Brighton and Hove Albion 3 Rushden & Diamonds 2

The Diamonds unbeaten run of eight matches came to an end in desperately unfortunate circumstances as they slipped out of the FA Cup to a late Brighton goal at the Withdean Stadium. An early goal by Liam Dickinson was cancelled out by a solo goal from Lee Tomlin. The Seagulls took the lead again when Nicky Forster scored from the spot, and an eventful first half ended 2-2 after Aaron O’Connor beat two men in the area to curl the ball into the net. The Diamonds had much the better of the second half, but a mistake in the centre of the field saw Nicky Forster set up Liam Dickinson to score the winner.

The Diamonds lost Cousins to a serious looking leg injury early in the first half, and his replacement Matt Pattison also had to be replaced before the break after picking up a facial injury.

With Jefferson Louis cup-tied and Paul Terry suspended, Justin Edinburgh switched Mark Byrne to central midfield, and brought in Neil Cousins on the right. Simon Downer was preferred at right back to Michael Corcoran. Aaron O’Connor and Craig Farrell were chosen up-front, with Sam Smith joining Cliff Akurang on the bench. There was also a recall to the bench for Nicky McNamara.

The game had still to settle down when the hosts took the lead after 3 minutes. A long ball over the top by El-Abd caused confusion between Jamie Stuart and Nathan Abbey, allowing Nicky Forster to work the ball back to Liam Dickinson who fired into an unguarded net.

Neil Cousins was stretchered from the field before the Diamonds equalised. A magnificent crossfield ball from Curtis Osano found Lee Tomlin on the left, who ran past Gavin Hoyte and planted the ball under keeper Smith after 14 minutes. Abbey made partial amends for his earlier error with a smart save from Adam Virgo.

Midway through the half the hosts took the lead again when Curtis Osano eased over Nicky Forster in the area, and he got up and slotted home the spot kick.

Lee Tomlin was giving Gavin Hoyte a torrid time, such that Gus Poyet switched the Arsenal man to the other flank, but Justin Edinburgh cannily followed suit and swapped Tomlin and Pattison over.

The Diamonds showed they weren’t beaten, and after this switch Lee Tomlin forced Hoyte to concede a corner on the right. Although the Seagulls had a chance to clear the danger, Curtis Osano nipped in to to win the ball, which was then worked out to Aaron O’Connor outside the left edge of the area. O’Connor beat two men as he ran into the box, then curled the ball into the far corner.

The hosts had a number of chances to score a third goal, with Forster shooting straight at Abbey when clean through, and Abbey had to save a ricochet off Curtis Osano, before watching another ricochet off Elphick go over the bar, as the home side threatened with their dead-ball opportunities. The Diamonds defence was looking vulnerable to the pace of Dickinson, as well as the aerial threat from both strikers.

Matt Pattison had replaced the injured Neil Cousins, but he too had to be replaced by Cliff Akurang before half-time, after he picked up a knock to the face, with Simon Parsell unable to stem the bleeding.

Half-Time: Brighton & Hove Albion 2 Rushden & Diamonds 2

The second half saw the Diamonds take control for a long period, dominating possession with significant territorial advantage, although they struggled to create any clear-cut chances, other than a number of freekicks and corners. The best attempt came when Jamie Stuart got ahead of his marker at the near post to flick on a Tomlin corner, but the ball went just wide of goal.

The weather changed rapidly during the half, with the Diamonds fans getting a soaking for the second weekend running, but this did at least see the stewards who had been paying them close attention in the first half retreat to take cover from the rain.

As so often happens, the team that has been dominating play is made to pay if they do not convert their pressure into a goal, and so it proved for the Diamonds. Simon Downer won the ball in midfield, but could not see an immediate outlet for a pass, and while he dwelt on the ball it was taken off his toes and swept out to Nicky Forster on the left. Although an initial challenge looked like it might clear the danger, the ball broke straight to Liam Dickinson, who had an easy task to slot home the winner.

There was one final moment of controversy, when the referee stopped play some moments after a challenge between Hoyte and Tomlin, with the Diamonds in possession, as the Brighton player appeared injured. With the trainer on the pitch Hoyte got up to remonstrate with Tomlin, then fell to the floor again, and as a result referee Gibbs allowed the Seagulls to restart play as if a free kick had been awarded, rather than returning it to the Diamonds.

The final whistle signalled that Brighton will be in the draw for the next round of the FA Cup, but they will certainly feel fortunate they do not at least have to face a replay with the Diamonds beforehand.

Full-Time: Brighton & Hove Albion 3 Rushden & Diamonds 2

The disappointment of the players at the end of the game was clear. They had scored the best two goals of a game against a League One side, yet had allowed them three soft goals. The Diamonds fans gave them a great ovation, despite getting thoroughly soaked during the second half, with no sign of the waterproofs being issued as they had been to the Leeds fans last weekend. The trip home for those loyal fans wouldn’t have been the best in the appalling weather, with even the 10 minute walk to the station being enough for a further drenching, but each one would have been proud of the performance on and off the pitch.

