Diamonds’ Wembley hopes are ended by St Andrews

AFC Rushden & Diamonds manager Mark Starmer
AFC Rushden & Diamonds manager Mark Starmer

AFC Rushden & Diamonds’ hopes of reaching Wembley were crushed in front of a club record crowd at the Dog & Duck.

In truth, Mark Starmer’s side were, for long periods, out-worked by a highly-spirited St Andrews side who struck a goal in each half to move into the last 16 of the FA Vase.

And there could be few arguments for the ChromaSport & Trophies United Counties League Premier Division side who didn’t take their chances when they came along.

The big news for Diamonds was the return of striker Russ Dunkley after a hamstring injury but Richard Bunting missed out due to a calf problem.

A very big and vocal following from the East Midlands Counties League Premier Division helped make for a proper cup tie atmosphere.

St Andrews started aggressively as they held nothing back as challenges went flying in early on.

And it was the away contingent who were celebrating after just seven minutes when they stunned Diamonds by taking the lead.

A cross came in from the left and Leon Doughty rose higher than home goalkeeper Tom Cross as the striker’s header dropped into the corner of the net.

And it could have been even worse for Diamonds just 60 seconds later when Cross could only parry Toby Warner’s low strike and the ball was scrambled clear with Doughty ready to pounce.

Brady Hickey curled another effort just over for the visitors before Diamonds finally got into the game.

And they really should have been level when Dunkley held off his marker to play in Greg Ling but, with just the goalkeeper to beat, he shot wide of the far post.

Alfie Taylor shot into the side netting and Dunkley was out of luck when his header was hacked off the line by a visiting defender.

But St Andrews continued to be a threat and Sam Taylor went close when he volleyed wide on the turn.

Dunkley had another shot deflected over the bar before the break but Diamonds started the second half slowly and they were punished seven minutes after the restart.

St Andrews broke away quickly after defending a corner with Hickey leading the charge. One of those racing to support was Dan Henfrey and Hickey slipped him in the skipper and he hammered home past an exposed cross.

Diamonds responded pretty well to that but were once again guilt of not taking their chances as Alfie Taylor blasted over before Jamal Clarke made a horrible mess of a free header from a corner.

But it was Cross who was the busier of the two goalkeepers and he was forced to parry away Toby Warner’s shot after good work from Sam Taylor.

Substitute Aaron King fired just wide for the hosts but Diamonds began to run out of ideas as the visitors did a fine job of forcing errors out of them.

There was some faint hope with nine minutes to go when Mitch Warner was sent off for a second bookable offence after he hauled down Ling on the edge of the area.

But Diamonds couldn’t make that numerical advantage count in the latter stages and the visitors celebrated a deserved place in the last 16

Diamonds: Cross; Merrill, Clarke, Parkinson, Brown; Gearing, Harris (sub King, 57 mins), McBride (sub Henderson, 78 mins), Ling; Dunkley, A Taylor (sub Koriya, 64 mins). Subs not used: Deakin, Whybrow.

St Andrews: Hall; Preston, Johnson, Latham, M Warner; T Warner (sub Bashir, 75 mins), Henfrey (sub Orton 90 mins), Hodson, Hickey; S Taylor (sub Stephens, 87 mins), Doughty. Subs not used: Hollis, Marriott.

Referee: Nigel Smith.

Goals: Doughty (7 mins, 0-1), Henfrey (52 mins, 0-2),

Bookings: M Warner, Ling (both fouls), Latham (dissent), Parkinson (deliberate handball), S Taylor (kicking ball away).

Sending-off: M Warner (second bookable offence).

Attendance: 948.