Rushden & Diamonds 1 Mansfield Town 0

A late Cliff Akurang winner in injury time gave the Diamonds victory at Nene Park for the second Saturday running. The three points were well merited on the strength of the Diamonds play in the first quarter, but the dismissals of Lee Tomlin and Gary Mills changed the game totally, after the Diamonds had dominated that period. The Diamonds had nine great chances in those first 20 minutes, but had to rely on an Akurang header that was deflected over Alan Marriott by one of his defenders in the second minute of injury time.

Debutant goalkeeper Nathan Abbey made two great saves, one in each half, as the Diamonds kept a clean sheet. The Diamonds had 12 attempts on target in the game, with their opponents only managing to find the target with the two headed attempts by Robert Duffy that resulted in the Abbey saves.

As well as including Nathan Abbey for his first Diamonds appearance, manager Edinburgh brought back Simon Downer at the expense of the unfortunate Max Porter. Dale Roberts took a place on the bench, alongside Porter, Cousins, Reid and budding super-sub Cliff Akurang.

The Stags included ex-Diamonds Alan Marriott, Rob Duffy and Gary Mills in their starting line-up, with Daryl Clare on the bench.

The action started straight from the first whistle, with the Diamonds threatening down both flanks, with Pattison and Tomlin starting as they had done against Grays. Matt Pattison engineered the first chance as he cut inside and hit a short pass to Craig Farrell, who continues to show he has excellent touch and vision, and he laid the ball back to Mark Byrne, who hit a defence splitting pass to Aaron O’Connor, who was flagged offside.

The Diamonds then won the first of many corners on the right, and the ball was flicked across the area to Lee Tomlin, whose first shot was blocked, but he quickly adjusted to hit a second shot on the volley, with this one saved by Alan Marriott.

With barely five minutes gone the Diamonds had their third great chance, as Tomlin found O’Connor in the area, but his excellent turn was followed by a shot that was just left of the target.

The action continued down the right, with Farrell pressure forcing a defender to head into the path of Matt Pattison, who crossed for Tomlin to run in and hit a shot into the ground that bounced over the bar.

Farrell was causing the Stags problems through the middle, and he created the Diamonds fifth great chance for himself, after just nine minutes, as he ran past Jones who hesitated under a long ball, but chipped his attempt over the bar.

A Diamonds free kick saw Jamie Stuart flick the ball backwards with his head to Tomlin, but his attempt was caught by Marriott.

The Stags finally got out of their own half after 10 minutes, as Blair Sturrock ran down the left and hit a good cross onto the head of Rob Duffy, but Nathan Abbey silenced the taunts of the travelling fans with a great save.

Another Diamonds free kick again saw Jamie Stuart flick the ball on – with this time Craig Farrell seeing an attempt caught by Marriott.

With the game only 15 minutes old the Diamonds had their eighth great chance, with Matt Pattison shooting narrowly wide after being set up by Tomlin.

Shortly before the end of the first quarter the Diamonds could easily have got the deserved opening goal. Lee Tomlin picked up the ball mid way inside his own half, beating Matt Somner easily, and seeing him quickly give up the chase, he ran on and once again left Silk flat-footed as he cut in from the left to hit a powerful shot that had Marriott well beaten, but saw the shot bounce back off the post.

Paul Terry also got into the goalmouth action as he went close with a header, and Aaron O’Connor saw a good run and 1-2 with Craig Farrell end up with his shot hitting the side netting as the Diamonds were rampant. Mark Byrne also went close from 20 yards as he latched on to a defensive header from a corner.

However, as the game neared the 30 minute mark, the whole complexion changed. Ex-Diamond Gary Mills launched into a challenge on Lee Tomlin that looked more than worthy of a red card, leaving Tomlin incensed, and he got up to remonstrate with Mills. As other players got involved, referee Joyce pulled out his red card and waved it at both Mills and Tomlin.

The Mills challenge was a particularly poignant one for those Diamonds fans who had seen him stretchered off at Oxford following a challenge, but the net effect of the two red cards meant that the Diamonds period of total dominance was ended, and the game was rather even and uneventful from then on – especially in comparison to those first 30 minutes.

The Stags made a substitution to rearrange their 10 men, with Steven Istead replacing wide-left midfielder Ryan Williams.

