Rushden & Diamonds 3 Woking 1

Rushden & Diamonds defeated long-time rivals Woking with a 3-1 victory at Nene Park, in what might be the last appearance of the Surrey Club in the Blue Square Premier for a while. After 22 previous home games at Nene Park this season, the Diamonds finally scored three goals in a home game, with goals from Wolleaston, Rankine and a debut goal from Jake Beecroft.

The Diamonds fielded a side with a familiar look, with Jake Beecroft returning in right midfield in place of Nicky McNamara, with Lee Tomlin and Michael Rankine starting up-front. Any thoughts of the sort of the 4-5-1 formation that had proved so disappointing at Forest Green had disappeared, as the Diamonds lined up to attack the Peter De Banke end in a 4-4-2 formation in the first half. Chris Hope was confirming his ever-present status as he started in his 46th league game of the season – having completed the full 90 minutes in all bar one of them.

The visitors started brightly, with a shot from Joe Anderson deflecting off Michael Corcoran for a corner, and then Simon Downer had to block a goal bound Danny Bunce shot as the ball was only partially cleared from the Ledgister corner.

It was from the first real attacking move from the Diamonds, on six minutes, that they took the lead, as a ball through central midfield found Rob Wolleaston running through the centre of the visitors defence, lobbing the ball over the head and to the left of the advancing keeper Knowles, and then squeezing the ball towards goal from a narrow angle, and, despite the despairing attempts of Knowles and a Woking defender to clear the ball away, the ball ended up in the net, with Wolleaston being awarded the goal.

Wolleaston and Tomlin combined down the left shortly afterwards with a low cross well fielded by Knowles in front of Rankine.

There was some concern that the Diamonds defence might not be totally in unison, when a tame situation saw Chris Hope lay the ball off to Michael Corcoran, but Corcoran decided he needed to pass back to Hope with his left foot, and the ball went astray and out for a throw near the corner flag. The throw was quickly taken, and Michael Kamara picked up a free kick as he tried to find space. The kick was taken by Oliver Bozanic, and it was flighted across the central defenders to Michael Kamara, who was unmarked just beyond the far post, and he was able to head the ball back over Roberts for the equalising goal.

The visitors briefly dominated the game, with Ledgister making dangerous runs down the right, and Domoraud heading wide, and then the striker had a claim for a free kick on the edge of the area, under a challenge from Simon Downer, as he ran on to a low cross from Ledgister after Kurt Robinson had made a rare mistake to give the ball away.

Lee Tomlin came close for the Diamonds as he attempted a back-heel when Chris Hope headed down an Andy Burgess free-kick, whilst Ledgister and Vernazza both went close for the visitors.

By the half-hour mark the Diamonds were dominating the game, and Andy Burgess came close as he hit the underside of the bar following an interchange with Lee Tomlin and a side-step past a defender. The rebound was then worked back to Burgess, but this time his shot narrowly cleared the bar.

It was Michael Rankine who headed the Diamonds back in front on 35 minutes, after Chris Hope had chipped an Andy Burgess corner back across the penalty area.

Half-Time : Rushden & Diamonds 2 Woking 1

Jake Beecroft was having an impressive game on the right of midfield, and this continued into the second half, with a strong run down the right resulting in a low cross that appeared to be heading towards Marcus Kelly before keeper Knowles intercepted.

The game was ended as a spectacle afterin the second half when Jake Beecroft shot from the edge of the penalty area, and his shot took a deflection off Paul Lorraine to beat the Woking keeper.

A well-taken Burgess free-kick seemed to find Marcus Kelly in plenty of space in the penalty area, but he dwelt rather too long and Joe McNerney was able to clear for a corner. Jake Beecroft almost got his second goal as he got in a decent header from a Michael Rankine cross, but it was too close to Knowles.

The Diamonds were showing a great range of passing skills, something that wouldn’t have been on the agenda at the start of the season, with lovely interchanges between Kelly, Robinson, Burgess and Wolleaston on the left, one of which saw Wolleaston fire over. Kelly also showed the vision to slot a ball through the visitors defence to Sam Smith, and although he sold an excellent dummy to Paul Lorraine, his shot was straight at Knowles. Smith also narrowly failed to put away a chance that resulted from a long throw by Michael Rankine.

