Football: Crazy days for Cheltenham

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Rushden & Diamonds 1

De Souza 22

Cheltenham Town 2

Freeman 89, Grayson 90

Half-time: 1-0 Attendance: 6,312

THIS CONTEST to seize the initiative in the race to join the Football League was an intriguing affair. Forget Manchester United and Arsenal, the queues which stretched around all four sides of Neane Park in rural Northamptonshire said it all.

A carnival atmosphere, generated by masses of streamers, blow horns and party hats, reflected an expectant crowd of 6,312, all dolled up for this meeting of non-League goliaths.

The occasion had clearly got to the home side as they tried to force an early goal. In the 12th minute, Darren Collins, their leading scorer, saw his firm header whistle past the post following a Carl Heggs run and cross. Collins' strike partner, Miguel De Souza, a bargain buy from Peterborough United, threatened constantly with pace and power and he provided Rushden's first goal 10 minutes later. Darren Bradshaw floated in a free-kick from his own half which Guy Branston cushioned down for De Souza to drill home from six yards.

The visitors almost restored parity on the half-hour when Dennis Bailey fed Michael Duff, whose bullet-shot cannoned off the outside of the post.

With Rushden's resolute defence surviving Cheltenham's second-half onslaught, the match appeared to be heading for a home-side victory. However, just as the vociferous travelling support forced their way to the exits, Mark Freeman, the substitute, and Neil Grayson plundered two priceless goals in the final minute to complete a memorable turnaround. First, Freeman headed home a Duff cross to send Cheltenham into raptures before Grayson's injury-time goal settled the match.

It was cruel luck for Rushden but mirrored Cheltenham's determination, installed by their manager, Steve Cotterill. His relative paupers now pose a threat to Max Griggs' pounds 20m effort to fund Rushden a place in the League. The millionaire owner of the shoemakers Dr Martens may see his dream kicked into touch by a team led by a former member of football's original bootboys, the Crazy Gang.