The Diamonds now have a couple of days to regroup before they face York City at Nene Park on Tuesday evening. Neil Cousins will be unavailable for that game after leaving the stadium on crutches with what is believed to be a ligament injury.

Teams

Brighton & Hove Albion: Graeme Smith, Gavin Hoyte, Adam Virgo, Tommy Elphick, Adam El-Abd, Kevin McLeod (Gary Hart 50), Elliott Bennett, Andrew Crofts, Alan Navarro (Gary Dicker 59), Nicky Forster, Liam Dickinson

Subs Not Used: Josh Pelling, Jake Wright, Dean Cox, James Tunnicliffe, Craig Davies

Rushden & Diamonds: Nathan Abbey, Simon Downer, Kurt Robinson, Max Porter, Jamie Stuart (Capt), Curtis Osano, Mark Byrne, Neil Cousins (Matt Pattison 9, (Cliff Akurang 45+2)), Aaron O’Connor (Nicky McNamara 78), Craig Farrell, Lee Tomlin

Subs Not Used: Sam Smith, Dale Roberts, Michael Corcoran, Jack Ainsley

Goals: Dickinson (1-0, 3mins), Tomlin (1-1, 14mins), Forster (pen) (2-1, 22mins), O’Connor (2-2, 40mins), Dickinson (3-2, 86mins)

Yellow Cards: Porter (4), Osano (21), Stuart (45+4), Ed-Abd

Referee: Phil Gibbs

Attendance: 3638 (away 261)

Diamonds Man of the Match: Lee Tomlin

Match Gallery Pictures courtesy of Mal Swinden

Cambridge United 2 Rushden & Diamonds 2

 

The Diamonds put on another good performance at the Abbey Stadium, but they were unable to hold onto a 2-0 half-time lead as both teams took advantage of having the wind behind them. Goals by Lee Tomlin and Jefferson Louis gave the Diamonds a 2-0 lead in the first-half as they played with the wind at their backs, but a 35 yard strike from Paul Carden brought the U’s back into the game after the break, and Brian Saah headed home a Courtney Pitt free kick for the equaliser.

One major disappointment for the Diamonds was the yellow card shown to Paul Terry for dissent which will mean he will miss the FA Cup game at the weekend. In fact the Diamonds had four players booked, all for dissent of one kind or another.

Jefferson Louis and Aaron O’Connor were brought in up front , and Lee Tomlin replaced Matt Pattison. The U’s brought in Courtney Pitt and Darryl Coakley.

The Diamonds started very brightly, with Lee Tomlin and Kurt Robinson combining on the left to see Robinson burst into the area, only for keeper Potter to smother the shot.

The visitors opened the scoring after 12 minutes when Lee Tomlin beat two men and was pulled down by Parkinson for a free kick. He took the kick himself, and, spotting that keeper Potter was poorly positioned, struck the ball straight into the left hand side of the net..

The U’s had a couple of glorious chances to equalise, notably when both Andy Parkinson and Chris Holroyd broke clear, but Parkinson blasted over rather than squaring a simple ball to Holroyd for a tap-in. The hosts almost had another chance when Nathan Abbey failed to hold onto a Pitt freekick, but the follow-up shot was blocked. Another scare came when Michael Corcoran was shepherding a long ball towards Abbey, but it was clearly not going to reach the keeper in his area, and Pitt nipped in and squared to Holroyd who snatched at his shot and saw it go wide.

Tomlin was finding space on the left, and referee Barrett was giving him little protection, allowing fouls by Parkinson, Saah and Gleeson to go unpunished – yet he booked Paul Terry for dissent following an Osano challenge.

The Diamonds made their hosts pay for their poor finishing on 26 minutes when a great passing moving involving Tomlin, O’Connor, Louis and Byrne saw Byrne break clear on the right and hit a perfect low cross for Jefferson Louis to stroke home for his debut goal for the club.

There was still time for Mark Byrne to have a long range effort on goal after Potter came out of his area and mishit a clearance, but the first half ended with the Diamonds 2-0 ahead.

Half-Time: Cambridge United 0 Rushden & Diamonds 2

The Diamonds could have clinched a third goal right at the start of the second half, that might have wrapped the game up. Tomlin and Robinson played a neat one-two that allowed Robinson to break clear and hit a low cross that keeper Potter caught just ahead of Jefferson Louis. Another slick move a few minutes later saw Tomlin and O’Connor swap passes, and although the intended pass to Mark Byrne was cut out, a Jefferson Louis shot was defelcted away for a corner.

Although referee Barrett did finally take action against the constant fouls on Lee Tomlin, by booking Dan Gleeson for a late challenge, it has to be questioned whether the defender’s further action of grabbing Tomlin’s head as he tried to haul him up to avoid the inevitable yellow card might have merited further punishment. Other fouls on Louis and O’Connor also went unpunished as the frustration of the Diamonds team and management grew.