Chris Hope also came close to getting the goal his performances have merited, but his header from a Burgess free-kick was just wide. Michael Corcoran also came close with a downward header from a Burgess corner. The Diamonds defence continued to hold firm, with Simon Downer getting in a couple of last ditch challenges on Domoraud.

The visitors had two final chances for a consolation, firstly with Wilfred Domoraud hitting a deflected shot that Dale Roberts was unable to gather first time, but he was quick enough to grab at the second attempt before the onrushing Sam-Yorke could reach it. Oliver Bozanic then hit the Diamonds bar from a free kick just as the game entered injury time.

Sam Smith had a final chance to add to his tally of eight league goals for the season towards the end of injury time, after he was put clear by Neil Cousins,but he was unable to take the opportunity, but still finishes the season as the Diamonds top scorer in senior games (League, FA Cup and FA Trophy) with nine goals in total.

Full-Time : Rushden & Diamonds 3 Woking 1

Justin Edinburgh was pleased with the application of his team, particularly after the performance at Forest Green, and pleased his first game in permanent charge of the team had resulted in three goals being scored by the Diamonds at Nene Park for the first time this season. He will now be working hard to sort out his squad for next season, ready for the start of the pre-season friendlies in early July.

Teams

Rushden & Diamonds (White): Dale Roberts, Michael Corcoran, Kurt Robinson, Chris Hope, Simon Downer, Jake Beecroft (Jamie McGuinness 78), Andy Burgess (Capt), Rob Wolleaston, Marcus Kelly, Lee Tomlin (Sam Smith 61), Michael Rankine (Neil Cousins 69)

Subs Not Used: Nicky McNamara, Joe Day

Woking (Amber): Danny Knowles, Paul Lorraine (Capt), Danny Bunce, Bradley Quamina (Delano Sam-Yorke 56), Patrice Konan, Paolo Vernazza, Joel Ledgister, Wilfred Domoraud, Oliver Bozanic, Joe Anderson (Charlie Moore 77), Michael Kamara (Joe McNerney HT)

Subs Not Used: Ross Worner, Goma Lambu

Goals : Rob Wolleaston (6), Michael Camara (10), Michael Rankine (35), Jake Beecroft (50).

Yellow Cards : None

Referee : Mr I Smedley

Attendance : 1676 (Away 207)

Diamonds Man of the Match sponsored by Jade of Wollaston : Jake Beecroft

Forest Green Rovers 4 Rushden & Diamonds 0

Rushden & Diamonds produced their worst away performance of the season as they completed their programme on the road with a 4-0 defeat that included a hat-trick from Andy Mangan. Mangan and Adriano Rigoglioso made it 2-0 at half-time, and Mangan completed his hattrick in the second half. Manager Justin Edinburgh made his disappointment clear after the game, stating he felt the 14 players on show had cheated the travelling fans with their performance.

Although Rovers had more to play for, it was no excuse for the Diamonds players to capitulate so easily and readily. It was the worst performance seen since the defeat in the FA Cup against Evesham, with a lot of similarities in terms of player performance, but perhaps it is a tribute to recent improvements that this came as such a surprise – whereas big defeats in previous seasons at places such as Woking, Crawley, Northwich and St Albans were not totally unexpected.

The Diamonds made two changes to the line-up that started at Histon, with Rob Wolleaston and Marcus Kelly restored to the starting line-up, with Lee Tomlin and Michael Rankine taking a place on the bench. This meant a 4-5-1 formation, with Sam Smith ploughing a lone furrow up front in the first half, with rotating support from Cousins, Wolleaston and McNamara. Rovers had been struggling to find a full squad, only naming four subs in the previous game, and they only had 12 fit regular professionals for this game – the starting XI plus Jonathan Smith.

With Sam Smith having scored the winner against Kettering, and the Easter Monday game being goalless, the question of who would end up as the leading scorer for the season remains, but, of the four contenders, only Smith and Wolleaston started the game.

After the Diamonds had more of the possession in the first five minutes, the home team took the lead after six minutes, as a pass through centre midfield by Rigoglioso found Andy Mangan in plenty of space down the right channel, and he ran into the area and slotted the ball low into the left corner of the net.

