A strange refereeing decision that reduced a previously dominant Rushden & Diamonds side to 10 men at the newly opened Kassam Stadium effectively turned on its head this extraordinary game between the Third Division's newcomers and an Oxford United side that looked without hope at half-time.
The Diamonds' arrival in League football had seen them play their first three matches without conceding a goal and brought a Worthington Cup win at Burnley, but then Plymouth visited Nene Park last Monday and won 3–2, and yesterday Rushden forfeited a game that for a large part they controlled.
Inevitably there will be more stumbles along the way, yet the remarkable story of a club that only came into being nine years ago could turn into a classic.
Max Griggs, Diamonds' founder and chairman, says that all he has asked of the manager, Brian Talbot, for this term is to achieve a solid, safe position. Effort counting for a lot at this level, the Diamonds should not be found wanting. Their support of Duane Darby and Justin Jackson was prodigious yet brought them only one first-half opportunity, when Darby drove into the side netting.
Oxford barely raised an attack; playing in front of hundreds of empty seats and with a car park behind one goal is not exactly inspiring. The Diamonds' disciplined 4–4–2 system looked well practised and easily capable of subduing occasional pressure from the hosts, who only mustered their first shot – not threatening – in the 35th minute.
However, everything changed after the interval when the referee Joseph Ross curiously sent off the Diamonds' defender Jim Rodwell, who himself seemed to have been tripped as Phil Gray made an unusually menacing run on goal.
Oxford took the gift of numerical advantage with huge relief. After 53 minutes Dean Whitehead slipped the defence to beat Billy Turley from close in and four minutes later Sam Ricketts centred and Martin Thomas turned in Oxford's second.
The still-angry Diamonds, not to speak of their furious manager, simply collapsed, allowing Phil Bolland to smash in a third goal in the 69th minute after the Diamonds failed to clear a corner.
Darby's two late headed goals for Diamonds brought a hint of an amazing last-minute recovery which their first-half display would have merited and, but for that odd refereeing decision, might have succeeded.
Oxford United 3 Rushden & Diamonds 2
Whitehead 51, Thomas 53, Bolland 69
Darby 85, 88
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