It quickly became clear that the Mills incident had a bigger effect on the Diamonds, as their dozen or so chances prior to the dismissals were a distant memory by half-time.

The Stags desperation to get back into the game was highlighted in a number of incidents where their strikers might have been described as “going down rather easily”, notably Blair Sturrock when he was being shepherded away from the area by Curtis Osano, and he was rather lucky to escape a yellow card.

Referee Joyce did show cards to Briscoe after he appeared to react to a challenge from Kurt Robinson, and then to Matt Somner. This card was in response to a foul committed at the start of a move that the referee allowed to continue to the Diamonds advantage, but Steve Istead would have to consider himself fortunate to not see yellow for the tackle that ended that move, or for a similar poor challenge a few minutes later.

Half-Time: Rushden & Diamonds 0 Mansfield Town 0

The second half was an even affair, with the Diamonds switching to play with three at the back, allowing Kurt Robinson to push into left midfield.

Neither side created many clear-cut chances in the second half, with the tempo of the game significantly slowed. Nathan Abbey was called upon to make his second excellent save of the game, again from a Robert Duffy header. At the other end Alan Marriott saved from a Craig Farrell shot and Kurt Robinson seemed to be enjoying being pushed further forwards as he broke through the middle before being well challenged on the edge of the box.

One talking point was the yellow card awarded to Nathan Abbey early in the half when he risked catching a long ball on the edge of his penalty area, and was adjudged to have accidentally strayed outside. As there was no immediate threat on goal, the yellow card appeared the correct decision. It was from the resultant free kick that he made his save from the Duffy header. so he had quickly made amends.

Both sides completed their allowed substitutions during the half, but neither side looked like creating the necessary chance to score the winner. The Stags had more possession than they had seen in the first half, but were unable to add to their total of two efforts on target.

Just after the referee announced there would be three minutes of added time, Jamie Stuart showed his strength and determination to win a double tackle near the half-way line, the second part of which saw him on the ground, but still able to get the ball forward to Max Porter on the left. Porter took the ball forwards and won a throw in off Gary Silk, who had seen such a torrid 30 minutes facing Lee Tomlin. Kurt Robinson went forward to take the throw, which was then laid back to Jamie Stuart to fire a cross towards the far post. Cliff Akurang rose well above his marker and headed towards goal, with the ball deflecting off the head of Luke Jones and over the despairing leap of Alan Marriott.

There was still time for referee Joyce to issue a further card as Mark Byrne picked up a yellow for a foul challenge,

Although the goal tally did not match that of the previous weekend, the entertainment at Nene Park continues at a level not seen for several seasons, especially in that first 30 minute period.

Full Time: Rushden & Diamonds 1 Mansfield Town 0

Manager Edinburgh was delighted with the result, the clean sheet, and the attacking domination of the first quarter, although he had expected some of those chances to be converted. He also confirmed the club are considering an appeal against the Tomlin booking, given his reaction to such a poor challenge did not involve any violent conduct.

The Diamonds now have a short break before the long trip to Gateshead for the game on Tuesday evening.

Rushden & Diamonds (White / Blue): Nathan Abbey, Curtis Osano, Kurt Robinson, Paul Terry (Max Porter 75), Jamie Stuart (Capt), Simon Downer, Lee Tomlin, Mark Byrne, Craig Farrell (Cliff Akurang 58), Aaron O’Connor, Matt Pattison (James Reid 67)

Subs Not Used: Dale Roberts, Neil Cousins

Mansfield Town (Yellow / White): Alan Marriott, Gary Mills, Luke Jones, Scott Garner, Louis Briscoe, Matt Somner, Rob Duffy (Jake Speight 58), Ryan Williams (Steven Istead 29), Craig Armstrong, Gary Silk, Blair Sturrock (Kyle Mix 74)

Subs Not Used: Daryl Clare, Luke Graham

Goal: Akurang (90+2)

Yellow Cards: Briscoe (foul), Somner (persistent fouls), Abbey (handling outside area), Stuart (dissent), Istead (persistent fouls), Byrne (foul)

Red Cards : Mills (foul) Tomlin (reaction to foul) – both after 28 minutes.

Referee: Mr Ross Joyce (Cleveland)

Attendance: 1822 (away 506)

Diamonds Man of the Match: Nathan Abbey

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