Rovers dominated the remainder of the first quarter, but as the mid-point of the half was reached the Diamonds did come to life, as first Andy Burgess made a run at the home defence and hit a right foot shot that Burton saved, and the Rovers keeper also did well to save from Rob Wolleaston as he was put in by Nicky McNamara, and it was McNamara who also combined with Sam Smith to set up the striker for a shot that was well blocked by Preece.

The hosts were always looking dangerous, with a powerful 35 yard shot from Lawless going narrowly wide, and Conal Platt seeing a powerful shot blocked by Downer and then seeing the rebound saved. Michael Corcoran executed a similar block, and needed treatment as a result.

The second Rovers goal came in a similar fashion to the first, with Paul Lloyd being given time in midfield to pick out a pass that bisected the Diamonds defence, and Adriano Rigoglioso was able to run on and strike the ball low into the left hand corner of the net.

The Diamonds had a claim for a penalty when Sam Smith was pushed off the ball in the area, but their frustration was shown when Captain Andy Burgess was booked for a blatant trip on Alex Lawless.

There was a feeling at the end of the half that the 4-5-1 had failed because the midfield five had seen the extra man in their domain as an excuse to put in 25% less effort individually – and surely a more conventional approach would be adopted in the second half.

Half-Time : Forest Green Rovers 2 Rushden & Diamonds 0

The second half started with the 4-5-1 still in place, and little sign of a fightback from the Diamonds. Within three minutes they should have been three down, as Dale Roberts misjudged a ball forwards from Curtis McDonald, with Conal Platt beating him to the ball, but the ex-Diamond failed to execute what looked a relatively simple chip over the keeper. The Diamonds were then fortunate to see a Rigoglioso corner scrambled away, shortly after a move between Rigoglioso and Mangan saw a Jones shot fended out for a corner, and Roberts also had to tip over a Conal Platt shot.

It then went from bad to worse for the Diamonds on 70 minutes, with Andy Mangan making it 3-0 after Andy Burgess twice gave the ball away to Rigoglioso, once in the centre, and then again on the touchline as he tried to recover from his error. Rigoglioso was having an excellent game, and his low cross was not gathered by Dale Roberts and Mangan fired home.

A sign of the problems in the team was that only Chris Hope held his head up and tried to encourage the team to fight back as they trooped back to the half-way line, with Burgess, perhaps understandably, upset with his part in the goal.

The Rovers midfield was now totally dominant, with Conal Platt finding plenty of room on the right, linking up with Lawless and McDonald, with Simon Downer picking up a yellow card as he tried to stop McDonald. Sam Smith did threaten for the second time in the game when he broke down the left, but his shot was half-blocked and presented Burton with an easy save. The nearest the Diamonds came in the game was from a Rankine long throw, which Chris Hope headed powerfully towards goal, forcing Burton into his best save of the game, and he was helped by a fellow defender from the resultant corner, heading it off the line via the crossbar.

Although Lee Tomlin breathed some life into the Diamonds when he came on as the final Diamonds substitute, it was he that conceded a penalty when a smart free kick move found Andy Mangan in the box, and Tomlin eased him over for a clear penalty, that Mangan converted easily for his hat-trick – his third of the season. Tomlin also picked up yet another booking as he ignored repeated warnings about retreating at free kicks – and from that kick Rovers almost had their fifth as a sleeping defence was again caught out as Alex Lawless found space on the left corner of the six yard box, squaring for Mangan, whose shot was blocked.

Things were really falling apart for the Diamonds, as an Andy Burgess free kick from near the centre circle seemed to be taken before his team mates were ready, going straight to the opposition, who broke forwards while the defenders were trying to get into position, and Mangan saw his shot blocked to deny him a fourth goal.

The game ended in perhaps a fitting fashion for the Diamonds, as Dale Roberts made a routine throw out to Michael Corcoran, but for some reason the ball went straight into touch. As little time had been added on despite various stoppages during the half there was a sense that referee Raynor had "stopped the fight to save the Diamonds further punishment"

This was the heaviest Diamonds defeat of the season, and the players have one game left to show their commitment to the club and its fans to avoid a bitter ending to a season which had been showing some green shoots of a recovery.

