Oxford United 2 Rushden & Diamonds 0

Rushden & Diamonds narrowly missed out on a trip to Wembley as they lost 2-0 to Oxford United in the second leg of the Blue Square Premier playoff Semi-Final at the Kassam Stadium. Goals from Matt Green and James Constable in four second half minutes meant that the Diamonds lost by two goals away from home for the first time this season. There can be few complaints about the result, with the U’s having had the better of the game as well as dominating the early part of the first leg.

Although Diamonds fans will be disappointed to miss out on a trip to Wembley, and possible promotion back into league football, they will be left with many memories of the most successful season for the club for the past five years. The fact they were narrowly defeated at the final hurdle by one of the many big-budget clubs in the division is also a reflection of the tremendous efforts made by all at the club to reach this stage.

Justin Edinburgh made two changes from the team that faced Oxford in the first leg four days ago, with Kurt Robinson being replaced by Shane Huke, and Jefferson Louis up-front in place of Craig Farrell. Farrell and Robinson were joined on the bench by Cliff Akurang, Matt Pattison and Joe Day. The changes meant that Shane Huke played at right back, with Curtis Osano switching to left back. Justin explained after the game that he thought that Kurt had been targeted in the first game, and that Jefferson Louis had looked a bigger threat in the latter part of that game.

Oxford manager Chris Wilder again chose to play a 4-3-3 formation with Constable, Midson and Matt Green remaining up front.

Playing their new Blue and White strip in a packed Kassam Stadium the Diamonds started rather nervously, with early errors from Stuart and Huke, but once the game settled down the first half was limited to one good chance for either team. A Mark Byrne corner from the right reached an unmarked Paul Terry but his header looped over the bar. At the other end good work from Batt on the right found Dannie Bulman in space with a good shooting chance which Roberts save well, with the rebound narrowly evading James Constable, although the U’s striker was offside.

The half ended with both sides failing to take advantage of half chances, with a Louis flick appearing to have put Aaron O’Connor clear, but his rushed shot was dragged wide, as was a similar effort from Lee Tomlin.

A major concern to the Diamonds was the fitness of Simon Downer, who was holding his side after every challenge, and coupled with Huke and Osano still adjusting to their new roles the Diamonds would have been happy to go into the break on level terms.

Half-Time : Oxford United 0 Rushden & Diamonds 0

The Diamonds started the second half looking slightly more threatening, with Jefferson Louis forcing home keeper Clarke to make his first save of the game, but the home side almost took the lead when Constable won a free kick in a challenge from Simon Downer, and the kick from Adam Chapman appeared to hit one of his own players before ricocheting away to safety.

The home midfield had managed to keep their opposite numbers fairly quiet in terms of attacking opportunities, but hadn’t created any clearcut chances for their strike-force until the 53rd minute when Simon Clist picked up the ball on the left-hand side just inside his own half. He exchanged a quick 1-2 with Jack Midson who was near the touch-line as he entered the Diamonds half, and then hit a precision pass into the path of Matt Green who broke past the Diamonds defence and slotted past Roberts.

The Diamonds fans were still wondering when the last goal was scored against them via a defence splitting pass down the middle when the second goal came in a similar fashion. Dale Roberts kicked a long ball upfield which was headed straight back towards the Diamonds goal by Mark Creighton, flicked on by Midson into the path of James Constable who broke through a static defence, holding off the challenge of Huke and slotting past Roberts. Captain Jamie Stuart had been on the sidelines as Roberts took the kick forwards, attending to his bootlaces, so was out of position when the ball came back quickly into the Diamonds half.

The Diamonds brought on Matt Pattison and Craig Farrell to replace the ailing Downer and the struggling O’Connor, and for a while they began to look an offensive threat for the first time in the game, without really troubling home keeper Clarke. They switched to a 3-4-3 formation, and allowed Craig Farrell to take the dead ball kicks after Byrne and Tomlin had disappointed all afternoon – with corner mixup being perhaps the last straw.

Referee Brown had an solid game, apart from a few missed opportunities to play advantage. He had little option but to add to the growing number of yellow cards that Lee Tomlin has received for dissent, when he chose to slot the ball into the net seconds after play had been halted for an offside decision – with Tomlin perhaps the only person in the ground to claim they had not heard the whistle seconds earlier. Similarly Jack Midson received a yellow after being given several final warnings.

The game ended after four minutes of added time, with the Oxford fans celebrating on the pitch, with only one or two overstepping the mark in not respecting the travelling fans.

Full-Time : Oxford United 2 Rushden & Diamonds 0

Justin Edinburgh accepted that the better team won the tie, and agreed that apart from the second half at NenePark they had had the better of the two legs. He was disappointed in the overall performance, but was quick to praise the players for their contribution over the entire season, as well as the excellent support from the Diamonds fans, both in this game and during the preceding season.

Teams:

Oxford United: Ryan Clarke, Damian Batt, Mark Creighton, Jake Wright, Anthony Tonkin, Dannie Bulman, Simon Clist, Adam Chapman, Matt Green (Alfie Potter 67), James Constable (Capt), Jack Midson (Sam Deering 88)

Subs: Billy Turley (GK), Kevin Sandwith, Rhys Day

Rushden & Diamonds: Dale Roberts, Shane Huke, Curtis Osano, Max Porter, Jamie Stuart (Capt), Simon Downer (Matt Pattison 62), Mark Byrne, Paul Terry, Aaron O’Connor (Craig Farrell 62), Jefferson Louis (Cliff Akurang 73), Lee Tomlin

Subs: Joe Day (GK), Kurt Robinson

Goals: Green (53), Constable (57)

Yellow Cards: Tomlin, Midson

Referee: Mr M Brown

Attendance: 11963 (Away 1109)

Images courtesy of Mal Swinden ©2012 Malcolm Swinden Photography

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