith helped out his defence by clearing the ball to touch, but the Vics got the ball to Johnny Allen, who set up Joel Byrom to complete his hat-trick with a 25 yard shot through the group of players in the area. Although the linesman initially flagged for a Luke Horrocks being offside in the six-yard box, standing directly in front of Roberts, he was overruled by the referee, despite the protests from the Diamonds.

The Vics then completed the scoring on 71 minutes when Allen beat Robinson to square to Luke Joyce who hit a powerful shot into the left side of the net.

The Diamonds discipline also let them down, with Sam Smith and Andy Burgess both picking up bookings for dissent.

The final action of the game once again illustrated Michael Rankine’s run of poor luck in front of goal, as he did really well to turn on a Lee Tomlin layoff, and hit a powerful shot that would have given Clarke no chance had it not been hit straight at him.

With all of the problems the Vics had been having off the pitch, including having to pay week-to-week just to gain access to the Victoria Stadium, the club and it’s volunteers take great credit for organising a warm welcome – something that will be missed if the Vics are no longer in the Blue Square Premier next season.

Justin Edinburgh kept his players in the dressing room for an extended period after the game as he reflected on what had been the worst showing under his control. For the first time it was the defensive errors that cost the team dear, including the Corcoran dismissal and the poor communication for the first two goals. The Diamonds also have additional issues to resolve before Tuesday regarding the defensive line-up, although the reports on Curtis Osano’s progress are good, it is not clear when he will be fit to return to the line-up.

Full Time : Northwich Victoria 4 Rushden & Diamonds 2

Northwich Victoria : Ryan Clarke, Ryan Brown, Matthew Crowell, Joel Byrom, Jonny Allen (Aaron Burns 90), Luke Horrocks, Kyle Perry, Matt Bailey, Luke Joyce, Simon Grand (Capt), Lee Elam (Neil Aspin 69).

Subs Not Used : Danny Meadowcroft, Jamie Mullan

Rushden & Diamonds: Dale Roberts, Michael Corcoran, Simon Downer, Chris Hope, Kurt Robinson, Andy Burgess (Capt), Jake Beecroft (Michael Rankine 51), Rob Wolleaston, Marcus Kelly, Lee Tomlin, Neil Cousins (Sam Smith 51).

Subs Not Used: Nicky McNamara, Jamie McGuinness and Lewis Hilliard.

Goals : Byrom (13), Byrom (56), Rankine (Pen 59), Wolleaston (61), Byrom (67), Joyce (71)

Red Card : Michael Corcoran (38)

Yellow Cards : Grand (24), Tomlin (33), Burgess (67), Smith (88), Perry (89)

Referee : M Brown

Attendance 687 (Away approx 75)

Reporters Man of the Match: Marcus Kelly

Rushden & Diamonds 1 Oxford United 3

Although the scoreline might suggest an easy win for the visitors, the Diamonds were a match for their opponents for much of the game, conceding two goals against the run of play, one of them to a disputed penalty. The Diamonds had dominated possession in the first quarter, but they went behind to a goal from James Constable after Michael Corcoran had failed to deal with a tame looking cross, and this inspired the visitors to dominate the remainder of the first half. The Diamonds then started the second half in similar fashion, with several near misses before Rob Wolleaston lobbed Billy Turley for the equaliser just before the hour mark. Oxford again took the lead against the run of play, with James Constable scoring a penalty after he was deemed to have been fouled in the area. As the Diamonds pressed for an equaliser Constable broke clear to set up Simon Clist for the third goal to the visitors.

Justin Edinburgh was able to name an unchanged team, with Simon Downer returning from injury to take a place on the bench, alongside new signing Nicky McNamara.

On a wet evening the Diamonds kicked off towards the Peter De Banke terrace, and quickly showed the sort of form that they had displayed in two recent away games as they dominated midfield, although they struggled to create too many clear-cut chances. The Diamonds had to make an early change when Curtis Osano picked up a knock after 9 minutes, and Simon Downer took his place at right back. The closest they came in this 20 minutes of dominance was to see a Chris Hope header cleared by Luke Foster from in front of Billy Turley, and an Andy Burgess shot that was deflected over the bar by Chris Wilmott. As in recent games the Diamonds failed to show sufficient sharpness in the last quarter, and although they won a number of corners they failed to capitalise upon them.

It was thus against the run of play that the U’s took the lead following a quick break down their left, with Chris Carruthers getting forward for the first time, playing a 1-2 with Craig Nelthorpe that took him to the edge of the penalty box, but he appeared to mishit his cross, only to see Michael Corcoran lose control of the ball as it bounced, presenting a chance to James Constable who netted with ease.