 

Full Time : Forest Green Rovers 4 Rushden & Diamonds 0

Forest Green Rovers: Terry Burton, Alex Lawless, Darren Jones (Capt) (James Baldwin 85), Mark Preece, Lee Fowler, Curtis McDonald, Lee Ayres, Paul Lloyd (John Else 78), Conal Platt, Adriano Rigoglioso (Jonathan Smith 76), Andy Mangan

Subs Not Used : Ryan Robinson, Marcus Palmer

 

Rushden & Diamonds: Dale Roberts, Michael Corcoran, Kurt Robinson, Simon Downer, Chris Hope, Marcus Kelly (Michael Rankine 54), Rob Wolleaston (Jake Beecroft 61), Neil Cousins (Lee Tomlin 64), Nicky McNamara, Andy Burgess (Capt), Sam Smith.

Subs Not Used: Lewis Hilliard, Jamie McGuinness

Goals: Mangan (6), Rigoglioso (37), Mangan (71), Mangan (84 Pen)

Yellow Cards : Burgess (foul), Downer (foul), Tomlin (failure to retreat at free kicks despite repeated warnings)

Referee : Amy Raynor

Attendance 1185 (away 88)

Reporters Man of the Match: N/A

Histon 0 Rushden & Diamonds 0

 

The Diamonds picked up another away draw, and their first point against Histon, in what was a truly awful spectacle in Cambridgeshire. The Diamonds adopted the tactics necessary to match the game played by their hosts, and so the ball was in the air for much of the game, with neither side having it under close control. The Diamonds can take credit for holding a team challenging for a playoff position to a goalless draw, but few would have been entertained by such a contradiction to the philosophy of the "beautiful game".

It also meant that for the second game running the Diamonds dented the promotion hopes of their rivals, although Histon are still in with a good chance of reaching the playoffs, whereas the victory on Saturday effectively ended Kettering Town’s attempt to reach the playoffs.

After the drama of the victory over the Poppies, there was a concern that the players might struggle to match that level of performance two days later, but it was tribute to Justin Edinburgh and his coaching staff that the players gave the effort that an impressive away following demanded.

With Sam Smith having scored the winner against Kettering, there was some debate about whether he might start, and thus continue his battle with Lee Tomlin for the top goalscorer crown for the season, and indeed that was one of three changes made to the starting line-up as he replaced Marcus Kelly. The Diamonds did make two further changes, with Rob Wolleaston rested, allowing Nicky McNamara to make his first full start for the club, and Michael Corcoran returned from suspension to replace Jake Beecroft who had proved such a capable replacement during the suspension and while Curtis Osano recovers from injury. The Diamonds bench was Lewis Hilliard alongside Jamie McGuinness, Josh Ford, Marcus Kelly and Rob Wolleaston.

As with the game last season, there was a lower than anticipated home following, although last season that was explained by the fact the game had been rearranged for when Cambridge United were also playing at home. Perhaps this time more of the local Cambridgeshire support had preferred the short trip up the A14 to Rockingham Road, meaning the home crowd was under 1000 for a team challenging for the playoffs.

The first half was one of the worst advertisements for football at any level. The "highlights" were reduced to a bad miss by Danny Wright when one of the many Gwillim long throws bounced off a group of players to the striker in plenty of space, but he blazed over the bar. The Diamonds were reduced to playing a similar style of play, with Lee Tomlin trying to work the left channel to feed Smith and Rankine. Michael Rankine had a good half, but mostly in terms of helping out his defence with the aerial bombardment, and also taking the retaliatory Diamonds long throws.

Perhaps the action was summed up by two incidents involving home keeper Naisbitt – the first when he was called upon to take a free kick 10 yards inside the Diamonds half to allow the other 21 players to occupy the Diamonds penalty box, and then when he took his sweeper role so seriously he ended up playing in a midfield role in the centre circle during open play.

The Diamonds did resort to long clearances themselves, and, with Smith and Rankine providing valuable support in defence there were several times when a Diamonds clearance to the half-way line came at a time when no yellow shirt was more than 25 yards from their own goal. On the other hand, two of the best Diamonds chances of the half came when they counter attacked from defence when the Stutes pushed up their big men for the Gwillim long throws, looping corners or lofted free kicks – and in one of these Lee Tomlin held off Lanre Oyebanjo to break clear but Antonio Murray was able to come across and cover. Another such break saw Smith and McNamara provide Neil Cousins with an opening on the right, but his low cross was blocked.