The hosts then started to use the strong wind to their advantage, and just before the hour mark they pulled a goal back out of nothing. The U’s gained possession in midfield and slipped the ball to Paul Carden about 40 yards from goal. The U’s captain took a step forwards and hit a powerful shot that went into the top left-hand corner of the net, leaving Abbey with little chance.

The home fans were critical of the Diamonds players failure to keep their feet when foul tackles brought them to the ground, but the clearest example of a player "going down easily" of the whole game came after 63 minutes when Danny Crow crumbled under the lightest of touches from Jamie Stuart, but referee Barrett was swayed by the protests of the home crowd, and gave the free kick. The impressive Courtney Pitt took the kick, placing it perfectly on the head of Brian Saah, and the tall defender headed home the equaliser.

With 25 minutes to go, there was concern that the hosts might maintain the ascendancy they had gained in the last 10 minutes, and go on to win the game, but the Diamonds players redoubled their efforts and managed to quieten the game back down, so there were a limited number of clear-cut chances in the remainder of the game.

It is credit to the Cambridge defence that the Diamonds midfield could not take advantage of the wind holding the ball up to hit the ball over the defence for a striker to run onto. The nearest the Diamonds came to retaking the lead was when Lee Tomlin slipped a quick free kick through to substitute Cliff Akurang, but the striker’s shot was deflected wide.

Full-Time: Cambridge United 2 Rushden & Diamonds 2

The Diamonds will now start to focus on the FA Cup tie at the weekend, but will also have the visit of York City to Nene Park next Tuesday evening in mind.

Cambridge United: Danny Potter, Dan Gleason, Brian Saah, Wayne Hatswell, Darryl Coakley, Andy Parkinson (Lee Phillips 58), Jai Reason, Paul Carden (capt), Courtney Pitt, Chris Holroyd, Danny Crow

Subs Not Used, Rory McAuley, Adam Marriott, Laurie Walker, Sam Ives

Rushden & Diamonds: Nathan Abbey, Michael Corcoran (Simon Downer 77), Jamie Stuart (Capt), Curtis Osano, Kurt Robinson, Mark Byrne, Max Porter, Paul Terry, Aaron O’Connor (Craig Farrell 86), Jefferson Louis (Cliff Akurang 68), Lee Tomlin

Subs Not Used: Neil Cousins, Dale Roberts

Goals: Tomlin (0-1, 13mins), Louis (0-2 26mins), Carden (1-2, 60mins), Saah (2-2 65mins)

Yellow Cards: Terry (dissent), Reason (foul), Carden (foul), Gleeson (foul), Stuart (dissent), Tomlin (dissent – kicking ball away), Robinson (obstructing free kick)

Referee : Wayne Barrett

Attendance : 2612 (away 253)

Diamonds Man of the Match: Kurt Robinson

Salisbury City 1 Rushden & Diamonds 3

The Diamonds winning streak continued as they battled difficult conditions on their way to victory over Salisbury City on a wet afternoon in Wiltshire. A fairly uneventful game burst into life in the last 15 minutes, as Paul Terry gave the Diamonds the lead, rifling home from the edge of the box after good work by Kurt Robinson.. Substitute Aaron O’Connor made it 2-0 when he flicked home a Byrne freekick with his first touch of the game. The hosts got a goal back in controversial fashion when Darrell Clarke fired home after a clear handball by Danny Webb. Any thoughts of a Salisbury comeback quickly disappeared when O’Connor fired home after breaking clear.

Matt Pattison was brought into the side to play in left midfield, replacing the suspended Lee Tomlin, with James Reid having returned to Nottingham Forest by mutual consent in order to find first team football elsewhere. Otherwise the Diamonds were unchanged, with Simon Downer and Aaron O’Connor returning to the bench, with Danny Mills loan having ended.

The hosts had kindly allowed the Diamonds fans to take shelter by sharing part of the home terrace, with the rain increasing as the first half went on, with the Diamonds attacking that end with the wind behind them. The weather dictated that the first half was a scrappy affair, with a number of players struggling to keep their feet. The hosts had an early chance when Nathan Abbey palmed away a Matt Tubbs header on the end of a Brown cross.

The Diamonds then dominated play for the next 30 minutes, with an Akurang shot well saved by Bittner, and a Pattison shot going wide left of goal. Max Porter made a couple of good runs through the centre, but couldn’t provide the finish needed. Craig Farrell was making good flick-ons for Akurang or one of the midfield players, and he had a good chance himself when he outwitted the offside trap to break clear, but the slippery surface meant he had to check back and was tackled.

Towards the end of the half Tubbs had a further couple of chances, but just before the break Mark Byrne had the best chance of the period as he broke clear, but he shot wide from the corner of the area.

Half Time: Salisbury City 0 Rushden & Diamonds 0

The Diamonds had an early chance in the second half, as Paul Terry hit a great ball that set Cliff Akurang free, but the striker was stopped by Jamie Turley. The home side then had their best period of the game for the next 15 minutes, with Abbey saving well from a Clohessy shot and a Tubbs freekick that he juggled slightly.