Getting the goal seemed to inspire the visitors to produce the kind of performance that had been behind their recent impressive run, and they looked a threat from a number of corners, The Diamonds had a narrow escape when a long throw from Adam Chapman skewed off the head of Chris Hope and came close to being an own goal.

Turley was also called upon to make a point blank save from Michael Rankine late in the half after Hope got his head on one of Diamonds many corners. The Diamonds also had a threatening move down the right thwarted just as Rob Wolleaston flicked the ball over the head of his marker, as referee Smedley chose that moment to stop play as Luke Foster had gone down with a leg injury.

Half Time : Rushden & Diamonds 0 Oxford United 1

The Diamonds regained their domination at the start of the second half, with several chances to get a deserved equaliser. Chris Hope flicked an Andy Burgess free kick to Lee Tomlin, whose volley deflected off a U’s defender and over the bar for a corner. Marcus Kelly almost embarrassed Billy Turley as he showed great skill to bring a crossfield pass under control via his chest, and hit a powerful volley that Turley mishandled, but was fortunate to see the ball squirm over the bar.

Michael Rankine then outjumped Billy Turley as they challenged at a corner, but Clist was able to clear off the line. The striker then showed he has the ability to turn in the area, as he received a pass from Chris Hope, turned and shot, but the ball was straight at the outstretched arm of Turley,

Finally the Diamonds pressure was rewarded with the equaliser on 59 minutes, as Andy Burgess cleared up on the edge of his own area, and hit a crossfield ball to set the impressive Marcus Kelly free down the left, he squared the ball to Lee Tomlin, who hit a pin-point first-time pass to Rob Wolleaston, who ran into the area and lobbed the ball over the advancing Turley, despite a despairing attempt by Luke Foster to stop the ball going over the line.

At this point the Diamonds looked the most likely to go on and win the game, with Kelly, Tomlin and Wolleaston looking dangerous, and Andy Burgess controlling the midfield – but it was the visitors that took the lead in controversial fashion. Chris Hope was adjudged to have fouled James Constable as he challenged him in the penalty area. Constable stepped up himself and hit an unstoppable penalty.

The Diamonds tried hard to get an equaliser, and Tomlin did get the ball in the net following a corner, but referee Smedley had spotted he had handled the ball, despite his protests that it had come off his chest. As the game neared the final whistle, James Constable broke clear of the Diamonds offside trap and squared to present Simon Clist with an easy chance to give an unrealistic feel to the scoreline.

The Diamonds now have to think again about how to convert their recent domination of possession and territory into goals before they travel to play Northwich Victoria at the weekend.

Full Time : Rushden & Diamonds 1 Oxford United 3

Teams

Rushden & Diamonds: Dale Roberts, Curtis Osano (Simon Downer 10), Michael Corcoran, Chris Hope, Kurt Robinson, Andy Burgess (Capt), Jake Beecroft (Neil Cousins 71), Rob Wolleaston, Marcus Kelly, Lee Tomlin, Michael Rankine (Sam Smith 78)

Subs Not Used : Nicky McNamara, Chris Arthur

Oxford United : Billy Turley, Chris Carruthers, Luke Foster, Yemi Odubade (Lewis Haldane 71), Adam Murray (Capt) (Eddie Hutchinson 81), James Constable (Craig Farrell 90+4), Damian Batt, Chris Willmott, Simon Clist, Adam Chapman, Craig Nelthorpe

Subs Not Used : Matt Day, Ben Hinchcliffe

Goals : Constable (26), Wolleaston (59), Constable (70 (pen)), Clist (90)

Yellow Cards : Tomlin (foul), Foster (foul), Cousins (foul), Robinson (foul)

Referee : Mr Ian Smedley

Attendance : 2085 (away 922)

Man of the Match chosen by the Caesar party : Marcus Kelly

Salisbury City 1 Rushden & Diamonds 1

Rushden & Diamonds will be bitterly disappointed to only get a draw after totally dominating much of this game, on a sunny Spring day in Wiltshire, but conceding an equaliser late in the second half. The Diamonds goal came from Rob Wolleaston after 17 minutes, after Lee Tomlin had found Jake Beecroft with a reverse pass, and his cross found Wolleaston near the penalty spot, with time to turn and hit a low shot that keeper Bittner got a hand to, but the ball crept over the line. The home side equalised through Djoumin Sangare after the Diamonds allowed a cross from the right to be won at the far post. Poor finishing from the Diamonds had seen a dozen or so attempts on goal only produce the single Wolleaston goal.

