Southport 2 Rushden & Diamonds 2

Rushden & Diamonds fought back from behind twice to claim a 2-2 draw with Southport at Haig Avenue on an autumnal afternoon in Lancashire with heavy rain throughout the first half. Southport’s opening goal was scored after just six minutes, when a long ball down the Southport left was chased by Tony Gray and he was brought down by Joe Day in the corner of the penalty area. Matty McGinn fired home the penalty. The Diamonds equalised after 57 minutes when Aaron O’Connor tapped home from close in. The home side retook the lead ten minutes later when Liam Blakeman headed home a Barratt cross. With less than five minutes left substitute Matt Johnson scored his debut goal for the Diamonds, with a powerful shot from the edge of the area that took a slight deflection.

Justin Edinburgh made three changes in personnel from the team that lost at home to Newport County. Joe Day started after Dale Roberts had picked up a leg injury on England C duty. Shane Huke returned to the squad after his recent injury and he started in a midfield three alongside Power and Porter. Up-front Craig Farrell started alongside Howe and O’Connor. With Joe Day starting the Diamonds included Lance Key on the bench, having registered him in time for the game.

Southport manager Liam Watson replaced his injured defender Chris Leaver with Robbie Williams, and Tony Gray replaced Steve Daly up front.

With heavy rain falling, those Diamonds fans who had beaten the traffic were allowed to sit undercover, although nine hardy souls chose to stand in the rain for the first half-hour before being brought under cover to join the other 50 or so Diamonds fans.

After a fairly uneventful first five minutes, the home side saw Robbie Williams clear up in front of Rene Howe and pass to McGinn who in turn looped the ball forwards down the left, over the Diamonds defence. Although Joe Day initially looked favourite to get to the ball first, the fact he would need to field the ball right on the edge of his area had an impact, and striker Tony Gray was able to get a toe to the ball first and Day’s challenge then left referee Graham little choice but to point to the spot. Matty McGinn stepped up to fire the penalty past Day, who had picked up a yellow card for the challenge. Had Day seen red it would have meant an unexpected Diamonds debut for Lance Key.

The Diamonds had the majority of the attacking play for the remainder of the first half, but were unable to force home keeper McMillan into a save. Max Porter had a good chance for a shot on the turn which he fired wide, and Rene Howe shot wide just before the break. Craig Farrell and Aaron O’Connor had also missed from close range during the half, and although the home side had struggled to create much going forwards they did have a couple of chances to increase their lead during the half.

Half-Time: Southport 1 Rushden & Diamonds 0

The Diamonds were forced into making a change at half-time with Rene Howe having picked up a muscle injury in his back during the first half. Ryan Charles replaced him, with the 4-3-3 formation retained.

The Diamonds seemed much more prepared to shoot in the second half, with Craig Farrell forcing an early save from McMillan, and another attempt by Max Porter forcing a corner which then led to a scramble that might have brought the equaliser, but a last ditch clearance from Jamie Stuart forced the ball away for another corner.

The Diamonds got the equaliser their possession merited after 57 minutes. The ball was worked down the right, with Charles and Porter interchanging passes before Porter chipped the ball across the area to Aaron O’Connor who ghosted in at the far post, leaving the Diamonds striker with a fairly simple finish to make the scores level.

The thought then was that the Diamonds were the most likely to go on and win the game, but ten minutes later, with just about their only chance of the second half, the home side retook the lead, The ball was worked onto the right hand side, and substitute Paul Barratt seemed to be given too much time to chip a simple cross to Liam Blakeman at the far post, and he headed high into the net.

Alan Power had been getting forward more than in recent games as Shane Huke had stepped into the more defensive midfield role , and his shot just after the 70 minute mark forced a save from McMillan,

The game looked to be slipping away from the Diamonds, but the introduction of Matt Johnson gave the side fresh impetus, and his play and his long throws were causing the home side problems. Johnson had replaced Justin Miller, with Curtis Osano moving out to right-back, and Shane Huke dropping back to centre back. Even so, it looked like the Diamonds might go empty handed when good work by the ever industrious Aaron O’Connor in the left channel saw him make space for a shot on the left edge of the area, but his effort hit Ryan Charles when it looked like it might test McMillan.

With under five minutes of normal time left the equaliser came, The break started down the Diamonds left, with Jamie Day picking up the ball just inside the Southport half, and then he cut inside towards the "D" in the penalty area before hitting a neat pass to Matt Johnson, who had found himself space about 25 yards out in the right channel. Johnson ran onto the ball and hit a powerful shot, which although taking a slight deflection, looked destined to beat keeper McMillan.

Once again the thought was that the Diamonds might be the most likely to score again, as the match moved into four minutes of injury time, but the visitors did have one last chance when Ashley Winn made himself space for a shot, but fired just wide.

Full-Time: Southport 2 Rushden & Diamonds 2

The Diamonds now have to prepare for the visit of Histon to Nene Park on Tuesday evening.

Teams:

Southport: Tony McMillan (GK), Kevin Lee, Robbie Williams, Adam Flynn (Capt), Earl Davis, Ashley Winn, Alan Moogan, Matty McGinn, Liam Blakeman (Steve Daly 78), Tony Gray (Paul Barratt 64), Matty McNeil (Adam Collins 84)

Subs Not Used: Steve Dickinson (GK), Shaun Gray

Rushden & Diamonds: Joe Day (GK), Justin Miller (Matt Johnson 74), Jamie Day, Curtis Osano, Jamie Stuart (Capt), Shane Huke, Alan Power, Max Porter, Craig Farrell, Aaron O’Connor, Rene Howe(Ryan Charles 45)

Subs Not Used: Lance Key (GK), Dominic Green, Kurt Robinson

Goals: McGinn (6, 1-0(pen)), O’Connor (57, 1-1), Blakeman (67, 2-1), Johnson (86, 2-2)

Yellow Cards: Joe Day, Max Porter

Referee: Paul Graham (Manchester)

Attendance: 876 (away approx 60)

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