Rushden & Diamonds 0 Salisbury City 2

The Diamonds saw their 2009-10 season get off to a disappointing start as they slipped to their first ever defeat by Salisbury City by two goals to nil.

An own goal by Jamie Stuart right at the start of the second half gave the visitors the lead as his header intended for Dale Roberts looped over the keeper’s head. The visitors then scored a second by Christopher Flood as the game entered injury time, and then Simon Downer was given a red card after a tussle with Matt Tubbs just before the final whistle.

Aaron O’Connor had missed a penalty early in the first half after Lee Tomlin had been fouled inside the first minute. Although the Diamonds created a significant number of chances as they pushed for the equaliser, with Craig Farrell hitting the post as soon as he joined the action, they could not get on the scoresheet.

Although the result was disappointing, with a number of chances being wasted, Diamonds fans will remember the despair of the defeat at Crawley on opening day, or even the bore-draw at home to Kidderminster two seasons earlier, where the warning signs were already there for the season ahead. In this instance the positives were masked by the penalty miss, the own goal and then the events in the last few minutes – but the Diamonds have a chance to show that they can live up to early promise with their two away games in the next week.

On a pleasant Northamptonshire afternoon the Diamonds started with Cliff Akurang and Aaron O’Connor up front, with Lee Tomlin, Nick McNamara, Rob Wolleaston and James Reid in midfield. Tommy Widdrington was able to name 10 of his first choice line-up with only Luke Ruddick missing, and with many of the side the Diamonds faced last season.

The first half started with a bang, as within 50 seconds the Diamonds had been awarded a penalty, with Lee Tomlin hauled down as he burst past a defender. Aaron O’Connor stepped up for what looked like being a very early debut goal, but he blazed over the bar and into one of the top rows of the AirWair stand.

Tomlin then came close two minutes later when he controlled a defensive header on his chest and hit a powerful dipping volley that was just over the bar.

The game was still not 10 minutes old when Aaron O’Connor almost made amends for his earlier error, as he ran onto a McNamara through ball towards the left corner of the six-yard box, but his shot was wide of the far post, and too far ahead of Cliff Akurang for the striker to get a touch.

After such a bright first ten minutes the game became scrappy with Nick McNamara picking up the first Diamonds yellow card of the season for a foul on Robert Sinclair. Salisbury keeper Bittner also picked up a yellow when he brought down Cliff Akurang as he beat the Salisbury offside trap for one of the few times in the first half. Several other Salisbury players appeared to pick up “final warnings” from referee Brown – with striker Matthews appearing to have his second such warning shortly before half-time.

Aaron O’Connor also did well to beat a player and get in a shot that was parried by Bittner, and Jamie Stuart did well to break clear of his markers to get a free header at the sole Diamonds corner of the half, but he could only place the ball wide. The Diamonds forward line struggled to free themselves from the visitors’ offside trap, which was especially frustrating when it appeared they could have given the defenders a yard start and still been able to get to the ball.

The Whites had few attacking opportunities, but in the last two minutes of the half they came close from a free kick after Simon Downer slipped, and then when Sinclair laid the ball off to Matthews, but Dale Roberts gather both attempts.

Half-Time : Rushden & Diamonds 0 Salisbury City 0

The second half started with the Diamonds going behind as quickly as they might have gone ahead in the first. What looked like a routine exercise by the Diamonds defence to clear up after thwarting an attack ended with the ball in the back of the net as Jamie Stuart  committed to heading the ball back to Roberts, expecting the keeper to be on his line, but the ball looped over his head for an own goal.

To their credit, the Diamonds heads did not drop, and they started to dominate play winning a number of corners and free kicks in dangerous positions. Although several were wasted via short corner or free kick moves, when the balls were put into the box the chances were there for the taking. From one Tomlin cross Simon Downer might have done better as the ball took Bittner by surprise and went over his head.

Rob Wolleaston should have done better when put clear by a through ball through the middle from James Reid where he showed his forward line how to beat the offside trap, and ran clear on goal, but rather than shooting he tried to take a touch past Bittner, and the keeper was able to stick out his arm and knock the ball away from danger.

The frustration of the Diamonds inability to read the offside trap continued, but when Craig Farrell replaced Cliff Akurang the move almost paid immediate dividends, as the striker played a 1-2 with Aaron O’Connor and saw his shot deflect off the side of the post and away to safety.

Lee Tomlin tried a shot that was well over, and then he chipped the ball across the box for O’Connor but the striker couldn’t quite connect. At the other end the visitors still threatened, with Sean Clohessy shooting narrowly wide, and then Matt Tubbs twisting Jamie Stuart into a slip before hitting a shot that Dale Roberts saved.

Craig Farrell was unselfishly setting up chances for players around him, and from one of these Rob Wolleaston saw a shot deflected to Lee Tomlin ,who could only blaze wide. Farrell then made a raid down the left and squared the ball back to O’Connor, whose first touch took his wide, but he was still able to swivel and hit a powerful shot that Bittner did well to block. Farrell also saw a header go over the bar as he got on the end of an O’Connor cross.

Tomlin did finally get one of the short corner routines to work, as he was able to hit a low cross across the box that none of the players in the box were able to get on the end of.

Curtis Osano was then almost guilty of a basic error as the last defender when he tried to beat his man on the half-way line, and although perhaps the victim of a poor bounce he was robbed by Spencer who set Matt Tubbs racing clear, but Dale Roberts was quickly off his line for a ball he looked second favourite to reach, and kicked the ball clear. After Roberts had also pulled off a fine save from a Clarke shot the signs were clear that Salisbury might force a second goal, and so it was just as the match was entering injury time, as Tubbs found space on the right to slide ball across to Chris Flood who netted easily.

There was still time for the Diamonds day to get worse though, as Simon Downer and Matt Tubbs were involved in a challenge and related tussling which saw both players pick up a yellow card, and since Downer had seen yellow earlier in the half he also received a red card, as Tubbs must have reflected on the referee’s leniency towards the visitor’s challenges in the first half that might easily have seen him awarded an earlier yellow.

Full-Time : Rushden & Diamonds 0 Salisbury City 2

The Diamonds have just a couple of days to review the lessons learned from this defeat before setting off on a road trip to York on Tuesday evening, and then Eastbourne next weekend. Simon Downer will be suspended for that YorkCity game.

Diamonds: Dale Roberts, Curtis Osano, Kurt Robinson, Jamie Stuart (Capt), Simon Downer, Nick McNamara, Rob Wolleaston, Lee Tomlin, Aaron O’Connor, Cliff Akurang, James Reid

Subs : Craig Farrell (for Akurang 60), Sam Smith (for Reid 70), Max Porter (for McNamara 73). Not Used : Neil Cousins, Michael Corcoran.

Salisbury City: James Bittner, Sean Clohessy, Stuart Anderson, Jamie Turley, Daniel Webb, Robbie Sinclair, Darrell Clarke, Robert Matthews, Matthew Tubbs, Ryan O’Hara, Daniel Spence

Subs : Chris Flood (for O’Hara 69), Patrick Cox (for Webb 83), Bradley Gray (for Tubbs 90+2). Not Used: Ben Osman, Toby Osman

Goals : Stuart (og) 46, Flood (90)

Yellow Cards : McNamara, Bittner, Downer, Matthews, Tubbs

Red Card : Downer

Referee : Mark Brown

Attendance : 1272 (away 83)

Match Gallery Pictures courtesy of Mal Swinden

Diamonds Man of the Match : Kurt Robinson

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