Justin Edinburgh was able to continue his policy of keeping a settled side, with the sole change being the return of Michael Corcoran at centre back in place of the injured Simon Downer. New signing Nick McNamara did not make the bench, with Gareth Jelleyman returning alongside Neil Cousins, Sam Smith, Chris Arthur and Jamie McGuinness. The Whites had lost Matt Tubbs, Michael Fowler and Charles Ademeno due to injury, as well as Chris Todd who had been recalled by Torquay United, but ex-Diamond Daniel Webb started the game.

As early as the first minute the Diamonds might have taken the lead, as Rob Wolleaston was fouled by Ian Herring, and the Andy Burgess kick was easily headed home by Chris Hope, but the linesman raised his flag for offside, despite the fact Hope appeared to have moved into the space while the ball was in the air.

Salisbury did respond with an attack that saw Dale Roberts palm away a cross-shot from Charlie Griffin, but that was to be the Diamonds keeper last real involvement until the last few minutes of the half.

Lee Tomlin then forced the first of many excellent saves home keeper James Bittner made that afternoon, after Rob Wolleaston beat his man on the edge of the area to allow Tomlin to shoot from 18 yards, and Michael Rankine was unable to get to the rebound after Bittner saved with his right arm.

There were still only six minutes on the clock when the Diamonds came even closer to taking the lead. A move down the left saw a Kurt Robinson cross into the area which Lee Tomlin stepped over to give Jake Beecroft a clear shot at goal – but his attempt was superbly tipped onto the bar by Bittner, and then Michael Rankine’s header from the rebound struck the post and was cleared.

Tomlin then sold another excellent dummy to his marker as he allowed a Kelly pass to reach Andy Burgess, who chipped the ball over the defence, but keeper Bittner reached the ball just ahead of Tomlin.

Just as it was beginning to look at if all the Diamonds pressure was not going to be rewarded, the goal came, as Tomlin and Beecroft combined down the right, with a superb reverse pass from Tomlin leaving the defence flat footed, and the ever-alert Beecroft getting in a cross to Rob Wolleaston standing near the penalty spot. The midfielder turned and hit a low shot which keeper Bittner got his hands to, but he could not take enough pace out of the shot to keep it from crossing the line for the opening goal with 17 minutes on the clock.

The home fans appeared to be stunned into silence, other than groans as their players dwelt on the ball and were robbed by one of the Diamonds midfielders, all of whom were getting into the game and showing their range of skills. The Diamonds won several corners during the half, one of which was delivered to Lee Tomlin on the edge of the area, and he lobbed the ball onto Chris Hope’s head, but the defenders attempt lacked the power to beat Bittner. As the half-way point of the first period approached Curtis Osano got in on the action, running past two defenders after linking with the impressive Beecroft, but his attempt on goal deflected for a corner. Andy Burgess continued to create chances, and Michael Rankine should have done better with a header that went wide of the post.

Rankine almost created himself a chance out of nothing on 40 minutes, as he robbed Ruddick in midfield, and ran at the home defence, breaking clear before hitting a shot that was easily saved by Bittner, and then Lee Tomlin set up Jake Beecroft about 12 yards from goal in the follow-up play, but the midfielder let the ball run past him, rather than taking a first time shot, meaning he had to turn away from goal, but still had time to turn back and hit a shot, but this was rather hurried and went over the bar.

The White’s sole threat appeared to come from long balls, or from the long throws from captain Ian Herring, and one of these produced a header by Djoumin Sangare that was saved by Roberts as half-time approached.

Half Time : Salisbury City 0 Rushden & Diamonds 1

After seeing the Diamonds allow Crawley back into the game in the second half last weekend, it was essential to stop this happening again. The Diamonds came out early for the half, doing some warm-up exercises supervised by Michael Stone, and this seemed to have paid off as they immediately put the home side under pressure, and Rob Wolleaston would have been disappointed to see his header saved by Bittner as he latched onto an Osano cross. Three minutes later Lee Tomlin showed his mixture of skill and determination as he robbed Michael Brough on the right corner of the area, raced past Brough and Sangare, and hit a powerful shot which Bittner did really well to save.

The Whites players had been dishing out a number of fouls during the first half, especially Webb and Clohessy, but their tough approach was not seen when they were on the receiving end of a featherlight touch from a defender, which saw them tumble and give Mr Hendley a further opportunity to blow his whistle. From one of the resultant free kicks Charlie Griffin hit a low shot that Dale Roberts did well to save.