As well as helping out in defence, Michael Rankine had adapted to the style of play by taking more balls on his chest rather than trying to outjump Mitchel-King, and he also showed a flash of creativity in attempting an overhead kick when set up by a Michael Corcoran header at a corner.

As the half ended the hosts did carve out a good chance when Danny Wright collected a loose ball as the Diamonds midfield failed to pick up a Downer clearance, but Jack Midson fired his shot wide.

Half-Time : Histon 0 Rushden & Diamonds 0

After what had been seem in the first half there were few who thought things might improve in the second – and indeed that was the case, although there was an early scare when Andy Burgess tried to embellish a pass in midfield, and instead gave the ball to Danny Wright, who set up Antonio Murray for a shot from the edge of the penalty box that Roberts did well to save.

The rest of the second period was an equally poor spectacle, with neither side looking like breaking the deadlock, although the Diamonds had a couple of corners as the game moved into injury time, and from one of them Nicky McNamara hit a shot which bounced up in front of the Stutes keeper Naisbitt, but he did well to tip it over the bar.

Dale Roberts was also called upon to save a header from Mitchel-King following a Gwillim free kick, and Lee Tomlin shot over from just outside the area, and then almost set up Sam Smith with a low cross from the left after good work from Chris Hope on the left touchline had kept the ball alive. A Tomlin flick was then marginally too far ahead of Neil Cousins as the Diamonds were starting to create openings without forcing Naisbitt to make a save prior to his save from McNamara in injury time.

Nicky McNamara did what was required of him in his full debut – clearly a challenging game to reach such a landmark, although he did pick up another yellow card when he jumped into Gwillim. Although the card was justified, and referee Ford was having a good game, resisting temptation to be swayed by the calls from the touchline and home stand that every decision should go the way of the home team, there was perhaps a suggestion that the McNamara challenge was no worse than a Murray challenge on Burgess earlier that brought back memories of his challenge on Andy Gooding on the same ground last season.

The impressive Chris Hope and Simon Downer deserve a special mention, given the way they dealt so well with their increased workload during the afternoon. With Hope only having two games to go before claiming an ever-present record this season one hopes that he is not suffering from any neck-related problem after the afternoon’s exertions that might keep him out of the Forest Green game next weekend – but he proved he was still capable of the "Row Z" clearance, where required, when he managed to clear the barrier of a row of 80 foot pine trees that dwarfed the stand that ran the far side of the pitch. He would have hoped for a better spectacle for his 150th appearance for the club, but was still able to put in the kind of performance seen so often during those 149 previous games.

Full-Time : Histon 0 Rushden & Diamonds 0

As the final whistle sounded, news came through that Histon’s local rivals Cambridge United had beaten Kettering, and with Kidderminster and Stevenage both winning the Stutes playoff hopes had taken a serious dent.

Teams

Histon : Danny Naisbitt, Lanre Oyebanjo, Gareth Gwillim, Mat Mitchel-King (Capt), Matthew Langston, Josh Simpson (Neil Andrews 70), Patrick Ada, Nathaniel Knight-Percival, Jack Midson (Jamie Barker 84), Antonio Murray, Danny Wright.

Subs Not Used :Lee Roache, Joe Welch, Craig Pope

Rushden & Diamonds (Yellow): Dale Roberts, Michael Corcoran, Kurt Robinson, Simon Downer, Chris Hope, Neil Cousins, Nicky McNamara, Andy Burgess (Capt), Sam Smith, Lee Tomlin (Marcus Kelly 83), Michael Rankine.

Subs Not Used: Lewis Hilliard, Jamie McGuinness, Josh Ford, Rob Wolleaston.

Goals : None

Yellow Cards : Nicky McNamara (foul)

Referee : Mr D Ford

Attendance 1263 (away approx 300)

Reporter’s (joint) Man of the Match: Simon Downer / Chris Hope .

