Diamonds look to recapture sparkle

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The Independent Football

Brian Talbot will send out his Rushden & Diamonds side to do battle with Hereford United tomorrow, hoping that they can return to winning ways after a couple of recent setbacks.

Brian Talbot will send out his Rushden & Diamonds side to do battle with Hereford United tomorrow, hoping that they can return to winning ways after a couple of recent setbacks.

The big-spending Diamonds are once again the bookmakers' favourites to win the Nationwide Conference title, but their form has slipped somewhat during the last fortnight. After winning their first five games of the season they looked as though they might race away at the top of the table, but 10 days ago they suffered their first defeat of the campaign when they unexpectedly went down 1-0 at Leigh RMI.

Last Sunday Rushden were held 0-0 at home by another newly promoted side, Boston United, and they were grateful for even a point. Talbot's team had to play with 10 men for over half an hour after Duane Darby was sent off for striking the visiting captain, Jim Dick.

Rushden's slip-ups have allowed Yeovil Town to claim the leadership of the Conference. The Somerset side, who named Colin Addison as their new manager this week following David Webb's departure, are one point ahead of the Diamonds after last Sunday's 2-2 draw at Hereford.

The Bulls are in third place and will be difficult opponents for Rushden tomorrow, while Yeovil travel to the bottom club, Northwich Victoria.

Last term Rushden fell away and lost out to Kidderminster Harriers in the chase for the championship because of a lack of goal-scoring potency. Talbot used his spending power, which is the envy of every other club in the Conference, to rectify that problem in the summer by purchasing Darby from Notts County for £120,000 and Justin Jackson from Morecambe for £180,000 - a record fee between two non-League clubs.

So far the two strikers have lived up to expectations. The burly Darby is the joint leading scorer in the Conference with nine goals, one more than the nimble Jackson. Yet still Rushden have been held to draws in four of their seven home games so far, allowing Yeovil to edge ahead of them in the title race.

"Every team that comes here raise their game," Talbot, the former Arsenal and England midfielder, said at Nene Park last Sunday. "We've got to accept that, we can't use that as an excuse any more."

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