The Diamonds inability to finish their chances had caused a change of approach, with a number of goalmouth scrambles resulting from the midfielders getting into the box to try to support their strikers. The Whites’ main change was to try even more long balls with the aim of winning throw-ins in dangerous positions, as well as Daniel Webb continuing to make his presence known, although the referee did not seem to be totting up the number of fouls he made.

Bittner once again came to the home side’s rescue as an Andy Burgess corner was flicked on by Chris Hope to Michael Rankine, who appeared to have an open goal, but his effort was saved by Bittner, and Lee Tomlin couldn’t force home the rebound.

There was always the concern that despite their domination, the home side might get a goal, especially after they brought on Jonathan Bass and pushed Sean Clohessy forwards. The Diamonds made a chance of their own, with Neil Cousins replacing Jake Beecroft, but within a couple of minutes of this change they had conceded the equalising goal. With 15 minutes to go, Curtis Osano and Michael Corcoran got into a tangle as they tried to deal with a routine long ball on the edge of the area, meaning the ball ran through for a corner. Dale Roberts had taken to punching the ball out under the pressure from Webb, and after the defence had failed to get the ball away it broke to Clohessy whose cross eluded Roberts and reached Charlie Griffin on the far post. He headed towards goal and Djoumin Sangare stabbed home for his debut goal for the Whites.

The goal unsettled the Diamonds defence, and they could have conceded a second goal minutes later, as Sangare was again allowed a free header in the area, but he could not hit the target.

The Diamonds had one final chance to win the game, as another goalmouth scramble followed a Michael Rankine throw finding Marcus Kelly, whose shot was blocked inside the six-yard box, and Lee Tomlin was brought to the floor as he tried to convert the rebound. This was the second Diamonds penalty appeal in quick succession, following the ball hitting Jon Bass on the arm, but it was adjudged to have been accidental.

Full Time : Salisbury City 1 Rushden & Diamonds 1

Justin Edinburgh had mixed feelings after the game, as he had seen an excellent performance from his team for a large percentage of the game, with the exception of converting more of the chances into goal, and sealing the game before half-time. The change in the Diamonds performances during March has been truly significant, with some excellent passing moves along with displays of skill and passion that have not been on show for several seasons. The team is creating many chances per game now, and the opposition goalkeepers are regularly getting the man of the match award, whereas earlier in the season they would hardly need to make a save all game. This attractive football will help make watching the Diamonds much more enjoyable, but the key piece in the jigsaw remains the ability to score the goals the quality of the performance merits.

A chance to improve things in front of goal comes on Tuesday evening when the Diamonds face another in-form team – Oxford United – at Nene Park.

Teams : Salisbury City : James Bittner, Sean Clohessy, Luke Ruddick, Michael Brough, Djoumin Sangare, Ian Herring (Capt), Brian Dutton (Jonathan Bass 64), Darrell Clarke, Jonathan Davies (Neil Martin 89), Daniel Webb, Charlie Griffin

Subs Not Used : Tommy Widdrington, Patrick Cox, Grant Porter

Rushden & Diamonds Team : Dale Roberts, Curtis Osano, Kurt Robinson, Chris Hope, Michael Corcoran, Andy Burgess (Capt), Rob Wolleaston, Jake Beecroft (Neil Cousins 76), Marcus Kelly, Michael Rankine, Lee Tomlin

Subs Not Used: Jamie McGuinness, Sam Smith, Chris Arthur, Gareth Jelleyman

Goals : Rob Wolleaston (17), Djoumin Sangare (77)

Yellow Cards : Sangare (foul). Rankine (foul)

Referee : Andy Hendley (Halesowen)

Attendance : 924 (Away approx 80)

Diamonds Man of the Match : Lee Tomlin

Crawley Town 0 Rushden & Diamonds 0

Rushden & Diamonds dominated the first half of the game at Broadfield with a fluid passing game, but they had to put in a sound defensive performance to hold on to gain a creditable draw against Crawley Town, after the hosts long ball game gave them the better of the second half. The Diamonds almost snatched victory in injury time, as Lee Tomlin solo run was finished off with a shot which Simon Rayner did well to save, and both sides hit the woodwork during the second half.

Justin Edinburgh was able to continue the policy of keeping a settled side, with the starting 11 unchanged from Tuesday evening, but with Michael Corcoran and Neil Cousins earning places on the bench on their return from injury. Crawley brought in defender Adam Quinn, and ex-Diamond Jamie Cook returned to the bench after a long absence, but there was no place in the squad for Glenn Wilson, although Michael Malcolm started.