Rushden & Diamonds 1 Kettering Town 0

Rushden & Diamonds preserved their proud record against local rivals Kettering Town with a 1-0 victory at Nene Park  A goal in the second half from super-sub Sam Smith separated the sides as the Diamonds presented the greater attacking threat in that period. The result also has a significant impact upon the Poppies chances of making the end of season playoffs.

An impressive home crowd of almost 2000 was augmented to a total of 3406 by the travelling fans in the Airwair Stand. This gate represented the highest crowd at Nene Park since the final game of the 2005-06 season when the Diamonds were in the Football League.

Justin Edinburgh was able to name an unchanged 16, with the Poppies only making one change as ex-Diamond Chris Beardsley made a return to Nene Park, demoting Gareth Seddon to the bench.

The first half was a fairly even affair, with few clearcut chances to either side. The Poppies has perhaps the best chance of the half when Andy Burgess gave the ball away near his own goal, flicking the ball to Craig Westcarr, and his cross was met by Jean-Paul Marna, but he could only divert the ball wide.

The Diamonds chances came when they speeded up play, such as on the 7 minute mark when Andy Burgess had a one-two with Lee Burgess and then with Rob Wolleaston, but Wolleaston was unable to get the ball from under his feet to get a strike on goal. Marcus Kelly was struggling to get in the game in his wide-left position, and moved inside to pick up the ball and hit a shot from 35 yards that Lee Harper could not hold, with the ball squirming wide for Lee Tomlin to have a shot which bounced off Harper for a corner.

The Poppies also saw a chance fall to Chris Beardsley as he got on the end of an Alfie Potter cross, but he could only turn and hit the ball into the side netting, and the striker missed a further chance a couple of minutes later when the Diamonds defence dwelt on a Craig Westcarr cross, but he hit his shot over the bar.

The Diamonds had a number of opportunities from free-kicks and corners which were largely wasted, apart from one near the interval when Michael Rankine flicked on and an attempt by Chris Hope was scrambled clear.

The Diamonds defence were having a great afternoon, with Downer and Hope dominant in the centre, Kurt Robinson keeping Alfie Potter very quiet, and Jake Beecroft again impressing in his makeshift role.

There were three yellow cards given out by referee Waugh in the first half, with Michael Rankine picking up a yellow card in a clash with Guy Branston, with the Kettering Physio being called to a writhing Branston, who quickly recovered after the “magic sponge” was applied. Surprisingly a similar foul by Branston on Rankine, in which Rankine’s shirt was almost torn from his back did not see a reciprocal card. Lee Tomlin picked up a deserved yellow card as he helped out his defence with a lunging tackle on Potter, and ex-Diamond John Dempster also picked up a booking just before half-time.

Half-Time : Rushden & Diamonds 0 Kettering Town 0

The second half was similarly tense, but the Diamonds started to dominate play, inspired by the backing of the home fans.

Lee Tomlin had the best chance early in the half, as Andy Burgess improved on what was a poor sequence of dead ball deliveries, seeing his corner flicked on by Cousins to Lee Tomlin, but his volley blazed into the Peter De Banke terrace. Tomlin had earlier robbed Geohaghon but saw his cross well cut-out by Harper, and a Rankine flick had given Neil Cousins a chance on goal.

Justin Edinburgh brought on Sam Smith and Nicky McNamara, and this gave the Diamonds an extra dimension, with Lee Tomlin moving wide. A neat backflick on the left corner of the box on 72 minutes found Sam Smith but the striker saw his shot comfortably saved by Harper.

The Poppies were getting little joy from a solid Diamonds defence, with the only scare being a low diagonal ball from Westcarr that neither Wright or Seddon were able to anticipate and get a shot on goal.

As in the first half, the Diamonds maintained their policy of battling for the ball in the spirit of a local derby, but getting up quickly when brought down – in fact Simon Parsell was only called on late in the half when Kurt Robinson suffered cramp, whereas his counterpart was kept busy, especially with Craig Westcarr, who was momentarily incapacitated after a couple of challenges, requiring the Physio to work his magic on a couple of occasions. This allowed Westcarr to continue, although he had to switch to the right flank, as he had been getting little joy from Jake Beecroft all afternoon.

