AFC Rushden & Diamonds will be relieved to have a second chance of winning the first FA Cup tie in their history when they drew 1-1 with London Colney at Cotlandswick on Saturday afternoon. On a blustery afternoon Spencer Clark-Mardel gave the hosts a half-time lead in front of a record crowd for his club, and it took until 12 minutes from time for the Diamonds to equalise, courtesy of an angled left-foot shot from Joe Merrill. Both sides came close to getting a winner in a tense final ten minutes, but a mistake from Man-of-the-Match Tom Cross almost undid his earlier good work, as he clawed a ball off the line that had squirmed through his grasp.
Mark Starmer took charge of the side on his return, and he included Ben Morgan in his starting line-up rather than risk Alfie Taylor for the full 90 minutes after his knock in midweek. Matt Gearing deputised for the absent Fazel Koriya, and Dan Grainger took a place on the bench. With Nat Liburd suspended and Aaron King unavailable, the Diamonds named six substitutes rather than the seven allowed in the FA Cup.
The rather blustery wind blowing down the pitch as well as a squally shower at kick-off time meant that the teams took a while to adjust to the conditions. Although the Diamonds had the lion’s share of early possession, forcing a number of corners, it was the hosts who had the best chances in the first quarter, with the impressive Matt Newman forcing Tom Cross to make two good saves to keep the scores level.
At the other end it was in the 20th minute that home keeper made his first real save from a Russ Dunkley header, and then a few minutes later he did even better to tip a Ben Morgan effort onto the post after good work from Dunkley. Morgan then fired over, but just as it looked like the Diamonds might be about to open the scoring it was the hosts who took the lead. A determined run on the left by Martin Collins saw the ball flicked in the path of Spencer Clarke-Mardel on the right. With Sam Brown having had to come inside to support the centre-backs the Blueboys midfielder made no mistake with his finish.
Tom Cross made another good point-blank save from Fitzgerald before the Diamonds started to play the ball to feet shortly before the break with Gearing and Morgan linking well before a dangerous cross from Morgan was scrambled clear.
Half-Time: London Colney 1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0
Once again both sides took time to adjust to the reversed conditions in the second half, but an early error by Brad Harris gave Matt Newman a free run on goal, forcing Cross to do well to save the striker’s effort. The Blueboys were relying on Newman playing a lone striker role, so their five man midfield made good use of the extra man in that area.
A cross from Joe Merrill saw both Dunkley and Wisniewski go close, and Matt Gearing forced Whittamore into a save. Alfie Taylor was brought into the action which seemed to increase the Diamonds attacking threat, but at the same time the Diamonds ineffective offside trap was exposed by Newman on several occasions, so it was still unclear at which end the next goal might be scored.
After 77 minutes both sides made a change, with Matt Newman having picked up a knock for the Blueboys, and Elliot Dent replacing Brad Harris. Within a minute the Diamonds were level, with a ball into the area by Alfie Taylor being flicked by Dunkley into the path of Joe Merrill who hammered the ball into the net with his left foot.
Any thought that the hosts might settle for a replay after the equaliser and the loss of Newman were quickly quashed, as they pushed more men forwards and forced further good saves from Tom Cross. Seven minutes from time there was a major scare for the Diamonds when a slip by Jamal Clarke allowed a deflected shot to spin off a defender, and although the ball appeared to be heading comfortably towards Cross he allowed the ball to squirm past him and towards goal. His quick reaction to paw the ball away as it headed towards the net had the Diamonds’ fans looking nervously towards the linesman, but he indicated he had not seen the ball cross the line.
There was still time for Fitzgerald to miss the target from close range with a half-volley, and substitutes Hill and Warner combine to almost force a late winner, with the Diamonds also going close at the other end through Taylor and Wisniewski.
After four minutes of added time referee Barnes signalled that the tie would need to be settled in the replay at the Dog & Duck on Tuesday evening (KO: 7:45pm)
Full-Time: London Colney 1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1
Diamonds Man of the Match: Tom Cross
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
1. Mark Whittamore
2. Daniel Power
3. Daniel McCafferty
4. Mark Paradise
5. Shaun Murphy
6. Greg Shaw
7. Craig Knightly
8. Spencer Clark-Mardel
9. Matt Newman
10. Daniel Fitzgerald (Capt)
11. Martin Collins
12. Jimmy Hill (for Newman 77)
14. Anthony Burns
15. James Warner (for Collins 63)
16. James Lawrence
17. Jamie Taylor
18. Russell Gallagher (for Knightley 88)
19. Daniel Noble
17. Tom Cross
2. Joe Merrill
3. Sam Brown
4. Séan McBride
5. Jake Gillingwater
6. Jamal Clarke
7. Jack Wisniewski
8. Brad Harris
9. Russ Dunkley (Capt)
10. Ben Morgan
11. Matt Gearing
12. Elliot Dent (for Harris 77)
13. Quincy Shorunmu
14. Dan Grainger (for McBride 88)
15. Alex Deakin
16. Lance Allen
18. Alfie Taylor (for Morgan 67)
Goals: Clarke-Mardel (30)
Goals: Merrill (78)
Yellow Cards : None
Yellow Cards: None
Referee: Michael Barnes
Assistants: Mattheo Starri, John Hyde
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