After a slow start in their previous away game at Torquay, the Diamonds quickly showed that they were prepared to attack their hosts in all areas of the pitch, with the midfield four dominating, with Wolleaston, Beecroft and Kelly making excellent runs to link up with Tomlin and Rankine.

A taste of things to come came in the fifth minute, with a superb passing move down the right, with Lee Tomlin making a pinpoint pass through a gap in the home defence for Jake Beecroft to run onto. Beecroft ran into the area and showing composure and vision he laid the ball back towards Tomlin who had made a run towards the penalty spot. Tomlin showed similar qualities to backflick the ball straight on to Rob Wolleaston who was making a run in the left channel, but the shot was narrowly wide to the left of goal.

There was also a threat down the Diamonds left, and a minute later Marcus Kelly was able to rob his Crawley counterpart, and flick the ball forwards to Michael Rankine who headed the ball into space for Kelly to run onto and hit a low shot which was well saved by Rayner.

After these close range attempts, Lee Tomlin tried his luck from 20 yards as he met a perfect flick on by Rankine, and although his shot squirmed past Rayner, the Red Devils keeper had managed to take enough pace off the shott and he was able to turn around and gather the ball before it went over the line.

The home side didn’t present a real threat on the Diamonds goal until midway through the half when Jon Shaw worked himself into space on the left at a narrow angle, hitting a shot that Dale Roberts could only parry, but Lewis Killeen could not latch onto the loose ball.

In a similar move to the one that saw the first Diamonds goal against Lewes, Marcus Kelly outstripped his marker and hit a powerful cross which saw Michael Rankine go close, and the striker also headed an Andy Burgess cross over the bar. Rankine was at the centre of one of the key decisions that referee Whitton had to make, as he chased down a loose ball that Jake Wright was hoping the shepherd out for a goal kick. The defender clearly pushed the striker, but the referee waved play on.

Tomlin turned provided on 35 minutes as he set up Marcus Kelly whose shot was well saved, low down, by Rayner.

The home side had one other good chance in the first half, as a Michael Malcolm cross from the right found Lewis Killeen, who turned and shot, but Roberts was able to save.

Although many of the bad habits of the Hill era are quickly becoming distant memories, the Diamonds are still struggling to find a reliable set-piece routine, with Andy Burgess being given the responsibility this game, but like Kelly and Tomlin had done in recent matches, he too presented easy catches to Simon Rayner too often.

Half-Time : Crawley Town 0 Rushden & Diamonds 0

The hosts made two changes early in the second half, adopting a long ball approach that the Diamonds struggled to cope with. The first chance fell to the visitors though, as Lee Tomlin chased a loose ball, reaching it ahead of Rayner, and he rounded the keeper to square the ball towards Rob Wolleaston, but the midfielder’s shot was blocked.

Chances then started falling to the home side as they bypassed midfield with their long ball approach, but the Diamonds back four showed great understanding to provide the necessary cover to thwart the main threats, blocking a number of dangerous shots, and cutting out crosses before they could present a danger.

Crawley did come close on the hour mark when a Michael Malcolm freekick found Chris Giles who headed against the post.

The Diamonds brought on Sam Smith for Michael Rankine, then were forced into a further change as Simon Downer had to leave the field with a groin injury, at the same time as Curtis Osano was receiving treatment for a blow to the face, meaning he had to change to a blank shirt for the second game running. Michael Corcoran replaced Downer in central defence, and carried on the good work alongside the impressive Chris Hope.

At the other end the Diamonds came close to scoring when Lee Tomlin was fouled by Chris Giles (who was shown a yellow card) and the striker took the kick himself, and found Chris Hope just outside the far post, whose goal bound header was deflected by a defender to skim off the top of the crossbar for a corner.

Crawley were using their big defender Quinn to take a series of long throws, as they tried to rain in the long balls from all angles, but the Diamonds defence remained solid, although Lewis Killeen should have done better when he beat the offside trap to latch onto a through ball from Malcolm, but he dragged his shot well wide.

Neil Cousins had joined the action by this point, and he was on the end of a slick move involving Chris Hope, Lee Tomlin and Jake Beecroft, but saw his shot saved.

As the game neared it’s conclusion there was still a chance for both sides to win the game, the home side seeing a great block by Kurt Robinson thwart substitute Isaiah Rankine, and then Lee Tomlin ran at the home defence, and fired in a low shot that forced Rayner into his best save of the game.

The game thus ended with the Diamonds picking up their first point in the Conference at Broadfield. They now have a free midweek before another away trip next weekend – the twice-postponed trip to face Salisbury City.

