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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