Matt Pattison had played for 120 minutes in midweek, and on such a strength sapping pitch it was no surprise he was the first to be replaced by the Diamonds, with Neil Cousins taking his place on the left.

Referee Martin was making sensible adjustments to allow for the conditions, but he had little alternative but to show a yellow card to Cliff Akurang after he slid into James Bittner, taking his legs, for the second time in the game. Michael Corcoran was rather unfortunate to pick up a yellow for “accumulated fouls” when the tackle in question looked clean. This made the Diamonds management team make the sensible decision to bring on Simon Downer in place of Corcoran, with Downer taking the right back role.

Mark Byrne was once again impressing with his runs, his tackling and his general commitment, and it was this commitment that led to him working the ball past Ruddick and getting in the best cross of the game that was scrambled clear. He followed this with another good run and cross that Cliff Akurang couldn’t quite reach.

Kurt Robinson was getting forward well, despite the conditions, and he linked with Neil Cousins before getting in an excellent cross that Darrell Clarke could only get clear to Paul Terry who fired home high into the net for his debut goal for the club, running over to celebrate with his team-mates with a slide on the ground in front of their management team.

The Whites made an immediate change, bringing on ex-Diamond Danny Webb, but it was the Diamonds who continued to dominate. Referee Martin then had to show a card to Bittner when he took Akurang’s legs when he broke clear, but as the offence was towards the touch-line, the referee decided Akurang wasn’t clear on goal, so a yellow card would suffice. That was a signal for the Diamonds to replace the hard working Craig Farrell by Aaron O’Connor, and from the resultant free kick taken by Mark Byrne, O’Connor got a subtle flick to send the ball past Bittner with his first touch.

Referee Martin once again did well to calm things down after a flash-point between Downer and Ruddick near the touchline, with opinions divided on who fouled whom.

Suddenly the game had gone from the rather stale affair seen in the first 70 minutes to one where both sides were threatening to score, but the next goal came in controversial fashion. Sean Clohessy had deservedly won the man of the match award for the home team, and he fired in a cross from the right which saw a scramble and Danny Webb clearly raise his arm and control the ball – but referee Martin waved play on, allowing Darrell Clarke to fire home. Unsurprisingly several Diamonds players appealed to the referee given how blatant an offence it was, with Nathan Abbey picking up a yellow card for his protests, as a deserved clean sheet had been lost.

The Diamonds made amends for such a clear injustice in the best possible way though, as from the kick-off they worked the ball forwards on the left for Aaron O’Connor to take the ball confidently forwards and fire home.

The game ended with the water starting to show in puddles on the pitch, but once again the Salisbury groundstaff must take credit for their efforts – in fact the whole club had gone out of their way to accommodate their visitors on a difficult afternoon weatherwise. Some of the Diamonds fans had chosen to “break cover” in the second half, to support their team behind the goal they were attacking – and although they would have been soaked, they were rewarded with the three goals and another away victory.

Full Time: Salisbury City 1 Rushden & Diamonds 3

The debate about the Webb hand-ball continued after the game – and it was certainly as blatant (if not more so) than the Thierry Henry incident in midweek, although less deliberate. It is assumed that the three match officials must have missed seeing it, so the debate in this instance is not about “video evidence” but whether the fourth official should be able to advise the referee in these circumstances – he would clearly have seen the incident, having the same angle as the management teams and the press-box, but was not allowed to inform the referee.

The seven game winning run is tremendous credit to everyone at the club, especially when it came on the back of three successive defeats, but the four away wins in a row are also a reward for those travelling Diamonds fans who have stuck with the team on the road, despite a poor return on their travels for the past five seasons. The four away wins in a row is the best winning run in major cup and league games since the team won four at the start of their push to the Conference title in early 2001. Prior to that the team won seven away games in a row at the start of that 2000-01 season.

Once again the team have coped with a game in difficult weather conditions – with the away wins at Barrow, Chester and Workington also showing how well the team is able to adapt to the conditions.

The team now have a short break before the challenging trip to Cambridge on Tuesday evening, which is another venue that the Diamonds have struggled at over the seasons. The seven game winning streak is the best since the start of the 1998-99 season, when the team added victory in the first seven games of that season to the victory in the final game of the previous season – making it eight in a row as the record for major cup and league games for the club. Hopefully there will be a good turnout on Tuesday to see the team try to equal that record.

Salisbury City: James Bittner, Sean Clohessy, Luke Ruddick, Stuart Anderson, Jamie Turley, Darrell Clarke (Capt), Matt Tubbs, Ryan O’Hara (Rob Sinclair 70), Bradley Gray (Daniel Webb 79), Lee Brown (Chris Flood 58), Ryan Tafazolli

Subs Not Used: Patrick Cox, Toby Osman

Rushden & Diamonds: Nathan Abbey, Michael Corcoran (Simon Downer 70), Jamie Stuart (Capt), Curtis Osano, Kurt Robinson, Mark Byrne, Max Porter, Paul Terry, Matt Pattison (Neil Cousins 66), Craig Farrell (Aaron O’Connor 80), Cliff Akurang.