Full-Time : Crawley Town 0 Rushden & Diamonds 0

 

Teams

Crawley Town : Simon Rayner, Santos Gaia, Simon Weatherstone (Robbie Matthews 52), Jake Wright (Chris Giles HT), Danny Forrest, Dannie Bulman (Capt), Thomas Pinault, Lewis Killeen, Adam Quinn, Jon Shaw (Isaiah Rankin 79), Michael Malcolm

Subs Not Used Jamie Cook, Gavin Hurren

Rushden & Diamonds : Dale Roberts, Curtis Osano, Kurt Robinson, Chris Hope, Simon Downer (Michael Corcoran 79), Andy Burgess (Capt), Rob Wolleaston (Neil Cousins 84), Jake Beecroft, Marcus Kelly, Michael Rankine (Sam Smith 69), Lee Tomlin

Subs Not Used : Chris Arthur, Jamie McGuinness

Goals : None

Yellow Cards : Osano 68, Giles 70

Referee : R Whitton (Essex)

Attendance : 777 (Away 103)

Diamonds Man of the Match : Kurt Robinson

Rushden & Diamonds 2 Lewes 1

Although the Diamonds dominated possession against Lewes, poor finishing meant they had to rely on a penalty to give them victory over the bottom placed team. The Rankine penalty was at the start of the second half, after the teams had gone in level following an early goal from Rob Wolleaston being equalled out by Rhys Henry five minutes later.

The Diamonds had made one change, with Marcus Kelly starting ahead of Chris Arthur. Andy Burgess started in central midfield, with Jake Beecroft playing on the right. Lewes boss Kevin Keehan had already decided to step down after the game, and was only able to name three substitutes due to call-up for a schoolboy game in Sussex.

With a full moon rising over Nene Park, the first half started with a bang, with Lewes winning a free kick straight from the kick-off, and Guy Butters found space in the area but his effort was saved from Roberts. The keeper then released the ball to the left, and Marcus Kelly was able to run down the left wing and hit a perfect low cross which Rob Wolleaston was able to control with his chest and knock home.

However, the lead was shortlived, with Lewes equalising after 6 minutes, with a move that started down the middle after Andy Burgess gave the ball away, and Joe Keehan slotted the ball past the line of defenders to Rhys Henry, who took the ball around Roberts and slotted home from a narrow angle.

Marcus Kelly was in fine form, and was putting in a number of dangerous crosses which narrowly eluded Rankine and Tomlin.

Jake Beecroft was adjusting well to his new role wide on the right, and cropped up in goalscoring positions on three occasions during the first quarter, but apart from one wayward shot he was unlucky that his efforts were blocked.

The Diamonds then had several good chances to regain the lead, with Jake Beecroft getting into several good positions, but seeing his shots saved, blocked or narrowly miss the goal. The best chance of the half fell to Michael Rankine, as Rob Wolleaston and Lee Tomlin showed skill and awareness to set up a great chance for Rankine, but the striker was unable to react quickly enough, and his attempt was blocked.

Rankine had two further excellent chances, the first a free header at the end of a Kelly cross, but he diverted the ball wide, and then when Lee Tomlin fed the ball to him on the edge of the six-yard box, but his shot was blocked.

Half-Time : Rushden & Diamonds 1 Lewes 1

The second half followed a similar pattern, with the Diamonds scoring early on, and then dominating possession, but struggling to convert this possession into real threats on goal.

The goal came when Diamonds pressure won a corner on the left, and although the initial delivery didn’t threaten much, the ball was returned to Andy Burgess on the left, and his ball towards Simon Downer in the area saw the defender pulled back by Chris Breach and a penalty awarded. Michael Rankine stepped up to slot the spot-kick home.

Marcus Kelly continued to give the Lewes defence plenty of problems, and after latching onto a Michael Rankine clearance he broke clear down the left, and found Lee Tomlin, who unselfishly set up Jake Beecroft, and when his shot was saved Tomlin was able to get his head to the rebound, but the header was just over the bar.

The visitors did not give up, bringing on Lewis Cox to inject some pace to their front-line, and he was able to get in a dangerous looking cross from the right that Rob Wolleaston headed behind – the Diamonds midfielder once again showing his qualities at both ends of the pitch, and a few minutes later he was thwarted by a great save by Banks who palmed his shot onto the post and away, after he had made a good run through the middle of the defence.

Marcus Kelly also continued his fine form of the first half, with an excellent break out of defence, flicking the ball up and over the challenge of Barness, and then hitting a crossfield ball to Sam Smith, but Cullip got in a great challenge to thwart the striker.

