After a summer of walking on air, as befits a club bankrolled by the Dr Martens footwear empire, Rushden & Diamonds suffered a minor stumble last night. Four points from their first two fixtures leaves them on top of the embryonic Third Division, but the Conference champions laboured against a Lincoln team who only just avoided passing them on the way down in May.
To compound Rushden's frustration, the attendance of 5,018 was 1,500 below the capacity at Nene Park. Perhaps the live coverage of their first home League match by ITV Digital, whose cameramen perched along the stand roofs like would-be assasins, affected the turn-out. Nevertheless, the £25m investment by the nine-year-old club's founder, chairman and benefactor, Max Griggs, merited a full house.
Despite the sense of anti-climax, the town of Irthingborough – or Earthlingborough as the new Rothmans Yearbook quaintly calls it – had seen nothing like it since Leeds beamed down for an FA Cup tie three seasons ago. Before the game, Lincoln followers draped their banner on the Bull pub while one of the 6,300 inhabitants, perhaps in defiance of the alien incursion, rode her horse up the main street towards the countryside.
Inside the state-of-the-art stadium, "Pride of Northamptonshire" cushions adorned seats as a greying trad jazz band gave way to techno-dancing cheerleaders. The collision of modernity and parochialism was further manifested in a bucket collection which raised £445 for a cricket club in Rushden, three miles away, whose 19th-century pavilion had burned down.
Fresh from their first-day win at York, Rushden might have had the impetus of a goal in 65 seconds only for Mark Peters to head wide from Stuart Gray's free-kick. Lincoln, striving to atone for a home defeat by Halifax, took heart from their reprieve and threatened through shots by Kingsley Black and Ben Sedgemore which passed narrowly over.
Gray and Black, who have known more colourful occasions with Celtic and Clough-era Nottingham Forest respectively, provided most of the excitement as the sunshine faded away. Gray miscued wastefully high after Justin Jackson set him up midway through the opening half, Black responding with a mazy dribble and drive which flashed wide of the far post.
The duel between Gray and Jason Barnett, a full-back who might be politely described as chunky, provided an intriguing sub-plot. In the 61st minute, moments after the Rushden midfielder had eluded his marker to head wide from a Jackson centre, Barnett bustled forward to win a corner. From Black's inswinging kick, Paul Morgan's header hit the bar.
Brian Talbot, the Rushden manager, promptly sent on Duane Darby, who galvanised his colleagues into their best spell. Another pass by Gray gave Talbot's captain, Jon Brady, a chance to score the Diamonds' historic first home goal, but in keeping with what had gone before, he poked the ball wide.
Rushden & Diamonds (4-4-2): Turley; Mustafa, Peters, Rodwell, Underwood; Brady, Carey, Butterworth, Gray; Jackson, Patmore (Darby, 62). Substitutes not used: Mills, Setchell, Solkhon, Pennock (gk).
Lincoln City (4-4-2): Marriott; Barnett, Holmes, Morgan, Bimson; Black, Sedgemore, Finnigan, Gain; Battersby, Thorpe. Substitutes not used: Buckley, Cameron, Walker, Brown, Pettinger (gk).
Referee: M Messias (York).Reuse content