Subs Not Used: Nicky McNamara, Dale Roberts.

Goals: Terry (0-1,79mins), O’Connor (0-2,81mins), Clarke (1-2, 89mins), O’Connor (1-3, 90+2)

Yellow Cards: Akurang (foul), Corcoran (repeated fouls), Bittner (foul), Abbey (dissent)

Referee : Richard Martin

Attendance : 840 (away approx 75)

Diamonds Man of the Match: Mark Byrne

For video highlights click here.

Rushden & Diamonds 1 Kettering 2

Rushden & Diamonds 1 Kettering 2 (after extra time) (played at Kettering)

There is an old clich̩ in football that a "win can feel like a defeat" Рbut the Diamonds came away from Rockingham Road feeling the total opposite, as although they lost the game, it felt like they were the winners on the night of this Hillier Cup tie, despite going down to a 2-1 defeat. Their team included six players that are yet to taste full first team action, another that has only appeared as a substitute, and even their substitutes were youth team players, yet they held a full-strength Kettering side that is flying high in the Blue Square Premier for 90 minutes, and only lost to a goal in the second period of extra time.

The Poppies squad was almost identical to the one that faced Cambridge United at the weekend, with the addition of Jean-Paul Marna. That meant the Diamonds youngsters were facing the likes of Darren Wrack who has over 350 Football League appearances, and a strike partnership of Damian Spencer (250 Football League appearances) and Anthony Elding who was recently with Leeds United and Crewe. Moses Ashikodi was waiting on the bench to join a strikeforce that was facing the likes of George Artemi, who has just turned 17, and is still a first year apprentice at the club.

An impressive crowd saw the Poppies take to the field for the first time under the management of Lee Harper, who was watching from the bench.

The Diamonds lined up with Joe Day in goal, Jack Ainsley at right back, Simon Downer and George Artemi at centre back and Aynsley McDonald at left back. Matt Pattison was in right midfield, Connor Hayes and Nicky McNamara in central midfield with James Reid on the left. Nabil Shariff started up-front alongside Danny Mills.

The first half saw the Diamonds youngsters matching their more experienced rivals. The Poppies took the lead after 12 minutes when Damian Spencer headed home a Danny Thomas cross. The Diamonds equalised after 37 minutes when Nicky McNamara hit a shot from 30 yards that went in-off the underside of the bar. Both sides had chances for further goals, with Elding guilty of two bad misses, and Matt Pattison impressing with strong run, but rather wayward finishing. Up-front young Nabil Shariff was linking up well with his midfield – who were happy to play the ball to feet, resulting in some nice passing moves.

Other action in the first half saw Joe Day was called into action to save a powerful shot from Danny Thomas, and at the other end a mistake by Wrack saw Shariff shoot narrowly wide.

The second half saw far fewer chances, although the Poppies had the lions share of possession, after introducing Moses Ashikodi into the action at half-time, but they could not force Joe Day into many saves. The running of Connor Hayes and Aynsley McDonald helped to ensure their chances were mostly only half-chances, and Simon Downer marshalled the otherwised inexperienced back four well.

The score was thus still 1-1 as the game moved into extra-time, and it was perhaps at this stage that the extra fitness of the full-time professionals began to tell, against their rivals from the Diamonds Youth Team setup, coupled with others who were lacking match action in recent weeks. It was thus to the Diamonds XI’s credit that they managed to keep the scores level until midway through the second period of extra-time, when a cross from the right was met by an overhead kick from Damian Spencer which Joe Day did well to keep out, but this meant Ashikodi had a simple tap-in for the winner. The Diamonds brought on youngsters to replace Hayes, Mills and Reid, who were visibly tiring.

Both sides had penalty claims turned down in the latter stages of the game, and perhaps it was a sign of the Kettering fans nervousness that their first-team squad might slip to defeat against such inexperienced rivals that they challenged referee Miller’s decisions so vociferously – indeed there was an element of "cry wolf" about this, as after challenging so many obviously correct decisions they couldn’t highlight their protests when Jack Ainsley saw the ball brush his arm in the area.

Although the Kettering fans were happy to applaud their team off the pitch at the end, it was perhaps with a sense of relief that they had narrowly beaten such a young and makeshift team. The Diamonds fans and management on the other hand, could proudly applaud all 14 players who had fought so bravely against a group of players who have fought to second place in the Blue Square Premier, and most of whom who will face Leeds United in 10 days time.

The average age of the Diamonds players was only 19, with eleven teenagers in the 14 that played (and of the three "senior" players, Nicky McNamara had his 20th birthday last week). Paul Driver highlighted the benefits the youth team players are getting from their loan spells, and on the evidence of last night’s showing there are a number of prospects in the youth team setup.

The Diamonds next game is away to Salisbury City on Saturday.