Lee Tomlin then had a claim for a penalty turned down after he latched onto a poor backpass, shortly after seeing a free kick narrowly miss the left hand post. It was left to Andy Burgess to have the last attempt on Banks’ goal, but once again the keeper was able to gather.

Full-Time : Rushden & Diamonds 2 Lewes 1

Manager Edinburgh was pleased with his third win in five games, crediting Lewes for their spirit. The team will now prepare for the tough challenge at Crawley on Saturday.

Teams :- Rushden & Diamonds (White): Dale Roberts, Curtis Osano, Simon Downer, Chris Hope, Kurt Robinson, Andy Burgess (Capt), Jake Beecroft, Rob Wolleaston, Marcus Kelly, Lee Tomlin, Michael Rankine (Sam Smith 76)

Subs Not Used : Gareth Jelleyman, Jamie McGuinness, Chris Arthur, Lewis Hilliard.

Lewes (Red / Black) : Rikki Banks, Anthony Barness, Danny Cullip, Christopher Breach (Stefan Cox 70), Michael Standing, Joe Keenan, Shaun Wilkinson, Frederick Foreman, Guy Butters, Sam Fisk, Rhys Henry

Subs Not Used :Callum Saunders, Grant Hall

Goals : Wolleaston (1), Henry (6), Rankine (Pen) (51)

Yellow Cards : Wolleaston, Wilkinson

Referee : Mr S Beck

Attendance : 918 (away 15)

Diamonds Man of the Match (nominated by the Souster family) : Andy Burgess

Torquay United 1 Rushden & Diamonds 1

Rushden & Diamonds fought back to gain a creditable draw against Torquay United at Plainmoor with a great strike by Lee Tomlin in the second half equalising the first half header by Tim Sills. After a slow start the Diamonds had their fair share of possession and chances, and could have won the game late on, when a Marcus Kelly strike hit the bar. The goal for Tomlin was his eighth league goal of the season, making him the top scorer for the Diamonds in that competition. The result (and performance) was even more satisfying given the way that the Gulls had beaten the Diamonds so easily in the fixture at Nene Park earlier in the season.

The Diamonds had brought in loanee Chris Arthur for his first start, and the absences of Michael Corcoran and Neil Cousins due to injury meant that Jake Beecroft and Michael Rankine both started. Gareth Jelleyman returned after a long lay-off to take a place on the bench. Paul Buckle was able to name a strong unchanged Torquay side, with Wayne Carlisle, Danny Stevens and Tyrone Thompson only gaining places on the bench. Youngsters Jamie McGuinness (18) and Lewis Hilliard (18) were on the Diamonds bench alongside Sam Smith (18), Kelly and Jelleyman.

The pitch conditions were good, but light rain greeted the teams at Kick off, with a strong wind assisting the Gulls in the first half.

The first quarter of the game was played almost exclusively in the Diamonds half, with a chance falling inside the first minute to Steve Woods, then further chances to Mansell (blocked by Downer), Benyon (deflected onto the crossbar), and Sills (saved by Roberts), before the Diamonds had their first meaningful attack on 22 minutes.

That first incisive attack came when Lee Tomlin robbed Woods and forced a corner, and then fire a powerful volley just over the bar in a rehearsed corner move, and this seemed to inspire his teammates. The Diamonds then started to dominate play, with a succession of corners, none of which earned any reward. On 38 minutes the Diamonds should have taken the lead, as a great move through midfield saw Beecroft find Burgess on the right, and his low ball towards the box saw an excellent flick by Lee Tomlin to Rob Wolleaston in plenty of space on the right side of the goal, about 15 yards out, but his shot was straight at Bevan.

Although the Gulls had been on the back foot, they took the lead shortly afterwards, as a long ball from Woods to Matt Green saw Curtis Osano concede a corner, and from the Carayol kick Tim Sills headed home with some ease as he escaped the close attentions of his marker.

The Diamonds had a great chance for an equaliser before half-time, as a further corner from the left was flicked across to Rob Wolleaston on the right, and his flicked cross found the head of Curtis Osano, but the header was well over the bar.

The first half thus ended with the home side ahead, but the Diamonds would have reflected on a “half of two halves” where they were decidedly second best to start with, but then had the better of the play during the period that the Gulls took the lead.

Half Time : Torquay United 1 Rushden & Diamonds 0

The Diamonds had the benefit of the wind at their back in the second half, which meant it was Scott Bevan that was struggling with his clearances.

