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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