Luton Town 3 Rushden & Diamonds 0

Rushden & Diamonds were convincingly beaten by Luton Town in their first game of 2011. With their last victory having been at the end of October, the Diamonds were hoping to start the New Year with a win, but a Matthew Barnes-Homer header after 44 minutes gave the hosts the lead at the interval, and the Diamonds rarely threatened in the second half. Barnes-Homer added his second after 51 minutes, and Claude Gnakpa completed the scoring after 76 minutes.

Justin Edinburgh made several changes to the team that drew with Eastwood Town in the FA Trophy game at the start of December, with Shane Huke returning from injury and new loan signing Michael Gash took a place in the side, with Rene Howe dropping to the bench along with Craig Farrell. Sam Smith made his first start in a league game of the season, and Curtis Osano started at left back as Jamie Day was serving the last game of his three game ban. Michael Corcoran also returned from injury to take a place on the bench, but Max Porter was absent due to his injury.

Hatters Manager Richard Money was without recent signing Charlie Henry, as well as Fred Murray, Shane Blackett and Adam Newton due to injury. He preferred Danny Crow up front in place of Jason Walker.

An impeccably observed minute’s silence before the game paid tribute to Dale Roberts and ex-Luton skipper Terry Branston.

The hosts had the better of the first quarter of the game, although the Diamonds perhaps came the closest to scoring in the first ten minutes when a powerful shot from Alan Power was beaten away by Tyler in the Luton goal. After 11 minutes it looked as if the home side had taken the lead when Andy Drury waltzed past several Diamonds midfielders and defenders before laying a ball to Claude Gnakpa on the left edge of the Diamonds area. Gnakpa’s well hit curling shot would have given Day no chance to save, but the linesman’s flag came to the Diamonds rescue.

Day was called upon to make saves from Crow, Gnakpa and Morgan-Smith as his defence were struggling to work the ball forwards to the midfielders. Both Jamie Stuart and Shane Huke were having busy afternoons with both men making excellent last ditch tackles to stop runs from the impressive Drury and Barnes-Homer.

After weathering the initial storm the Diamonds had begun to compete with their opponents on something like level terms as the game became very scrappy with many stoppages in play. Just as the game entered the final minute before half-time a well crafted move by the Hatters gave them the lead. A neat ball from Danny Crow out to the right wing allowed Claude Gnapka to find space and hit a cross towards the penalty spot, from where Matthew Barnes-Homer directed a header that curled inside the right hand post.

There was still time for the Diamonds to almost snatch an immediate equaliser, as Ryan Charles made a break down the right, and his low cross was almost scrambled home by Aaron O’Connor.

Half-Time: Luton Town 1 Rushden & Diamonds 0

With the disappointment of conceding a goal so close to half-time, it was important that the Diamonds held firm at the start of the second period, but four minutes into the half Matthew Barnes-Homer should have doubled his tally when he was set clear by Gnakpa, but he blazed over with only Day to beat. Sam Smith had a chance to open the Diamonds account a minute later when his 25-yard shot narrowly missed the angle of post and bar. However, after 51 minutes the hosts doubled their lead as Matthew Barnes-Homer broke down the left, appearing to be played onside by Shane Huke, and this time he made no mistake when he fired home a low shot into the far corner of the net.

Minutes later the Diamonds might have got back into the game when Danny Crow fouled Alan Power about 30 yards from goal. The Diamonds midfielder had been given dead-ball kick responsibility all afternoon, and he hit a free kick that saw Jamie Stuart and Aaron O’Connor burst past the Hatters’ defence to be clear on the edge of the six-yard box. There was a suggestion the two players got into each other’s way, but it was O’Connor that headed over. At the other end the impressive Dan Gleeson made a powerful run out of defence before hitting a powerful shot into the side netting.

Two further blows to the Diamonds came during the half, as Shane Huke picked up a hamstring injury and had to leave the field, then his replacement Michael Corcoran picked up a yellow card for pulling down Morgan-Smith, which was his fifth of the season and will result in a one-game ban.

The Diamonds gave a league debut to 18-year old Aaron King after 75 minutes but the young midfielder had hardly set foot on the pitch before the hosts sealed the game with their third goal, and once again it was a square Diamonds defence that was unlocked by an angled ball, and this time it was Claude Gnakpa who turned and hit a left-foot shot into left side of goal.

Alan Power and Aaron O’Connor had both worked tirelessly all afternoon, and the Diamonds midfielder went close with a well hit shot after 85 minutes, and then an effort from Jamie Stuart was cleared off the line, but at the other end Jamie Day had to make further good saves from Keane and Barnes-Homer.

The game ended with the hosts making a number of late substitutions, but with a three goal lead these seemed to serve little purpose.

Full-Time: Luton Town 3 Rushden & Diamonds 0

The Diamonds now have to lick their wounds and prepare for the visit of local rivals Kettering Town on Monday afternoon.

Teams:

Luton Town: Mark Tyler, Dan Gleeson, George Pilkington, Zdenek Kroca, Jake Howells, Claude Gnakpa (Alex Lawless 90+1), Keith Keane, Andy Drury, Amari Morgan-Smith (Godfrey Poku 90+2), Matthew Barnes-Homer, Danny Crow (Jason Walker 89).

Subs Not Used: Craig Hinton, Ed Asafu-Adjaye.

Rushden & Diamonds: , Joe Day, Justin Miller, Curtis Osano, Shane Huke (Michael Corcoran 60), Jamie Stuart (Capt), Matt Johnson (Aaron King 75), Alan Power, Sam Smith (Rene Howe 58), Ryan Charles, Michael Gash, Aaron O’Connor.

Subs Not Used: Lance Key (GK), Craig Farrell

Goals: Matthew Barnes-Homer (44, 1-0), Matthew Barnes-Homer (51, 1-0), Claude Gnakpa (75, 3-0)

Yellow Cards: Matt Johnson, Michael Corcoran

Referee: Mr Tim Robinson (West Sussex)

Attendance: 6928 (Away 279)

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