Rushden & Diamonds 1 Luton Town 1

Rushden & Diamonds shared the spoils with Luton Town at Nene Park in the final game of the regular season in a game that ended 1-1. The result means that the Diamonds will face Oxford United in the Blue Square Premier playoff games. The visitors took the lead after nine minutes when Adam Newton broke down the right, and the ball found Tom Craddock via Kevin Gallen, and he fired past Roberts. The Diamonds fought back after a slow start and equalised after 20 minutes when Sam Smith flicked a ball onto Mark Byrne who fired low into the net.

Justin Edinburgh made seven changes from the team that beat Wrexham last weekend with Lee Tomlin returning from injury alongside Jefferson Louis and Sam Smith up front. Max Porter moved to right-back, with Curtis Osano moving to left back to replace Kurt Robinson, who was absent due to illness. This allowed Shane Huke to partner Jamie Stuart in the centre of defence. Midfield regulars Paul Terry and Mark Byrne returned to midfield alongside Matt Pattison.

Those changes meant both clubs fielded a strong side, as Luton manager Richard Money made three changes from the team that drew with Altrincham, with Kovacs, Gnakpa and Barnes-Homer joining the starting line-up. The game was played in front of 4870 fans, the biggest attendance at Nene Park since the visit of Northampton Town in the League 2 days.

With such an unfamiliar look to the Diamonds defence, the first 15 minutes belonged to the visitors as the Diamonds players adjusted to their new roles. After an early chance for Simon Heslop, the Diamonds had their first meaningful attack in the eighth minute when Lee Tomlin and Matt Pattison played a 1-2 towards the right corner of the Hatters area, before Tomlin appeared to be tripped just outside the box. In perhaps his only controversial decision of the day, referee Kinseley waved play on, allowing the visitors to break down the right with Adam Newton, and he hit a low ball to the edge of the Diamonds box to Kevin Gallen, who quickly flicked it into the path of Tom Craddock setting him up for an easy finish past Roberts.

The goal seemed to inspire the Diamonds more than the visitors, and after a chance for Jefferson Louis from a Tomlin pass they won a corner from which Louis shot wide. At the other end Heslop set up Gallen for a shot which was well saved by Dale Roberts.

Good work by Lee Tomlin set up Matt Pattison for a shot that was blocked before the Diamonds equalised after 20 minutes. Paul Terry knocked a ball into the box which was flicked on by Sam Smith standing in the "D" on the edge of the box to Mark Byrne who had slipped his marker, and the Diamonds midfielder finished clinically past Tyler.

Tom Craddock had a great chance to restore the visitors’ lead when he sprung the Diamonds offside trap, but shot wide when clear on goal.

Curtis Osano was relishing his new role, and he made three excellent breaks down the left, each one taking him to the edge of the Luton box, but one ended with a wayward shot, one with a blocked shot, and the other saw a left foot shot saved.

Craddock created another great chance for himself as he broke down the right and shot from an acute angle, but his shot rebounded off the post and away to safety, and then had his final chance of the half when his volley from a Heslop cross went just wide.

Half-Time: Rushden & Diamonds 1 Luton Town 1

The second half started in a similar vein, with Matt Barnes-Homer having a low shot saved by Roberts, and then Max Porter made an excellent run down the right before setting up Sam Smith who forced a corner.

Craig Farrell replaced Lee Tomlin before this corner was taken after 55 minutes, and within 30 seconds had almost given the Diamonds the lead, as the corner wasn’t fully cleared, and Shane Huke chased down the loose ball toward the left corner and hit an accurate cross which Farrell almost converted.

Tom Craddock was having an excellent game, but his finishing let him down again shortly afterwards when once again Heslop set him up for a shot from a narrow angle.

The Diamonds weren’t creating as many chances as their hosts, but their finishing looked more dangerous, as seen on the hour mark, when the Diamonds were awarded a free kick in a dangerous position for a foul on Mark Byrne by Fred Murray, and Craig Farrell hit a blistering free-kick past the wall that Tyler showed fast reflexes to stretch up an arm and make a great save.

After this save and another good chance for the visitors that saw Asa Hall denied by a great save from Roberts, and the follow-up flagged offside it looked like the game was likely to end all-square, and so it proved, despite a poor miss from Hall with the game entering added time.

 

Final Score : Rushden & Diamonds 1 Luton Town 1

The post match presentations to Diamonds players for their fine achievement this season had to be slightly delayed due to a lack of respect shown by the visiting fans, but the Diamonds will reflect on a fourth place finish in the Blue Square Premier that puts them ahead of fellow ex-League teams such as York City, Cambridge United, Wrexham and Mansfield Town.

The focus can now switch to preparation for the first leg of the play-off semi-final against Oxford United on Thursday evening – details of ticket selling arrangement are here.

Teams:

Rushden & Diamonds: Dale Roberts, Curtis Osano, Max Porter, Jamie Stuart (Capt), Shane Huke, Paul Terry, Mark Byrne (Rob Wolleaston 66), Matt Pattison (Cliff Akurang 77), Jefferson Louis, Sam Smith, Lee Tomlin (Craig Farrell 55)

Subs Not Used: Joe Day (GK), Aynsley McDonald

LutonTown: Mark Tyler, Janos Kovacs, George Pilkington (Capt), Adam Newton, Tom Craddock (Mark Nwokeji 88), Jake Howells, Rossi Jarvis, Kevin Gallen (Asa Hall 63), Fred Murray, Matt Barnes-Homer, Simon Heslop (Shane Blackett 70)

Subs Not Used: Shane Gore (GK), Ed Asafu-Adjaye

Referee: Nick Kinseley (Essex)

Goals: Craddock (9), Byrne (20)

Yellow Cards: None

Attendance: 4820 (Away 2797)

Diamonds Man of the Match sponsored by FirstDefence : Curtis Osano

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