Rushden & Diamonds 2 Ebbsfleet United 0

Rushden & Diamonds confirmed their place in the end-of-season playoff games in the Blue Square Premier with a 2-0 win over relegation threatened Ebbsfleet United at NenePark. The Diamonds took the lead after 27 minutes when a deft flick from Craig Farrell set Aaron O’Connor free down the right, and he coolly slotted past Cronin. The Diamonds had a chance to increase their lead in first half injury time, when Craig Farrell was felled by Darius Charles, but Paul Terry hit a poor penalty that Cronin easily saved, and then Terry looped the rebound over the bar. The Diamonds sealed the game with one of the goals of the season from Aaron O’Connor, as he broke down the left from the half-way line, turned three defenders inside out before slotting into the corner of the net. The victory stretches the Diamonds unbeaten run to 11 games, with this being game 999 of the Diamonds history.

Justin Edinburgh made several changes from the team that drew with Kidderminster Harriers on Easter Monday, with Simon Downer replacing Shane Huke, and Mark Byrne, Paul Terry, Craig Farrell and Lee Tomlin restored to the starting line-up.

Ebbsfleet manager Liam Daish made a single change with Gavin Heeroo replacing the suspended Dean Pooley.

The first half started rather slowly, with both sides appearing to show some nerves. The early chances fell to Lee Tomlin, as twice he had a chance to run into the left-hand side of the box, but one attempt was stopped by Cronin, and one by the Fleet defence. At the other end Roberts deal easily with an Ashikodi shot, but saw a Holmes free kick squirm from his grasp, but away to safety.

The Diamonds took the lead after 27 minutes after moving the ball quickly from defence to attack. Craig Farrell reverse-flicked the ball into the path of Aaron O’Connor just in front of the Fleet dugout, and his strike partner took the ball on before firing past Cronin for the opening goal.

Mark Byrne was able to run through a gap in the visitors defence, but saw Cronin saw his shot. A slick Diamonds move just after the half-hour mark saw Farrell and O’Connor combine to set up Max Porter for a shot that was narrowly wide.

Dale Roberts was rarely called into action, but got his body behind an Ashikodi freekick after the Diamonds wall failed to do its job, and then behind a Magno Viera shot.

Shortly before half-time Lee Tomlin was replaced by Cliff Akurang, having picked up a twisted ankle.

As the game moved into injury time at the end of the half, the Diamonds won a penalty. Referee Merchant had already signalled his intent to penalise suspect challenges, having given the visitors three freekicks in dangerous positions earlier, so it was not a surprise to see him point to the spot when Craig Farrell ran into the area and was tackled by Darius Charles. This followed a Diamonds corner, won by Curtis Osano, which was partially cleared, and Farrell was alert to beat the offside trap, running past two team-mates who were further forwards. Just as it looked like the Diamonds might get a two goal cushion before the break, their penalty woes continued, with Paul Terry added to the long list of Diamonds players who have missed from the spot this season. His initial kick was sidefooted to Cronin’s left, allowing a comfortable save, but the ball rebounded to Terry, who could only balloon a shot into the AirWair seats.

Half-Time : Rushden & Diamonds 1 Ebbsfleet United 0

With Craig Farrell being replaced by Sam Smith at half-time, as he was continuing to feel the effects of the injury that had kept him out at Kidderminster, the reshaped Diamonds front line quickly clicked into a rhythm that was causing the visitors defence problems – perhaps showing the benefit of them playing together at Kidderminster.

Sam Smith pressurised Leon Crooks into a mistake which allowed him to get in a dangerous cross that Mark Byrne fired at goal, but the pace was taken off the shot before it reached Cronin. Byrne had a second chance minutes later when Smith laid the ball off to Akurang down the right, and his cross from a narrow angle saw the Diamonds midfielder just failing to get a good contact on his header and it flew wide. Moments earlier Curtis Osano had a chance to get a header on goal after Aaron O’Connor had forced a corner.

Mark Byrne almost created a chance for Sam Smith after a run down the left saw Cronin reach his cross just ahead of Smith. Aaron O’Connor was continuing to give the Fleet defence problems, and another run down the left saw him create a chance for Sam Smith at the far post.

It looked just a matter of time before the Diamonds increased their lead, and so it proved – but it turned out to be a goal created and scored out of nothing. Aaron O’Connor picked up the ball on the half-way line, just in front of the Ebbsfleet dugout, and after beating the Fleet midfield he turned Leon Crooks inside out on the edge of the area before firing a shot in the far corner for one of the goals of the season at Nene Park.

The Diamonds had been having much the better of the second half, and looked more likely to get their third that the Fleet were to score. Simon Downer had been having a very impressive game at the back, but made his one mistake of the game after 77 minutes, as he tried to overplay whilst under pressure, and conceded the ball to substitute Scott Ginty. Ginty’s effort on goal was fended away with the quick reflexes of Dale Roberts, but the Fleet player looked favourite to tuck away the rebound, only to see if strike the outside of the post and away for a goal kick.

Downer almost had a part in creating the Diamonds third when he gained possession and hit a long ball to Cliff Akurang, who had been impressing with his aerial presence, and he flicked the ball to Aaron O’Connor whose attempted volley was over the bar. O’Connor had a further chance for his hattrick shortly afterwards, with another volleying opportunity following a Diamonds throw, but again narrowly missed the target. O’Connor’s effort and workrate as well as his two well-taken goals earned him a deserved man-of-the-match award.

There was still time for Sam Smith to go close as he tried to flick a Curtis Osano cross towards goal, and Cliff Akurang shot from a narrow angle towards an empty goal go narrowly wide, after Lance Cronin had slipped when trying to clear outside his area.

The final whistle sounded to confirm the Diamonds place in the playoffs, with the players saluting the fans who had got behind the team so well, paying particular attention to those in the North Stand who will be relocated for the Diamonds final home game of the regular season.

 

Full-Time : Rushden & Diamonds 2 Ebbsfleet United 0

The Diamonds now have three games to complete the regular season, starting with the trip to Mansfield on Tuesday evening, which will be a historic occasion, being the 1000th game for the club.

Details of the playoff dates are here.

The penalty miss was the Diamonds sixth miss of the season, with Terry joining Tomlin, Farrell, Louis, O’Connor and Corcoran on that unfortunate list. Michael Corcoran scored one at Workington in the FA Cup, and Lee Tomlin converted the two others this season.

 

Teams:

Rushden & Diamonds: Dale Roberts, Curtis Osano, Kurt Robinson, Jamie Stuart (Capt), Simon Downer, Paul Terry, Mark Byrne (Rob Wolleaston 79), Max Porter, Aaron O’Connor, Craig Farrell (Sam Smith H/T), Lee Tomlin (Cliff Akurang 43)

Subs Not Used: Joe Day (GK), Shane Huke

Ebbsfleet United: Lance Cronin, Will Salmon, Gavin Heeroo (Scott Ginty 75), Leon Crooks, Darius Charles, Peter Holmes (Capt), Stefan Bailey, Kane Wills (Ishmael Welsh 52), Ricky Shakes (Alexander Stavrinou 52), Magno Vieira, Moses Ashikodi

Subs Not Used: Charlie Read, Matthew Lamprell (GK)

Goals: O’Connor (1-0, 27mins; 2-0, 70mins)

Yellow Cards: Porter, Stuart, Heeroo, Byrne

 

Referee: Rob Merchant (Staffordshire)

Attendance: 1440 (Away 70)

Diamonds Man of the Match chosen by Ken Ambridge: Aaron O’Connor

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