Rushden and Diamonds 1 Halifax Town 0: Town fall just short in Shield

TOWN'S good run in the Setanta Shield ended as they went down to a single goal defeat against Rushden & Diamonds in the northern final at Nene Park last night.

But it was an encouraging display from a patched-up side that showed six changes from the team, that lost 2-0 at Droylsden on Monday.

In contrast to the Shaymen, Rushden, comfortably in mid table, had rested players over the Easter weekend specifically to earn a place in the national final at Aldershot next Thursday.

But they were no better than Halifax who battled hard and created the better chances overall.

And, not for the first time this season, it was the home keeper - in this case Dale Roberts - who picked up the sponsor's man of the match award.

He was certainly a lot busier than Adam Legzdins and his first half saves from Simon Heslop ensured the night ended in disappointment for Town.

The Shaymen, clearly with an eye on tomorrow's trip to Exeter City in the Blue Square Premier, started brightly with Tom Kearney and Mark Whitehouse combining to set up Lewis Killeen whose left footer from the edge of the area was saved by Roberts.

Moments later, Dean Howell's back header flew over his own keeper, Daryl Taylor nipped in and was only denied by a goalline clearance from Phil Gulliver.

Town felt they had a cast iron penalty as the ball appeared to strike Gulliver on the arm, but they had to settle for a corner.

Heslop collected a Kearney pass with 12 minutes gone and thumped a shot from 20 yards, Roberts tipping it over the top.

And Whitehouse's powerfully struck cross from the left was claimed under his own bar by the keeper.

Having dominated, it was almost inevitable that the Shaymen would fall behind, although the corner from which they scored after 15 minutes should never have been given.

Tom Shaw delivered from the set piece and Michael Rankine's downward header deceived the Town defence as it bounced into the net.

Halifax's response was almost immediate, Heslop's run and through ball picking out Whitehouse who was, somehow, denied by the keeper.

Rushden enjoyed their best spell of the first half after that with Adam Legzdins saving from Shaw and Marcus Kelly.

Heslop fired narrowly wide in a moment of respite for the Shaymen.

But the Diamonds returned to the attack and it took a great block from Jake Wright to send Rankine's 35th minute shot behind for a corner.

Town finished the half well, creating a series of openings, but neither Killeen nor Whitehouse could get on the end of Taylor's left wing cross, Heslop's shot from a Kearney corner was scrambled away after Roberts had parried and when Heslop raced forward on the stroke of half time he shot early and into the keeper's arms.

Kearney's free kick early in the second half narrowly missed Nicky Gray's head as he flew in from the edge of the six-yard box.

And Matt Doughty tried his luck from a 25-yard free kick to the left of goal, but failed to hit the target.

Rushden's best effort in the early stages of the second half fell to Shaw who latched onto a Howell cross only for his shot to deflect wide of goal.

Kelly's corner just past the hour mark was headed down and wide by Chris Hope while Doughty's free kick from the left was easily claimed by Roberts.

Rankine raced onto a long through ball with 17 minutes remaining only to be denied by Legzdins who raced quickly off his line.

And substitute Lee Tomlin ran clear with 10 minutes to go only to send a right foot effort over the bar.

In between, Kearney fed the ball wide for Danny Forrest who pulled it back for Gray, but his shot on the turn was straight at the keeper.

Town forced two corners in added time, the first was headed off target by Wright with Simon Ainge hooking the second over the top.

MATCH FACTS

Rushden & Diamonds: Roberts, Osano, Howell, Gulliver, Hope, Burgess, Kelly, Shaw, Woodhouse, Rankine, Challinor (Tomlin 75). Subs (not used): Margarson, Gooding, Lambley, El-Kholti

Booked: Woodhouse

Sent-off: None

Goals: Rankine 15

Halifax Town: Legzdins, Doughty, Harban, Atherton, Wright, Heslop (Forrest 63), Kearney, Gray (Ainge 88), Whitehouse, Killeen (Griffith 69), Taylor. Subs (not used): Mawson.

Booked: Atherton

Sent-off: None

Goals: None

Attendance: 880

Referee: G. Sutton (Lincolnshire)

STAR SHAYMAN

Simon Heslop played wide on the right of midfield, but caused havoc in the Rushden & Diamonds defence for the 63 minutes he was on the pitch last night.

Heslop linked well with Tom Harban out wide and when he drifted inside the Diamonds defence struggled to cope with him.

Before being taken off with tomorrow's game at Exeter City in mind, he had gone as close as any Town player to bagging a goal with two of his shots forcing superb saves from home keeper Dale Roberts, saves that helped him go away with the man of the match award.

Jake Wright continues to impress and had another fine game last night, timing his sliding tackles to perfection whenever he was required to

He must have taken enormous confidence from playing alongside assisstant manager Peter Atherton who also looked assured on a rare start

But for a fortuitous goal from Michael Rankine, the duo would have helped their side keep a clean sheet

Heslop takes the three points on offer in our season-long competition with Wright claiming two and Atherton one

PLAYER POINTS

Jon Shaw 43, Simon Heslop 39, Andy Campbell 22, Anthony Griffith 22, Tom Kearney 21, Jake Wright 17, Lewis Killeen 14, Matt Doughty 12, Steve Torpey 12, Steve Bushell 10, Danny Forrest 13, Daryl Taylor 8, Rob Scott 7, Tom Clarke 6, Adam Legzdins 6, Cortez Belle 5, Craig Nelthorpe 4, Craig Mawson 3, Adam Quinn 3, Peter Atherton 2, Nathan Joynes 2, Darryn Stamp 2, Ryan Toulson 2, Greg Young 2, Simon Ainge 1, Gareth Davies 1, Santos Gaia 1.