Rushden & Diamonds: Joe Day, Jack Ainsley, Aynsley McDonald, Nicky McNamara (Capt), George Artemi, Simon Downer, Matt Pattison, Connor Hayes (George Cox 110), Nabil Shariff, Danny Mills (Sean Shields 110), James Reid (Lewis Hallford 100)

Subs Not Used:, Matt Evans, James Broadbent (GK)

Kettering Town: Niall Cooper, Darren Wrack (Simon Heslop 69), John Dempster (Capt), Damian Spencer, Jean-Paul Marna, Greg Taylor, Patrick Noubissie, Andre Boucaid, Anthony Elding (Moses Ashikodi HT), Danny Thomas (Francis Green 87), Exodus Geoghaghon

Subs Not Used : Lee Harper (GK), James Dance.

Goals : Spencer (0-1 12mins), McNamara (1-1 37 mins), Ashikodi (1-2 108mins)

Yellow Card: Ainsley (foul)

Referee: C Miller

Attendance: 611 (away 108)

Diamonds Man of the Match: Aynsley McDonald

Rushden & Diamonds 2 Histon 1

Rushden & Diamonds saw their winning run continue, making it six wins in a row as they recorded their first ever victory over Histon 2-1 at Nene Park. The first half saw the Diamonds go ahead on 36 minutes when Lee Tomlin challenged a panicked pass-back to keeper Naisbitt, who could only get the ball as far as Cliff Akurang who stroked it home. Akurang then scored his second goal, against his former teammates, midway through the second half, when he was the most alert person in a crowded penalty box to knock home a loose ball. Histon got a late consolation from substitute Andrew Tidswell.

With the team having won six in a row for the first time since the start of the 1998-99 season, as well as achieving their first victories over Histon and Luton Town in recent weeks, the only gloomy spot over Nene Park was due to the fact that one of the floodlights failed and the game was completed using the remaining three.

With one enforced change due to Aaron O’Connor’s injury, meaning that Jefferson Louis made his first start for the club shortly after signing on loan, Justin Edinburgh was able to change an otherwise unchanged side, with Cliff Akurang and Simon Downer returning to take places on the bench.

Histon were without Lanre Oyebanjo who was away on international duty for the Irish U21 team. Danny Wright was unavailable due to injury, and Josh Simpson is now on loan at Peterborough United. Sam Cox went straight into the team after joining on loan from Tottenham Hotspur the day before the game.

The first half was affected by the swirling wind and rain, although the excuse that the swirling wind was spoiling the game was only partially true, especially when considering that the Diamonds had won twice by big scores in windy Cumbria in recent weeks.

The only noteworthy happenings in the first 30 minutes were the injuries to Nat Knight-Percival and Jefferson Louis, both of whom had to leave the field. Louis’ Diamonds’ debut only lasted 23 minutes before a knee injury meant he had to be replaced by Cliff Akurang. The only threat on goal during that period was when Lee Tomlin outwitted Adam Tann and saw his shot rebound off Bygrave and away for a corner.

After 33 minutes Tann deliberately blocked Tomlin as he broke down the left, and was lucky to escape the yellow cards for such a "professional foul". Craig Farrell took the free kick from just inside the touch-line, and saw it curl in the wind to hit the angle of post and bar.

On 36 minutes the Diamonds went ahead, as Kennedy played the ball back to Naisbitt under pressure from Terry, and Lee Tomlin was able to challenge the keeper as he tried to deal with it, and the ball went to Cliff Akurang about 10 yards out, and he stroked home with his weaker left foot. As an ex-Histon player his celebrations for the goal were respectful.

Both sides managed just a single corner in what was one of the worst halves of football seen at NenePark for some time.

Half-Time: Rushden & Diamonds 1 Histon 0

During the half-time interval the referee discussed the issue with the floodlights with Justin Edinburgh and Alan Lewer (the Histon assistant manager), and advised that if conditions were still playable after an hour he would allow the match to finish.

The second half showed an immediate improvement over the first, with the Diamonds going close within the first few seconds with a raid down the right that forced a corner, and then seven minutes into the half when Mark Byrne played an excellent ball to Cliff Akurang, whose delicate first touch set himself up for a shot that Naisbitt did well to save. The resultant corner saw a goalmouth scramble that finished with a Paul Terry shot being deflected wide.

Histon rarely troubled the Diamonds defence, with all four of the back four impressing, and Nathan Abbey made the one decent save he was called upon to perform when a curling Gwillim corner threatened his near post.

Mark Byrne found Lee Tomlin in space on the left on the hour, with Tomlin going past Tann in a flash, and hitting a shot that was well saved by Naisbitt.

Byrne then failed to direct a header on goal after finding space to meet a Robinson cross, although the action was called back for a late tackle on the Diamonds defender. Shortly afterwards, on 64 minutes, the Diamonds won a corner on the left, which deflected across to Mark Byrne. His shot was blocked by Bygrave, but fell to Cliff Akurang in a crowded area, and he was alert enough to strike the ball home before a challenge came in.

