Workington 0 Rushden & Diamonds 3

Rushden & Diamonds went through to the first round of the FA Cup with a 3-0 victory over Workington at a windy Borough Park in West Cumbria.

The Diamonds took the lead after 20 minutes. Lee Tomlin set off on a run down the right, and won the Diamonds first corner. Tomlin took the corner, and although the first shot from Craig Farrell was blocked Aaron O’Connor was on hand to slot home.

After Tomlin missed a penalty in the second half, the Diamonds made the game safe when Michael Corcoran tapped home a Craig Farrell free kick, and then the Diamonds captain Corcoran added a third in added time from the spot after Kurt Robinson had been fouled.

With the enforced changes due to Jamie Stuart’s suspension and Cliff Akurang being unavailable, Justin Edinburgh started with Farrell and O’Connor up front, with Simon Downer returning to the back four. Having a bench with seven substitutes allowed him to name Bobby Aisien on the bench as defensive cover, alongside recent signing Danny Mills. Michael Corcoran was given the captain’s armband, and this came as no surprise for those Diamonds fans who had seen how well he had handled the difficult situation at Ebbsfleet when Garry Hill was in charge. The home side were content with six substitutes, and made just one change to the side that had beaten Radcliffe Borough in the previous round.

The Reds were lined up numbered from 1 to 11 – certainly making it easier for those watching to work out who was playing where, and coupled with the traditional feel of Borough Park it brought back memories of the days before the commercialisation of the game began to overwhelm tradition.

The changeable Cumbrian weather meant there was a rainbow over the River Derwent early in the game, but the comments of the Radio Cumbria commentator, echoed by many of the locals, that this might be an omen for the home side looking for a pot of gold in the FA Cup were to prove incorrect. The weather was the biggest factor in the game, with the hosts failing to allow for the strong wind at their backs, with many long balls ending up going through to Abbey, or out for goal kicks.

Aaron O’Connor was looking lively after his performance at Nene Park the previous weekend, and a raid down the left won the Diamonds free kick in a dangerous position on the left. Craig Farrell had been given free-kick taking duties for this game, for any kicks within range of goal. Those Diamonds fans that had seen some of the pre-season friendlies, especially the Devon Tournament, were already aware of the danger that Craig created from such kicks, and this was the first of three excellent kicks that he took during the game – this one forcing a good save from Caig just inside his near post.

The first dangerous attack from the hosts came on 19 minutes, after they won a free kick when Johnny Wright went down rather easily as Curtis Osano brushed up behind him. The free kick was cleared to Lee Tomlin, who was covering the Diamonds right flank, and he ran from down that flank and won the Diamonds a corner. Tomlin took the kick, and Craig Farrell got in a first time shot that was blocked, but fell to Aaron O’Connor who coolly netted the opening goal.

Tomlin was giving Andy Langford a few challenges, especially when he showed how easily he could beat him for pace, but Langford did at least as well as Des Lyttle had done the previous weekend.

The other major chance of the half came when Neil Cousins did well to control a looping ball in his own half and get it forwards to Aaron O’Connor. The striker ran on and saw his shot blocked, then Craig Farrell forced a save from Caig with the rebound, with the ball went wide to Paul Terry who forced a further save from Caig and then hit the side-netting with the second attempt.

The last chance of the half fell to Max Porter, who is rarely wayward with his shooting, and once again forced a good save from Caig.

Half Time: Workington 0 Rushden & Diamonds 1

The Diamonds started the second half with three dangerous looking breaks inside the first five minutes, showing they were better able to adjust to having the wind at their backs, with both Farrell and O’Connor showing good control of the looping passes forward to them.

The Reds were more of a threat on goal in the second half, but their two best chances came as a result of defensive errors by the Diamonds defence. The first came when Max Porter squared the ball to Michael Corcoran, who appeared to be in plenty of space, but the ball was caught by the wind, meaning he had more ground to make up to reach it, and Ruttledge nipped in and started an attack down the right, which ended with Simon Downer making a great clearance with a diving header for a corner, as a cross by Armison appeared headed for his strike partner. This was the first corner the hosts had won in the game, highlighting the strength of the Diamonds back five to that point.

