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


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