Paul Terry then saw a long shot deflect for a corner, and Mark Byrne headed just wide after a break by Akurang and Terry down the right channel brought cries for a penalty for the challenge on Terry.

Histon hadn’t shown any increased urgency after the second goal, and thus it was a surprise when they scored a goal their attacking play didn’t really merit. The Diamonds cleared the ball well outside the area, but Histon worked the ball to the left flank where Gareth Gwillim hit in an excellent cross which the ex-Diamonds youth-teamer Andrew Tidswell headed home.

In many games this might have meant a nervy last few minutes for the Diamonds, especially as Histon had scored late goals in several recent games, but there remained little threat from the visitors, as the Diamonds continued to look the side most likely to score.

The final action of the game saw another Tomlin break down the left being halted by a desperate tackle, but Tomlin’s reaction to not getting either a free-kick or a corner was to kick the ball away, thus earning a yellow card – his fifth of the season, resulting in a suspension for the game at Salisbury next weekend.

Full-Time: Rushden & Diamonds 2 Histon 1

Justin Edinburgh praised the efforts of his entire squad for the way they had come back to win six games in a row on the back of three defeats in early Autumn. He also advised that Lee Tomlin may be a doubt for the forthcoming England C game due to the knock he picked up in the first half, when challenging Naisbitt in the move that led to the Diamonds first goal.

Cliff Akurang’s two goals take him to eight league goals for the Diamonds – the same total reached by the leading goalscorers for the whole of last season.

The Diamonds have a midweek Hillier Senior Cup game when they host managerless Kettering Town on Tuesday evening. Next weekend the Diamonds travel to Wiltshire, looking to get their first victory at the Raymond McEnhill Stadium, when they face Salisbury City.

Rushden & Diamonds: Nathan Abbey, Michael Corcoran, Kurt Robinson, Curtis Osano, Jamie Stuart (Capt), Mark Byrne, Paul Terry, Max Porter (Matt Pattison 75), Lee Tomlin, Jefferson Louis (Cliff Akurang 23), Craig Farrell (Danny Mills 90+1)

Subs Not Used: Dale Roberts (GK), Simon Downer

Histon: Danny Naisbitt, Adam Tann, Gareth Gwillim, Matt Langston (Capt), Adam Bygrave, John Kennedy, Michael Frew, Nat Knight-Percival (Craig Hammond 15, (Andrew Tidswell 72)), Billy Crook, Jamie Barker, Sam Cox ( Sam Long 67)

Subs Not Used: Joe Welch (GK), Neil Andrews

Goals: Akurang (1-0,36mins), Akurang (2-0, 66mins), Tidswell (2-1, 85 mins)

Yellow Cards: Farrell, Terry, Langston, Tomlin

Referee: S Duncan

Attendance: 1126 (away 138)

Diamonds Man of the Match chosen by Adam Davies: Cliff Akurang

Rushden & Diamonds 3 Hinckley United 1

Rushden & Diamonds progressed to the second round of the FA Cup sponsored by eon, with a convincing 3-1 victory over Hinckley United at Nene Park. A poor quality first half saw the Diamonds go ahead on the half-hour when Aaron O’Connor latched onto a Farrell flick, running down the left before cutting inside, drawing the keeper and slotting it past him.

The visitors equalised after 64 minutes when Adam Webster headed home an Alex Taylor cross, but within a minute Aaron O’Connor had put the Diamonds ahead again, with another breakaway run and cool finish. Mark Byrne made the game safe with another neatly taken goal after 82 minutes. Hinckley saw Neil Cartwright get a red card during added time for his second yellow card offence.

With the enforced change due to Neil Cousins’ injury and Cliff Akurang being unavailable, Justin Edinburgh made a single change, with Mark Byrne starting on the right. Having a bench with seven substitutes allowed him to name new arrival Jack Ainsley on the bench as defensive cover. Craig Farrell and Aaron O’Connor started up front, despite both having missed training during the preceding week.

The visitors had the best of the early action, with their long ball game presenting the Diamonds defence some initial problems, with Adam Weston running onto a long ball past his marker, but he chose to shoot early allowing Abbey to save.

At the other end the Diamonds struggled to cope with the Knitters’ offside trap, with both strikers caught offside on several occasions.

As the game entered its second quarter the Diamonds started to get behind the defensive line, with both Farrell and O’Connor threatening, and Lee Tomlin made a run down the left and saw his cross fielded by Mackenzie.

On the half hour a ball forward from Abbey was flicked on in the centre circle by Craig Farrell, allowing Aaron O’Connor to break down the left. He cut inside past defender Lister, slotting the ball home with his right foot past the advancing keeper.

Paul Terry then set O’Connor free down the left, but his low cross towards Craig Farrell reached the striker at the same time as Mackenzie reached the ball. O’Connor made another run that was stopped by a good tackle from Franklin.

Craig Farrell also broke clear on the end of a Byrne through ball, cut past Lister, and looked to round Mackenzie, but the ex-Diamonds keeper was able to stretch and get the ball away.

