AFC Rushden & Diamonds went out of the FA Carlsberg Vase by losing 2-0 to St Andrews FC at the Dog & Duck on Saturday afternoon.
The performance was by some distance the worst that had been produced by a Diamonds team in their history, failing to score at home for the first time, and their lower-ranked opponents cantered to a deserved victory.
In front of a Diamonds record home crowd of 948 it was difficult to believe this was the same side that had progressed through so many rounds of the FA Cup and FA Vase, playing for a club whose only defeats to date in those competitions had been away from home against higher ranked teams.
The game went ahead after tremendous efforts by the Diamonds volunteers who gave up many hours of their time to get the pitch in a playable condition. The Diamonds team had experienced similar conditions at the Dog & Duck the previous weekend against Boston Town, but did not appear to have learnt lessons from that game.
The visitors went ahead after six minutes when a lofted cross from the left saw Tom Cross caught flat-footed allowing Leon Doughty to force the ball home. Although the Diamonds had a couple of attempts on goal scrambled clear they gave visiting keeper Luke Hall very little to do, and he saw his side go further ahead seven minutes after the break when the Saints broke quickly after defending a corner, and with too few Diamonds players putting in the effort to get back and support it was left to Dan Henfrey to net the Saints second goal.
The Diamonds fans had been used to seeing their team battle back from being behind in cup competitions this season, either to earn replays at London Colney, Cockfosters or Dunstable, or to win those memorable games against AFC Wulfrunians and Cambridge City, but the same level of fight and determination was somehow missing in this game.
Although the Saints had Mitch Warner sent off after 81 minutes this had little impact on the Diamonds attempts to get back into the game, as they created few chances, and any they did create were wasted by wayward efforts on goal.
For this game in the Fourth Round Proper of the FA Carlsberg Vase, Diamonds Manager Mark Starmer had virtually a full-strength squad available, with the only absentees being Richard Bunting whose stop-start career at the club continues, and Ben Morgan who is serving a three game ban following a dismissal in an under-21 game. Sam Brown and Aaron King had to pass fitness tests prior to the game.
The Diamonds will need to regroup before they face runaway league leaders Spalding United at the Dog & Duck next weekend, although they will have to wait until next season before getting a chance to make amends for this cup disappointment.
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
St Andrews FC
17. Tom Cross
2. Joe Merrill
3. Sam Brown
4. Sean McBride
5. Jamal Clarke
6. Arron Parkinson (c)
7. Matt Gearing
8. Brad Harris
9. Russ Dunkley
10. Alfie Taylor
11. Greg Ling
12. Alex Deakin
13. (GK) Adam Whybrow
14. Fazel Koriya (for Taylor 64)
15. Aaron King (for Harris 58)
16. Joe Henderson (for McBride 79)
1. Luke Hall
2. Sam Preston
3. Mitch Warner
4. Perry Johnson
5. Joe Latham
6. Tom Hodson
7. Toby Warner
8. Dan Henfrey (c)
9. Sam Taylor
10. Leon Doughty
11. Brady Hickey
12. Tom Orton (for Henfrey 90+3)
14. Ben Stephens (for Taylor 87)
15. Luay Bashir (for T Warner 76)
16. Sam Hollis
17. Tom Marriott
Goals: Doughty (6), Henfrey (52)
Yellow Cards: Parkinson, Ling
Yellow Cards: M Warner, Latham, Preston, Taylor.
Red Card: M Warner
Referee: Mr Nigel Smith
Assistant Referees: Mr Trevor Basker & Mr Christopher Reeson
Fourth Official: Mr James Turner