(Above: A busful of Rushden fans prepares to leave…)
Garry Hill makes 6 changes to the side that drew with Halifax on Saturday, naming the same side that beat Halifax last Thursday. With just under £30,000 at stake Rushden will have extra incentive to win, although the more romantic side of me likes to think that it is more important than that. The Diamonds have the chance to win their first ever national cup, and offer some consilation to the fans who have travelled the length and breadth of the country.
A large enough travelling faithful of 300+ Rushden fans is expected; the controvertial hosting of the game at The Rec. Ground evened out by the hosts show of goodwill by allowing Diamonds fans to enter for free.
Today will be Garry Hill’s first game this season without first team coach Kevin Hales. Hales’ shock resigning on Saturday came at a strange time; with six months left on his contract it seemed odd that he would leave immediately with nine games of the ’07-’08 campaign to go. Hill and Hales shared a coaching partnership extending back to 2005, at Weymouth, so today we will be given our first indication of how 50% of the Rushden coaching team handle flying solo.
|2||Dean Smith||2||Curtis Osano|
|3||Anthony Straker||4||Phil Gulliver|
|5||Chris Hope (c)|
|8||Lewis Chalmers||7||Jon Challinor|
|9||John Grant||8||Curtis Woodhouse|
|17||Kirk Hudson||11||Andy Burgess|
|18||Dave Winfield||14||Michael Rankine|
|23||Joel Grant||16||Tom Shaw|
|24||Scott Donnelly||18||Marcus Kelly|
|25||Junior Mendez||24||Dean Howell|
|7||Louie Soares||19||Martyn Margarson|
|11||Ryan Williams||15||Lee Tomlin|
|14||Danny Hylton||17||Andy Gooding|
|19||Ben Harding||21||Jake Beecroft|
|20||Rob Gier||27||Abdou El-Kholti|
(Above: Rushden fans)
Rushden enjoyed the majority of the early pressure, and Rushden could have taken the lead through a Jon Challinor header that just missed the target. As the half wore on Aldershot grew more into the game, and had a number of stinging shots that Dale Roberts did well to save.
Just short of the hour mark Aldershot replaced injured Dave Winfield with former Diamonds Rob Gier; he made over 75 caps for the club, but was greeted by a chorus of boos from the Rushden faithful, a dissapointing moment.
(Above: Rankine receives a ticking-off from the ref)
Aldershot gradually gained the upper-hand as the half neared its end, with a number of crosses and corners coming to no avail.
The half ended with a chance for each side; a pass just agonizingly too far for Rankine with the goal gaping after great play by Challinor. As the commentator said, Rushden have more than matched the league leaders, and will aim to be just the second team to beat Aldershot at home this year.
(Above: Are you watching Kettering?!)
(Above: the match restarts)
The first good chance of the half fell to Jon Challinor, who, having found himself clear on goal, was pleased to see the offside flag go up after his shot missed the target. Aldershot again were thwarted by Dale Roberts, as he made a good save with his legs.
The hosts almost took the lead after a hissing Mendes shot went just wide of the post. Rushden went right up the other end only to see a Michael Rankine shot skim off the post, too.
And then, two goals in two minutes. Aldershot took the lead through a bundled Mendes effort, after Rushden players failed to deal with a penatrating run into their box. However, just seconds after the restart Rushden evened up the scores, a long throw in falling to Andy Burgess who made no mistake with the finish.
Rankine failed to score with a free header from just 5 yards out, and it was the last chance to prevent extra-time.
Rankine had another effort just after the restart, but his shot once again missed the target. A Lee Tomlin effort was saved just seconds earlier.
It seemed that Rushden would pay dearly for missed chances, as Aldershot again took the leasd through a superb effort that found the gap between Dale’s glove and the left-side post.
However, it was not Rushden’s night. A penalty, given away by ex-Diamonds Rob Gier, was not converted by Gier. It was simply a case of the keeper diving the right way.
Things went from bad to worse soon after the second half of ET began, as Roberts, who parried two Aldershot efforts, was left helpless as a Donnelly header snuck into the goal.
However, when the game seemed over Rushden were given another lifeline. A second penalty was awarded to the Diamonds and, far from shying away after his earlier miss, Andy Burgess stood up to score his second goal of the game.
And then it happened. From an inch out, Michael Rankine nodded the ball into the goal to bring the game to penalties. An unbelievable end to a dramatic match.
After the drama of the previous 120 minutes it seemed a sad way to lose the game. Going out on penalties is never nice, but Rushden could feel proud at how they had performed. Putting 3 past the league leaders is no mean feat. An encouraging performance to take into their remaining league fixtures.
Hi ho Rushden Diamonds.