Curtis Osano provided one of the highlights of a poor first half, running 60 yards to the edge of the area, setting Mark Byrne up for a shot which Mackenzie did well to save.

Hinckley continued with their long ball game, with the Diamonds defence continuing their recent good form with some excellent cover for each other, with Robinson and Stuart especially impressive.

The final action of the half saw Lee Tomlin win a corner, and then deliver it across the box for Michael Corcoran to hit a dipping shot which Mackenzie gathered relatively easily.

The Diamonds will have been pleased to go in at half-time with a narrow lead, as they had been given a creditable test by their lower league opponents, especially in the first 20 minutes.

Half Time: Rushden & Diamonds 1 Hinckley United 0

The Diamonds started the second half very brightly, with a Farrell flick setting Aaron O’Connor free, but he was shepherded to the byline and was unable to get a cross in. Mark Byrne then broke free in a similar position, and he hit a great ball across the penalty area to Lee Tomlin, whose shot flashed across the goal.

Much of the Diamonds threat was coming via the ball clipped past the Knitter’s defence, as they were doing better against the offside trap, and Mark Byrne and Aaron O’Connor again on 54 minutes, with Byrne teeing up O’Connor for a powerful shot that was well saved. From the resultant corner Michael Corcoran found space to get in a free header, but the downward attempt bounced away to safety.

Kurt Robinson continued the good work shown in the first half with one excellent covering challenge as his fellow defenders allowed Alex Taylor to run in from the left and then into the area.

Craig Farrell was continuing to win more than his fair share of the ball played forwards, and his flick to Aaron O’Connor saw his fellow striker run towards the edge of the box, and then unselfishly laid the ball to Mark Byrne to his right, but Byrne’s shot was just over as the Diamonds pushed for the second goal.

As often happens, the team missing a good chance to seal the game is made to pay, and the Diamonds conceded the equalising goal inside a minute, as a long ball eluded Max Porter, and Alex Taylor ran down the left, finding space away from Michael Corcoran to get in an excellent cross that Adam Webster headed home.

It is an old footballing cliché that a team is most vulnerable just after they have scored, and so it proved in this case, as Jamie Stuart halted a run by Chukki Eribenne, quickly moving the ball forwards Aaron O’Connor, with the ball flicking off the head of Paul Lister allowing the striker to run forwards, head the ball on, and then slot the ball into the left hand side of the goal.

Danny Mills came on for the second cup game running, and should have done better when put clear, but miscued his shot badly with 10 minutes to go. Mark Byrne continued to adapt to his wide role, and Porter and Mills combined to set him up for a shot that was just wide.

On 82 minutes Mark Byrne got the goal that his performance deserved, as O’Connor and Mills worked the ball into his path, and he ran and shot home with similar composure to that he showed at Luton the previous weekend.

Danny Mills had his second clear chance as Matt Pattison crossed to present him with a free header than he could only direct at Mackenzie.

The final action of the game saw Neil Cartwright pull down James Reid as it looked like he was about to break clear and receive his second yellow card, and was thus dismissed deep into added time.

Full Time: Rushden & Diamonds 3 Hinckley United 1

The atmosphere in the Diamonds camp after the game reflected both the cup victory and the fact the team have won five games in a row. They will now by watching the draw for the second round of the cup on Sunday afternoon to see who their next opponents will be.

Note also that today’s results confirm that the Hillier Cup game against Kettering will now be played on the 17th November, so the next game at Nene Park will be the visit of Histon next weekend.

Note that round 2 of the FA Cup sponsored by eon takes place on the weekend of November 28th, so the scheduled game at home to Wrexham will need to be rearranged.

Teams

Rushden & Diamonds: Nathan Abbey, Michael Corcoran, Kurt Robinson, Curtis Osano, Jamie Stuart (Capt), Mark Byrne, Paul Terry, Max Porter (Matt Pattison 83), Lee Tomlin, Aaron O’Connor (James Reid 85), Craig Farrell (Danny Mills 75).

Subs Not Used: Dale Roberts (GK), Nicky McNamara, Jamie McGuinness, Jack Ainsley.

Hinckley United: Chris MacKenzie, Alex Taylor (Lee Collins 84), Stuart Giddings, Richard Lavery, Paul Lister, Connor Franklin, Andy Hall, Andy Gooding, Adam Webster, Chukki Eribenne (Matt West 67), Neil Cartwright

Subs Not Used: Denham Hinds (GK), Dan Dillon, Jack Roberts, Louis Hamilton, James Mace.

Goals: O’Connor (1-0, 30), Webster (1-1, 64), O’Connor (2-1, 65), Byrne (3-1, 82)

Yellow Cards: Andy Gooding (foul), Neil Cartwright (foul)

Red Card: Neil Cartwright (foul)

Referee: R Wigglesworth

Attendance: 1540 (away 528)

Diamonds Man of the Match chosen by the Manton Suite: Mark Byrne.

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