Mansfield Town 3 Rushden & Diamonds 2

Rushden & Diamonds unbeaten run ended in controversial fashion at Field Mill after they had twice taken the lead. After seeing three solid penalty claims for the Diamonds turned down, the Stags were awarded what looked the weakest claim of the night as the game entered injury time, when Kyle Nix fell under a challenge from Mark Byrne, and Robert Duffy fired home to give the home team a 3-2 win. By that time the Diamonds were down to 10 men, with Jefferson Louis dismissed for a second yellow card, and they had seen the home side get into the game twice courtesy of defensive errors. The Diamonds took the lead after 16 minutes when Jefferson Louis threaded the ball through the centre of the Stags defence to Aaron O’Connor whose excellent first touch allowed him to run on and strike the ball past Alan Marriott. The Diamonds had dominated the early play, especially in midfield, but a mistake by Jamie Stuart allowed the Stags to equalise early in the second half. Sam Smith had restored the Diamonds lead with a well-taken goal before another defensive error allowed a long ball from Marriott to reach Speight who netted his second goal of the night. The late drama then followed, with the penalty giving the Stags an undeserved victory.

The dismissal of Louis for a second yellow card for a foul in midfield was made more disappointing by the fact that home player Steven Istead was only shown a yellow card for a very poor two footed lunge at Paul Terry shorly after the Diamonds had gone 2-1 ahead. Cliff Akurang was also shown a controversial yellow card for diving by referee Simpson in one of the penalty incidents, despite the fact there was clear contact from Alan Marriott after the keeper had spilled an Aaron O’Connor shot.

This was the 1000th game in the Diamonds history, and their performance deserved more from the game, which also ended their unbeaten record at Field Mill. Those looking at the result might suspect it was as a result of the Diamonds throttling back their performance after they had won a place in the play-offs – yet in fact they had performed really well until they gifted the Stags their opening goal, which seemed to wake up the home side and their fans.

O’Connor’s goal was his fourteenth in all competitions for the Diamonds this season, leaving him just one behind Lee Tomlin in the race to be top scorer for the club this season – and one ahead of Craig Farrell.

Justin Edinburgh made several changes from the team that beat Ebbsfleet United in order to reach the playoffs with Shane Huke filling in at right back, Matt Pattison replacing the rested Max Porter, and Jefferson Louis starting up-front with Cliff Akurang in place of Craig Farrell and Lee Tomlin.

Mansfield manager David Holdsworth included ex-Diamonds Alan Marriott, Gary Mills and Andy Burgess in his starting XI, with Rob Duffy on the bench.

The first half belonged almost entirely to the Diamonds, as they completely dominated midfield, with ex-Diamonds Mills and Burgess looking well off the pace. Up front Jefferson Louis was working the right channel, O’Connor on the left, with Cliff Akurang in the centre.

Louis found his way past Andy Nicholas to get a low cross that Aaron O’Connor couldn’t quite reach, and then a Diamonds corner saw Curtis Osano find plenty of room for an unchallenged header that Alan Marriott pushed around the post. Another Louis cross went over Marriott, but dropped narrowly over the bar. All three Diamonds strikers threatened to break through the shaky looking home defence, and it was no surprise to see the Diamonds take the lead after 16 minutes when Jefferson Louis picked up the ball in the centre circle and threaded a ball that dissected the home defence for Aaron O’Connor to run onto and fire home a well-hit low shot from just outside the area for his fourteenth goal of the season.

Matt Pattison was playing in the centre of midfield for much of the half, but he did have a couple of opportunities to run at the Stags defence down the flanks, including one breakaway that was created by Mark Byrne that resulted in the Diamonds having three against two, but Pattison chose a long ball to O’Connor when a better option might have been a return pass to the breaking Byrne, or to take on the final covering defender in front of him. The ball flicked off O’Connor’s head and out for a throw.

Pattison also set up O’Connor for a chance on the half-hour mark that forced ex-Diamonds keeper Alan Marriott to make a fine save, and then Louis blazed over before a rare Stags attack saw Louis Briscoe tackled by the impressive Curtis Osano. The one time Osano did look troubled in the half was when Andy Nicholas put the ball past him towards the left corner flag, but somehow decided to try to beat him a second time and the Diamonds defender got the ball away to safety.

Further chances fell to Mark Byrne and Matt Pattison before half-time as the Diamonds pushed for the second goal their first half performance clearly merited. As half-time approached it looked like that chance was to be from the penalty spot, as cross from Mark Byrne was clearly handled on the edge of the six yard box by Gary Silk, but neither referee Simpson or his assistant could have seen the incident otherwise a penalty would have been awarded.

Half-Time: Mansfield Town 0 Rushden & Diamonds 1

After the Diamonds had dominated the first half, silencing the home crowd other than their criticism of their own players, it was important that they continued in that vein in the second half. Unfortunately it was a Diamonds mistake that gave the Stags the opening that their performance looked unlikely to generate. A routine long ball towards the left hand corner of the Diamonds half saw Jamie Stuart lay the ball back to Dale Roberts. Roberts wasn’t in a position to kick upfield, so passed it back to Stuart, but the skipper chose to take two touches, the second of which was intercepted by Kyle Perry, and he quickly worked the ball across to Jake Speight who fired past Roberts for the equaliser.

