Rushden and Diamonds 1-0 Mansfield Town
This home win placed Rushden and Diamonds above Mansfield Town on the Blue Square League ladder.
Rushden have now suffered only one defeat in their past seven games and are sixth, while for Mansfield, it is now four matches without a win and they are in seventh spot.
Rushden are doing very well for a club that is now in the 5th tier of English football after only being formed in 1990 and having a brief spell in the English League. It is their fifth season back at this level. They even have their own radio station, Radio Diamonds.
Their delightful Nene Park ground, with a capacity of 6,441 (4,641 seated), would be the envy of an A-League side such as Gold Coast United, who might fill such a ground with their home games and spare TV viewers the sight of huge empty grandstands on three sides of Skilled Park.
The pitch was in excellent shape, while the stands were brightly painted and appeared to have comfortable seating. The canteens look easily accessible and Wells Bombardier, the so-called ‘English drink’, is available for those who want to enjoy a beer during the game.
In fact, this venue and its fine facilities will be the training headquarters for judo and table-tennis at the 2012 London Olympics.
Times are not so good for the visitors, who were relegated from Division Two in 2008 after 77 years in the English League. The Stags were losing 10,000 pounds a week and have now been taken over by a new owner, who has promised to pump half a million quid into the club this season.
The Diamonds, playing a 4-3-3, should have taken the lead after only 8 minutes when a throw-in from the right was flicked on twice and the ball fell for Tim Sills, but he headed wide from close range.
Seconds later, however, Sills fired the home side into the lead. Rene Howe, who is on loan from Peterborough United, cut the ball back from the byline on the right and Sills side-footed the ball into the roof of the net with his left peg to register his first goal for the club.
The Diamonds, as well as Mansfield, who were playing a 4-4-2 system, were relying on the long ball at this stage. Both sides were also trying to penetrate down the flanks and managing to send over some dangerous crosses.
In the 12th minute, the home side had a lucky escape. Mansfield sent over a cross from the right to the far post, which was dropped by Rushden’s keeper, 20-year-old Joe Day, but as the ball bounced back towards the goal, Shane Huke hooked it clear.
Joe Day, who was filling in for the injured Dale Roberts, recovered from this opening bout of nerves and went on to have a fine game and was later named man-of-the-match.
In the 19th minute, he produced a good save from Adam Murray’s low strike.
Both sides were now beginning to play the ball on the ground and building up from the back. In the 28th minute, Luke Medley had the ball in the back of the Rushden net after some poor defending by the home side, but the effort was given off-side.
Joe Day repaid manager Justin Edinburgh’s faith in him a minute before the interval when he produced a brilliant save from a Gary Mills shot from 25 metres. With the ball arrowing into the top-right hand corner of the net, Day threw himself through the air and tipped it wide for a corner.
In stoppage time, Joe Day was at his best again as he turned Louis Briscoe’s shot from the right, after a well-rehearsed free-kick routine, wide for another corner.
There was some fierce tackling in the final minutes of the opening half and the commentators, Joe Speight and Ian Snodin, suggested there would have been at least five free kicks awarded if it were a Premier League match, but referee Carl Berry allowed play to go on. There was nothing malicious, however, as has recently been suggested occurs in the Premier League. It was good old manly stuff, on which the English game’s reputation has been built.
Eight minutes after the resumption, Rushden’s Alan Power sent a shot straight at Mansfield keeper Mihkel Aksalu, who is on loan from Sheffield United, after a poor attempted over-head clearance by a Mansfield defender.
Aksalu sent his team straight into a counter-attack and Medley broke through with only the keeper to beat, but he miscued his shot and the ball hit the base of the far post. It was a golden chance to put the visitors level with the Diamonds.
In the 57th minute, Mansfield manager David Holdsworth, changed his strikers, taking off Paul Connor and Ashley Cain and bringing on Scotsman Keigan Parker and Welshman Rob Duffy.
Rushden hit back and, in the 63rd minute, Aksalu was forced to make a timely save at his near post from a shot from the left.
Mansfield hit the woodwork for the second time in the game when, in the 74th minute, Duffy cracked a great shot against the crossbar after a hotly contested corner decision.
Mansfield’s Chris Smith was very lucky to stay on after he head-butted an opponent in the 77th minute and in clear view of the referee.
Four minutes from the end, the busy and mobile substitute, Parker, was through on goal but volleyed wide with his right foot when he perhaps should have tried a left-footed strike.
That was the final chance of the match and the Mansfield fans had to make the 90-mile journey home disappointed.
And some trivia? The Diamonds wear a Macron strip, but their captain, Jamie Stuart, wears a Nike armband. The Stags wear an Errea strip, while the match ball was an Umbro.
Oh, and there is life outside the English Premier League.
Rushden and Diamonds (4-3-3): Joe Day - C Osano, J Stuart, S Huke, Jamie Day (K Robinson 46) - M Porter, A Power (R Charles 83), M Johnson - T Sills (L Spence 65), A O’Connor, R Howe [Substitutes not used: L Key, M Corcoran]
Booked: L Spence 79, K Robinson 90+5
Goals: T Sills 8
Mansfield Town (4-4-2): M Aksalu - D Silk, S Foster, C Smith, K Sandwith - A Cain, G Mills, A Murray, L Briscoe (S Istead 79) - L Medley (K Parker 57), P Connor (R Duffy 57) [Substitutes not used: N Collett, P Stonehouse]
Booked: C Smith 90+2
Ref: C Berry (Surrey)