With ten minutes left, Justin Edinburgh made a final change by bringing on Lewis Hilliard for his league debut. Within a minute the Diamonds had scored the winner, as Sam Smith pounced as Exodus Geohaghon dwelt on the ball near his own goal and slotted the ball past Harper to start the celebrations by the Diamonds fans as the visiting fans started to melt away.

Geohaghon had a couple of late opportunities to make amends for his error via his long throws, but the Diamonds defence held firm until referee Waugh called the game to an end after four minutes of added time.

Full-Time : Rushden & Diamonds 1 Kettering Town 0

Although it was Sam Smith who got the most applause from the Diamonds fans who stayed behind to celebrate at the end, along with Andy Burgess as he was presented with his man of the match award, the Diamonds back four deserve special mention as they so comprehensively quashed any attacking threat from the visitors – and although Dale Roberts had little to do in terms of saves, he provided a solid foundation to the defence.

The victory means the Diamonds record is W7 D4 L1 in the 12 games between the clubs in the league, with 20 goals scored and only 6 conceded – with the sole defeat being in the “dead rubber” at the end of the 1998/99 season after Cheltenham Town had clinched the league title.

After such a tension-filled encounter the Diamonds have to quickly refocus on the next game on Easter Monday, trying to win their first point against a Histon side who will be desperate for a win to maintain their position in the play-off places.

Teams

Rushden & Diamonds (White): Dale Roberts, Jake Beecroft, Simon Downer, Chris Hope, Kurt Robinson (Lewis Hilliard 82), Neil Cousins (Sam Smith 64), Andy Burgess (Capt), Rob Wolleaston (Nicky McNamara 67), Marcus Kelly, Lee Tomlin, Michael Rankine

Subs Not Used : Jamie McGuinness, Josh Ford

Kettering Town (Red): Lee Harper, Nicky Eaden, Guy Branston (Capt), John Dempster, Alfie Potter (Ryan Charles 78), Chris Beardsley (Ben Wright 62), Jean-Paul Marna (Gareth Seddon 60), André Boucaid, Exodus Geohaghon, Craig Westcarr

Subs Not Used: Brett Solkhon, Dale Bennett

Goal : Sam Smith (82)

Yellow Cards : Michael Rankine, Lee Tomlin, John Dempster, Jake Beecroft, Nicky McNamara

Referee : Mr J Waugh

Attendance : 3406 (Away 1530)

Diamonds Man of the Match sponsored by Pizzeria Venezia : Andy Burgess

Images courtesy of Mal Swinden ©2012 Malcolm Swinden Photography

Rushden & Diamonds 2 Salisbury City 1

After a late scare, Rushden & Diamonds gained a deserved victory over Salisbury City at Nene Park, with goals from Chris Hope and Neil Cousins in the first half. The Whites got a late consolation through Djoumin Sangare after an innocuous looking ball, low into the box, was diverted into the net, and Dale Roberts was forced into a late save to prevent Sangare getting the equaliser.

The victory was some consolation for the game in Wiltshire two weeks earlier when the Diamonds totally dominated but were held to a 1-1 draw, as in the return fixture the Diamonds took a two goal lead in the first period after neither side had impressed, and then held on for victory after a lacklustre performance from both sides for much of the second half.

The win meant the Diamonds ended the Whites’ eleven game unbeaten streak, although realistically they should have ended that run a fortnight earlier on their visit to Wiltshire.

Justin Edinburgh named an unchanged team, with new signing Josh Ford on the bench. The Whites had ex-Diamonds Daniel Webb in the their starting line-up and Charles Ademeno on the bench. Lee Tomlin was making his 150th appearance for the Diamonds (in all competitions).

The first half-hour of the game was almost completely uneventful, with the Diamonds wasting a number of corners, and the Whites only threat coming from the long throws of Ian Herring. Apart from blocked Chris Hope header early on, and a Lee Tomlin shot that went narrowly wide of goal after 25 minutes, there was little threat from the Diamonds. On the half hour mark, Chris Hope saw a shot deflected for a corner off Michael Brough, and from the Burgess corner on the right Hope headed home at the far post, with keeper Bittner only managing to palm the ball back onto a post and into the net.

