Rushden & Diamonds 0 Luton Town 1

A defensive error cost Diamonds dearly as they lost by a single goal against Luton Town. A weak back pass from Shane Huke on 11 minutes allowed Robbie Willmott to steal in and fire past Joe Day. Despite having better possession and outnumbering the Hatters for shots and corners, Diamonds were unable to get back on level terms.


Justin Edinburgh made two changes from the side which drew against Southport on Saturday. The injured Justin Miller was to be replaced by Curtis Osano, but he failed a fitness test just before the game, and Michael Corcoran came in at right back. Ryan Charles replaced Craig Farrell in attack.


Luton manager Richard Money was forced into several changes following the suspensions of Alex Lawless and Claude Gnapka after both saw red in their FA Trophy semi-final defeat at Mansfield. Lloyd Owusu failed to recover from injury, while Luke Graham dropped to the bench. In came Paul Carden, Amari Morgan-Smith, Robbie Willmott and Danny Crow, while Mark Tyler replaced Kevin Pilkington in goal.


Diamonds kicked off towards the visiting Luton fans in the Airwair, and created the first chance on 3 minutes as Max Porter tested Hatters keeper Mark Tyler. They certainly matched the visitors in the opening period before disaster struck after just 11 minutes. A long ball forward from George Pilkington looked to be causing little trouble, until the normally reliable Shane Huke failed to get a firm touch on his backpass to Joe Day. In nipped Robbie Willmott to fire the ball towards goal, and although Day got a hand to the ball, he couldn’t prevent it crossing the line.


Despite the setback, Diamonds had good possession, but they lacked that finishing touch. On 18 minutes, Power sent a free kick too close to the keeper, before a Michael Gash header lacked any force to cause problems. Matt Johnson also went wide from Huke’s long ball forward.


The half hour mark came and went as Diamonds tried to get a reply. On 32 minutes, a foul by Zdenek Kroca just outside the area provided another set piece just outside the area. This time, Corcoran’s shot was blocked by the wall, rebounding for a corner. Jamie Day’s inswinger caused further problems, but the referee penalised Corcoran for a foul on the keeper. Another corner within a couple of minutes, and this time ot was Shane Huke who came agonisingly close to making amends for his earlier mistake.


Then in added time, Ryan Charles out-ran Adam Newton down left flank and crossed from the by line. Although Pilkington cleared, the ball struck Michael Gash and rebounded just wide of the post.


Half-time: Diamonds 0 – 1 Luton Town


Diamonds continued to have the better chances at the start of the second half. Power’s free-kick after a foul on Charles saw the ball break to Corcoran, but his effort from 15 yards was saved low down by Tyler. Jamie Day and Shane Huke both went into the referee’s notebook for fouls on Keith Keane and Robbie Willmott respectively as a bit of frustration crept in.


Power had a shot blocked, while a quickly taken free kick from Gary Mills found Gash in space, but the striker headed over as Diamonds continue to miss the target. Mills was another recipient of a yellow card, when his mistimed challenge on Danny Crow saw the Hatters midfielder require the services of former Diamonds’ physio  Simon Parsell.


On 62 minutes, Gash almost produced something out of nothing when his first touch from Jamie Day’s ball provided some space, but he was quickly closed down, and the ball cleared for a corner. Mills also powered a shot wide, but it was Luton who had a great chance to extend the lead on 70 minutes. A high bouncing ball forward deceived Huke and provided a great chance for Jason Walker to race towards goal. Luckily for Diamonds, Eddie Oshodi made an excellent tackle. Joe Day then blocked Danny Crow’s shot before Jamie Day hooked the ball off the line as Robbie Willmott followed up the loose ball.


Luton had their best spell of the game, and Walker and Jake Howells combined well before spurning another good chance, but with 15 minutes remaining Diamonds, came close again when Power’s corner was laid back to Mills. Although his shot was off target, it was intercepted by Gash – the striker turning and forcing a superb stop from Tyler. The veteran keeper also produced another good save to deny Michael Corcoran from Jamie Day’s corner kick.


Both sides had rather weak penalty appeals turned down by the referee as the game entered the final few minutes. Nabil Shariff came on for Johnson, but Luton saw out the remainder of the game to take the three points.


Full-time: Diamonds 0 – 1 Luton Town


So despite the endeavour and hard work shown by Diamonds for the entire ninety minutes, a momentary lapse of concentration saw then slip to only their second defeat in thirteen games. They deserved at least a draw but once again, it was that finishing touch that was missing. Diamonds are on the road again next Saturday (26 March), when they travel to Kingsmeadow to play another team in the play-off positions – AFC Wimbledon – 3pm kick-off.


Rushden & Diamonds – Joe Day, Eddie Oshodi, Max Porter (c), Gary Mills, Jamie Day, Alan Power, Michael Corcoran, Matt Johnson (Nabil Shariff 88), Ryan Charles, Shane Huke, Michael Gash.

Subs not used: Simon Evans (GK), Craig Farrell, Joe Keehan, Morgan Phillips.


Luton Town: Mark Tyler, Keith Keane, George Pilkington (c), Adam Newton, Amari Morgan-Smith (Jason Walker 63), Matthew Barnes-Homer, Robbie Willmott, Zdenek Kroca, Jake Howells, Parl Carden, Danny Crow (Godfrey Poku 75).

Subs not used: Kevin Pilkington (GK), Luke Graham, Dan Walker.


Goals: Robbie Willmott 11 (0-1).


Booked: Jamie Day 49 (foul), Shane Huke 51 (foul). Gary Mills 59 (foul), Godfrey Poku 77 (foul).


Referee: Mr Michael Bull (Essex)


Attendance: 2459 (1227 away).


Man of the Match sponsored by Stable Hire Ltd – Alan Power.

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