Rushden and Diamonds coasted to a 2-1 victory over a lacklustre United side on a damp and dreary Monday afternoon at the National Sports Centre in
A goal in either half from Stuart Gray and Alex Hay were enough to seal a comfortable victory for the Northamptonshire outfit despite a late Kevin Henderson consolation goal for the Cumbrians.
The game started in a scrappy fashion with neither side able to hold on to possession for any length of time, the first chance falling to Carlisle in the 7th minute when Chris Billy drove wide after a Brendan McGill corner had only been half-cleared.
From then on it was Rushden who had the majority of the ball as United struggled to find a link between the midfield and front men.
On 12 minutes, David Bell drove a free-kick wide of Peter Keen’s goal and the Blues defence was again called into last-ditch action in the 23rd minute after a corner.
Burgess swung the ball in from the far side, and with Keen flapping at the ball at the far-post it was down to Brian Shelley, who was one of the better performers on the day, to clear from almost on the goal-line.
Two minutes later though Diamonds did take the lead with an excellent goal from Gray. The ball was cleared from the United area by Shelley only to fall to Gray who curled an unstoppable 20-yarder with the outside of his left foot from the angle into Keen’s top left-hand corner.
United fought back after going behind and in the next ten minutes, Shelley and Andy Preece both had half-chances they could have done better with only to fire straight at Lee Worgan in the Diamonds goal.
Rushden gained control again though at the end of the half with a Craig Dove curler and a Barry Hunter header from a corner both causing the United defence problems.
The first ten minutes of the second half saw an all too typical United performance with plenty of pressure and possession but little end product.
A weak Preece free-kick and a couple of easily cleared corners was all United had to show for a better display in the first 15 minutes after the break.
The game drifted from the hour-mark with both sides struggling to keep hold of the ball as the rain lashed down and made the pitch slippery.
On 72 minutes, Diamonds went further ahead with another goal out of nowhere. A long ball was played over the top by Rushden centre-half, and man of the match, Gary Mills. As Keen came out to claim Hay beat him to it to coolly lob over from 20 yards and into the net despite the despairing attempt of Lee Andrews to clear away from the unguarded goal.
United picked up their game from then in as the introductions of Craig Farrell and Kevin Henderson on 62 minutes for the ineffectual Preece and Rocca had already given the Cumbrians more of a physical presence upfront.
On 80 minutes, Adam Rundle played a ball in to Karl Hawley whose shot from the angle was saved by Worgan in the Diamonds goal with the onrushing Farrell unable to scramble home the rebound.
Chris Billy pushed on from midfield in the closing stages and had a couple of long-range efforts that drifted wide and it was his through ball to Rundle that set-up United’s consolation goal a minute from time.
Rundle was brought down by Graham Allan in a dangerous central position on the edge of the ‘D’. Farrell smashed a low drive through the wall which came back off Worgan’s legs straight to Henderson who blasted in from six yards to make the score 2-1 to the Diamonds.
Rushden now await the winners of tonight’s match between Bristol Rovers and Wrexham in the final at the Bowl,
United, meanwhile face a spirited Isle of Man outfit in Peel tomorrow night to see if they play-off for third/fourth place in Douglas on Friday afternoon or for fifth/sixth place in Ramsey on Friday evening.
Peter Keen 5, Brian Shelley 7* (Adam Rundle 69, 6), Tom Cowan 6, Will McDonagh 6, Lee Andrews 6, Kevin Gray 6, Brendan McGill 6, Chris Billy 7, Andy Preece 5 (Kevin Henderson 62, 6), Karl Hawley 5, Carlos Rocca 5 (Craig Farrell, 62, 6).
Unused subs : Neil Dalton + Peter Murphy.
Lee Worgan, Andrew Sambrook, Peter Hawkins (Sean Connelly 46), Gary Mills (Stuart Wardley 75), Graham Allan, Barry Hunter (Rob Gier 64), David
Unused subs : John Dempster + Danny Talbot.
Referee : Gareth Jones.
Tim Graham (thetashkentterror).