This changed the hosts’ approach to the game for a while, and they had a good chance for a second goal when a long cross from the left from Nix which went over several players to Kyle Perry but his header from a narrow angle clipped the bar and away to safety.

The Diamonds were still finding holes in the home defence, and one of the major controversies of the night came on the hour mark when Aaron O’Connor tricked his way past two defenders on the Diamonds left before hitting a shot that Marriott could only parry. As Cliff Akurang went after the loose ball there was clear contact with Marriott, but, rather than awarding what looked a clear penalty, referee Simpson booked Akurang for an alleged dive.

Shortly afterwards Sam Smith was brought on for Akurang, and within three minutes he had restored the Diamonds lead. Jefferson Louis had an “assist” for the first Diamonds goal, and he had a part in the second when he worked a Mark Byrne headed pass into the path of Sam Smith whose first touch took him past his marker, and his second fired the ball high into the net past Alan Marriott.

Once again the home crowd were silenced, but shortly after the goal substitute Steven Istead was extremely lucky to only receive a yellow card for a two footed challenge on Paul Terry, but after his initial anger at the danger of the challenge Terry sportingly offer his hand to Istead, helping to keep him on the pitch.

The Diamonds had their third solid penalty claim of the night waved away by the referee, when another run by livewire Aaron O’Connor was slowed by an attempted trip and flailing foot of a defender, after he ran past his marker and into the penalty area, but the striker’s attempt to keep on his feet allowed referee Simpson to wave away the claims. Jamie Stuart then sliced a clearance which flew across goal, but otherwise the Diamonds defence were being rarely threatened at this stage of the game.

The Diamonds were continuing to close down the ineffective Stags midfield, and they did this to such an effect they were forced to retreat all the way back to Marriott after an attack broke down midway into the Diamonds half. Marriott’s long ball deceived Jamie Stuart, who could only deflect the ball into the path of the breaking Jake Speight who ran forwards and lobbed the advancing Roberts for the second equaliser.

Jefferson Louis had been supporting the Diamonds midfield all evening, but a challenge on Luke Foster in front of the dugout earned him a yellow card, and then a challenge on Briscoe saw referee Simpson decide to give him a second yellow card.

The Stags and their fans had now come to life, and with the numerical advantage they had their only period of domination of the game, as their midfield finally started to get some time on the ball. and the run of Louis Briscoe down the Stags right saw him evade the challenges of Stuart and Robinson and knock the ball low across the area that seemed to give Speight a simple tap-in for his hat-trick, but somehow he got the ball tangled beneath his feet and it squirmed wide. There were also claims for a penalty when Nix brushed past Byrne but nothing was given.

There was still time for the final controversy of the night, when Mark Byrne challenged Kyle Nix in the Diamonds box and the Stags forward threw himself to the ground. Although the penalty claim looked far less clear-cut than the three earlier claims for the Diamonds, referee Simpson pointed to the spot. After a delay Rob Duffy hit a penalty just to the left of centre of the goal that Roberts came close to stopping, but the Diamonds had seen their unbeaten run come to an end.

Full-Time: Mansfield Town 3 Rushden & Diamonds 2

Although it was disappointing to see the unbeaten run come to an end in the way it did, the quality and energy of the Diamonds performance, especially in the first 60 minutes, meant that they could look back with some satisfaction on the 1000th game in their history.

They are on the road again at the weekend as they travel to Wrexham for their final away trip of the season.

Teams: Mansfield Town: Alan Marriott, Gary Mills, Scott Garner, Louis Briscoe, Luke Foster (Capt), Gary Silk (Stevie Istead 66), Jake Speight, Andy Nicholas, Kyle Perry (Rob Duffy 54), Kyle Nix, Andy Burgess

Subs Not Used: Neil Collett (GK), Matt Somner, Jon Shaw

 

Rushden & Diamonds: Dale Roberts, Shane Huke, Kurt Robinson, Jamie Stuart (Capt), Curtis Osano, Mark Byrne, Paul Terry, Matt Pattison (Max Porter 73), Aaron O’Connor, Jefferson Louis, Cliff Akurang (Sam Smith 68)

Subs Not Used: Joe Day (GK), Nicky McNamara, Jake Beecroft

Goals: O’Connor (0-1, 16mins ), Speight (1-1, 48mins), Smith (1-2, 72mins), Speight (2-2 78mins), Duffy (pen, 3-2, 90mins)

Yellow Cards: Silk, Akurang, Istead, Louis, Duffy, Speight

Red Card: Louis (84 – second yellow)

Referee: Jeremy Simpson

Attendance: 2031 (Away 178)

Diamonds Man of the Match: Mark Byrne

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