The Diamonds had an injury blow early in the half, with Kurt Robinson picking up a knock in a clash with Tim Sills, but the Diamonds had an appropriate replacement on the bench – Gareth Jelleyman. Manager Edinburgh also made a further change by bringing on Marcus Kelly in place of the ineffective Arthur, taking the opportunity to allow Andy Burgess to move more into central midfield, with Jake Beecroft moving into a wider role. Tim Sills was also replaced by Danny Stevens, which meant that Matt Green moved up front, allowing Mustafa Carayol to switch to the left midfield, and Stevens went to the right wing.

Referee Johnson was adding to the strong breeze with plentiful use of his whistle, and awarded the yellow card to Lee Tomlin that looked inevitable since he penalised him for easing his marker off the ball early in the first half in what looked the normal actions of any striker. Carayol was also winning free kicks rather easily, and from one of these, on the left by the corner flag, the Kevin Nicholson kick went to Danny Stevens whose powerful shot brought the save of the game from Dale Roberts.

As the game was about the move into the final quarter the Diamonds got the goal their improved performance deserved, and it came from a long ball downfield to Lee Tomlin towards the left of the goal, and he was able to check past Steve Woods, beat Lee Mansell as he cut across the pitch then fire a powerful shot with his right foot into the right hand side of the net.

Tomlin cropped up on the right a couple of minutes later, as Jake Beecroft broke forwards, and a deft Tomlin back flick found the young midfield player in space, and he then fed the ball back to Tomlin, who saw his shot cleared off the line. Michael Rankine was having an excellent game in most areas of the pitch, linking up well with Tomlin as well as helping out in defence, although it was his strike partner who looked the more dangerous in front of goal. Rankine also flicked on to Simon Downer at a Diamonds corner, but the effort on goal was blocked.

Marcus Kelly was providing more of a threat on the left, but he was also able to move inside, and a shot on the turn with his right foot saw an excellent save from Bevan to his left prevent the Diamonds taking the lead.

Curtis Osano was also able to threaten going forwards more than in recent weeks, but he also had his hands full with Carayol, and was mostly able to deal with the threat, although he did pick up a deserved yellow for one desperate challenge. Gareth Jelleyman was involved with the action too, and he blocked a dangerous looking shot from Kevin Nicholson, who also saw another shot well caught by Roberts.

Despite a number of other chances for the home side, it was the Diamonds who came the nearest to getting the winner, as more good work from Marcus Kelly saw him turn and hit a powerful dipping shot that rebounded off the crossbar.

The Gulls chased the winner rather more than the visitors, with Chris Robertson playing up front in the last few minutes, and Dale Roberts had to come to the Diamonds rescue twice more, but the Diamonds also had a late chance with an Andy Burgess shot from the edge of the “D” being gathered by Bevan.

It was notable that the local sponsors gave their Gulls man of the match award to keeper Scott Bevan (as they did in the FA Trophy game back in January), and although he didn’t have too many saves to make, the two key saves he made perhaps prevented the Diamonds coming home with all three points. The Diamonds fans would have been happy with the performance other than that in the first quarter, and to see Gareth Jelleyman return from injury and look as if he hadn’t been away. Marcus Kelly also showed the determination to prove that being left on the bench had not affected his game.

Full Time : Torquay United 1 Rushden & Diamonds 1

Caretaker Manager Justin Edinburgh felt that the point was well deserved, especially after the start that the home side made. He reported that both Kurt Robinson and Rob Wolleaston picked up knocks, and will be assessed for their fitness for the game against Lewes at Nene Park on Tuesday evening.

Teams : Scott Bevan, Kevin Nicholson, Steve Woods, Lee Mansell, Chris Robertson, Nicky Wroe, Chris Hargreaves (Capt), Elliot Benyon, Mustafa Carayol, Matt Green, Tim Sills (Danny Stevens 59)

Subs Not Used: Wayne Carlisle, Lee Hodges, Tyrone Thompson, Mark Ellis

Rushden & Diamonds : Dale Roberts, Curtis Osano, Kurt Robinson (Gareth Jelleyman 51), Chris Hope, Simon Downer, Andy Burgess (Capt), Rob Wolleaston, Jake Beecroft, Chris Arthur (Marcus Kelly 57), Michael Rankine (Sam Smith 89), Lee Tomlin

Subs Not Used : Jamie McGuinness, Lewis Hilliard

Goals : Tim Sills (41), Lee Tomlin (65)

Yellow Cards : Kurt Robinson (foul), Lee Tomlin (accumulated fouls), Curtis Osano (foul), Chris Hargreaves (foul)

Diamonds Man of the Match : Simon Downer

Attendance : 2161 (Away 45)

Referee : Mr K Johnson

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