More was to come though, and after 42 minutes the Diamonds increased their lead when Marcus Kelly cut inside from the left wing, and hit a great ball with his right foot to Michael Rankine who had made space in the area, shielded the ball to turn and hit a powerful shot which was straight at keeper Bittner, but the ball bounced off him, presenting Neil Cousins with a simple tap-in for his first Diamonds goal.

The Diamonds had one further good chance in first-half injury time, as Andy Burgess was awarded a free kick (one of many as he seemed to have been targeted by the Salisbury defence and midfield), and he hit a free kick that Chris Hope headed narrowly over.

Half-Time : Rushden & Diamonds 2 Salisbury City 0

The majority of second half was also without a great deal of incident, with neither side producing much of any quality prior to a hectic last 10 minutes.

The half did start in a lively fashion, with the visitors winning yet another throw near the Diamonds penalty box, and as the ball was headed clear Michael Rankine went out to tackle long-throw expert Ian Herring, but the Salisbury player brought him down, earning a deserved yellow card. Perhaps Simon Downer was lucky not to join him in the referee’s notebook as he appeared to push the Whites player, who crumpled to the floor, but the man-in-black Lee took no further action.

The Diamonds then had a dangerous break when a Robinson free-kick was expertly flicked on by Rankine to find Lee Tomlin running into space, but, as at Grays earlier in the week, his first touch let him down, although it did temporarily threaten as it slid past Bittner, but was easily cleared by the supporting defenders. Tomlin then had another strike on goal that was well blocked, and Neil Cousins almost got on the scoresheet for a second time as his scissors kick was palmed out by Bittner and Rob Wolleaston was unable to get to the rebound.

The half was then largely a stalemate punctuated by a number of substitutions, including the arrival of ex-Diamond Charles Ademeno, and a home debut for Nicky McNamara.

Both sides had a couple of half chances, but otherwise the Diamonds were content protecting their lead. Lee Tomlin went off early in the half after feeling the effects of an injury picked up in training.

Just as the game appeared to completing a decline that has started after the second goal, the Whites livened things up, firstly when Matt Tubbs headed over from a long Herring throw, and then when they got a late consolation goal through Djoumin Sangare after he latched onto a low grubber pass into the area, that appeared to go under the feet of several defenders, diverting it into the net. Given the amount of high-ball / long ball play the visitors had sought to produce it was such a low bobbling ball that produced their goal.

Chris Hope capped an excellent personal performance by clearing up several dangerous looking Whites attacks as the Diamonds held on for the victory, although it took a magnificent injury time save by Roberts to deny Sangare the equaliser after Hope could only partly clear yet another long ball into the box. There was still time for Downer to pick up the yellow card he might have been awarded earlier as he challenged Clohessey near the touch-line.

Although the Diamonds have now played 42 games this season, Chris Hope has appeared in all of them, and yet his contribution to the team remains as significant as ever – and in this game it was at both ends of the pitch.

The Diamonds now have a clear week before Easter, with games at home to Kettering and then the trip to Histon in that three day period.

Final Score: Rushden & Diamonds 2 Salisbury City 1

Teams

Rushden & Diamonds (White): Dale Roberts, Jake Beecroft, Simon Downer, Chris Hope, Kurt Robinson, Neil Cousins, Andy Burgess (Capt), Rob Wolleaston (Nicky McNamara 73), Marcus Kelly, Lee Tomlin (Sam Smith 51), Michael Rankine

Subs Not Used: Jamie McGuinness, Josh Ford, Lewis Hilliard

Salisbury City (Sky Blue / Navy Blue): James Bittner, Jonathan Bass (Charles Ademeno 61), Luke Ruddick, Michael Brough, Djoumin Sangare, Ian Herring (Capt), Brian Dutton (Michael Fowler H/T), Darrell Clarke, Sean Clohessy, Daniel Webb, Charlie Griffin (Matt Tubbs 54)

Subs Not Used: Patrick Cox, Neil Martin

Goals : Chris Hope (31), Neil Cousins (42), Djoumin Sangare (86)

Yellow Cards : Darrell Clarke, Ian Herring, Marcus Kelly, Nicky McNamara, Simon Downer

Referee : Mr R Lee

Attendance : 1352 (Away 100)

Diamonds Man of the Match sponsored by Dane Smith and Family : Andy Burgess

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