The Diamonds had a chance to relieve the concerns that the Reds might fight back and score an equaliser when they won a penalty on the hour mark, when a Simon Downer header appeared goal-bound before hitting the outstretched arm of Andy Langford. It was a clear penalty, although the home side claimed it was "ball to hand", the distance between the two players, and the fact his arm was away from his body left referee Khatib with an easy decision to make. Lee Tomlin stepped up to take the kick, but his approach to the ball always suggested he would get under it, and the ball flew high and wide of the goal, heading towards the River Derwent. The kick was very similar to Tomlin’s miss at Corby in pre-season, and meant that the pressure remained on the Conference side.

The missed seemed to inspire the home side, and Simon Downer was called into action to save his side with a great tackle on Wright after Kurt Robinson had conceded cheaply. Downer also linked up with Craig Farrell at the other end after Kurt Robinson won a corner off Wright at the other end – and a great turn by the striker was followed by a shot just wide.

A further chance to the home side almost came as a result of a misjudged header by Curtis Osano, but to the defender’s credit he chased back and cleared the danger as Gareth Arnison threatened the goal down the right channel.

The Diamonds brought on Danny Mills for his Diamonds debut, and the tall striker immediately looked dangerous with his runs down the left flank. The second of these drew a foul from Langford. Craig Farrell had been threatening with his free kicks all game, and this one delivered a reward in the form of a clinching goal, as the powerful angled kick from only 5 yards in from the touchline eluded the Reds wall as well the central defenders, and Michael Corcoran was able to ghost in on the far post and tap the ball home. The goal was scored on 81 minutes, and the 2-0 scoreline appeared to make the game safe for the Diamonds.

The final chance to the home side almost came as a result of a mix-up between Michael Corcoran and Nathan Abbey, as they tried to decide who should deal with a routine ball towards the edge of the penalty area, but somehow they both hesitated at the same time, and just as the defender tried to lob the ball to his keeper, Arnison nipped in and got his head to the ball. Luckily for the Diamonds he could only make a glancing contact, and the ball crept wide.

After the home side had put up a fighting performance, it was perhaps rather cruel to see them concede a second penalty in the third minute of added time, as Kurt Robinson received the ball back from a throw-in on the left, and was brought down in the box by Tom Aldred. Lee Tomlin wanted another attempt, but captain Michael Corcoran had been a regular penalty taker in his earlier career, and proved this by taking the kick himself, and slotting it coolly home.

It is a tribute to the Diamonds defence, especially given the windy conditions that they protected their penalty area so well that Nathan Abbey was rarely called into action, and he did not need to make a decisive save all game.

Full Time: Workington 0 Rushden & Diamonds 3

Although a few of the Reds fans expressed their disappointment to referee Khatib at the end of the game, they had contributed to the atmosphere in a fair and well fought cup-tie – despite the wind and the open nature of Borough Park making it difficult to create an intimidating environment for their visitors. The referee also deserves special mention, as he allowed the game to flow, kept his cards in his pocket until necessary, and was not afraid to aware two clear spot kicks to a visiting side.

As the game ended, the 40 or so travelling Diamonds fans came around to the tunnel area to cheer the players for their excellent all-around performance, braving the driving rain that had started with a vengeance just as the final whistle sounded.

This was an excellent team performance, perhaps the best since the previous game in Cumbria, with no one player standing out, and each of the 14 willing to work for each other.

The Diamonds players will now plan to be in front of their TVs on Sunday afternoon between 1 and 1:30pm to see who they will face in the First Round Proper on 7th November.

Teams

Workington: Tony Caig, Andy Langford, Gari Rowntree, Kyle May, Tom Aldred, Shaun Vipond, Phil McLuckie, Tony Hopper (Capt) (Callum Ruttledge 30), Jonny Wright, Gareth Arnison, Anthony Wright (Dan Shannon 77)

Subs Not Used: Darren Edmondson, Aaran Taylor, Lee Andrews, Andy Hardman.

Diamonds: Nathan Abbey, Michael Corcoran (Capt), Kurt Robinson, Max Porter (Mark Byrne 83), Simon Downer, Curtis Osano, Neil Cousins (Matt Pattison 73), Paul Terry, Craig Farrell, Aaron O’Connor (Danny Mills 76), Lee Tomlin

Subs Not Used: James Reid, Sam Smith, Dale Roberts, Bobby Aisien

Goals: O’Connor (20), Corcoran (81) , Corcoran (pen 90+3)

Yellow Cards: McLuckie (foul), Langford (dissent)

Referee: B Khatib

Attendance: 724 (away approx 40)

Diamonds Man of the Match: Simon Downer

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