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

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