No sparkle as Diamonds destroy Fleet


Two goals in the last 10 minutes place serious doubts on Fleet’s play-off ambitions…


A lethargic and unimaginative performance gave Rushden & Diamonds their fifth away win on the trot as the Fleet warmed up for Saturday’s Trophy match in less than ideal circumstances. Liam Daish opted for wholesale changes to his defence, with Mark Ricketts, Gary MacDonald and Ronnie Bull getting a start while skipper for the night Chris McPhee reverted to his place on the right side of midfield.

In a game that failed to come to life for the Fleet’s lowest Conference gate since their return in 2002, Rushden looked the more determined though both sides struggled to entertain. That was hardly surprising given the swirling wind, though the conditions could only be blamed for some of what was a turgid game. The opening exchanges were lifeless with the Fleet struggling to develop any sort of rhythm and Rushden happy to probe for openings as they presented themselves early on.

Stacy Long had an effort off-target on 10 minutes and two minutes later, Chukki Eribenne managed to tee up a shot from the edge of the box that swerved with pace but was always heading wide of the post.

But the Diamonds took the lead on 21 minutes when Peter Hawkins only half-cleared a long Chris Hope free-kick from inside his six-yard box and the ball fell to Jon Challinor who did well to hook it into the far corner of the goal from an angle. The Fleet fans sensed it was going to be one of those nights and attempted to rouse their side but when it became clear that little new was going to materialise, both fans and players seemed to fall back into their stupour.

There was one bright moment, however, when the Fleet’s only clear-cut opportunity of the half arrived at the feet of John Akinde from a Chris McPhee long throw on 39 minutes but the young striker somehow failed to get the necessary power on his shot and Dale Roberts was able to push it to safety.

That was to be Akinde’s final contribution as he made way for George Purcell at the start of the second half. But if Daish had wanted a greater potency in attack as a result, he was to be sorely disappointed as both sides struggled to find any real fluidity. They weren’t helped by an over-officious referee who booked three Fleet players – first Eribenne (who he had harshly sent off against Stafford) for a 50-50 challenge on Roberts outside the box and then on 51 minutes McPhee in the most entertaining moment of the match when the Fleet skipper performed a comedy impersonation of Marcus Kelly’s dive but referee Beck’s sense of humour had been left in the dressing room. Gary MacDonald also saw yellow for a high though not deliberate challenge on substitute Michael Rankine.

Daish threw on Luke Moore and Raphael Nade in an attempt to gee up his forward line but the effect was negligible and in fact it was Garry Hill’s substitutes who had the most impact. On 79 minutes Rankine should have doubled the visitors’ lead when he was sent through on goal by Lee Tomlin. Rankine outpaced a flailing Hawkins but Cronin did enough to worry the big striker and he fired wide.

He got another bite at the cherry a minute later, however, after Andy Gooding outfoxed the Fleet defence down the left and crossed low, allowing Rankine a simple finish from six yards. Ten minutes later, with the sparse crowd fast departing, two more subs combined when Conal Platt found Tomlin in space and he zipped down the right wing, left Ronnie Bull for dead in the penalty area and planted a fine shot past Cronin inside the far post to add further shine to the Diamonds’ scoreline.

McPhee still had time to add a veneer of respectability to the scoreline in time added on but it wasn’t the Fleet’s night and Michael Corcoran got in the way. The mass exodus of Fleet fans at the final whistle – or long before it for many of them – was in sharp contrast to last Saturday and Daish must now rally his troops ahead of their visit to Aldershot. The silver lining to the Fleet’s cloud, however, is that he shouldn’t have as much trouble getting them in the mood for that game as he did tonight.

TEAM: Cronin, Ricketts, Bull, Hawkins, MacDonald, Bostwick (Moore 60), Barrett, Long, McPhee, Eribenne (Nade 76), Akinde (Purcell 45). Subs not used: Mott, Opinel.

Attendance: 546


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