Rushden & Higham United 2 Bugbroke St Michaels 1

Monday 2nd January 2012
Rushden & Higham United 2 Bugbroke St Michaels 1
ChromaSport & Trophies United Counties League Division 1
At: Hayden Road, Rushden
Kick-off: 11-00 am
Admission: £4; Programme: £1 (32 pages)
Weather: sunny though cold in the shade
Attendance: 96
Duration: first-half: 47:11; second-half: 48:53

The first action for me in 2012 was another of my much-enjoyed nostalgic revisits, this time to the former home of Rushden Town and now home to Rushden & Higham United. It was also my third time I’d seen Bugbrooke St Michaels play away in eight days and, just like Saturday at Huntingdon, they lost 2-1 to a promotion rival. Bugbrooke’s keeper was forced off injured just before the end of a goalless first half and replaced by outfield player Ryan Dufty. Rushden & Higham United took the lead four minutes after the restart through Mark Weekley’s header and doubled their advantage in the 81st minute when Lewis O’Dell scored at close range. They held on to temporarily move up to second in the table despite Ashley Bradshaw pulling a goal back to set up what I considered an exciting finish.

I was previously at Hayden Road in 1984 when Stafford Rangers drew 3-3 in the FA Cup First Qualifying Round. The resulting replay is a game that will always stick in my mind as one that Rushden Town won 3-1 when the referee frustrated Rangers with a series of strange decisions and fans invading the pitch at the end of the game to confront the match official. Rangers, if I recall correctly, were fined £25 for failing to control their fans!

I knew that Rushden Town merged with nearby Irthlingborough Diamonds to form Rushden & Diamonds. However, I wasn’t sure if the ‘Rushden’ in ‘Rushden & Higham United’ related to the old Town club or not. Thankfully, Wikipedia provided the answer that the present occupants of Hayden Road resulted from a merger of ‘Rushden Rangers’ and ‘Higham United’. A sign on the back of the stand states ‘RUSHDEN & HIGHAM UNITED FOOTBALL CLUB incorporating Rushden Rangers Youth F.C.

Present-day Hayden Road is a mixture of old and modern; the ‘old’ being the stand on the road side of the ground which is no longer in use and areas of terracing around the pitch. During the 27 years since my previous visit (see old photo right taken in 1984), the roofs of the two covered terraces on the cricket side have gone and one has been replaced with a modern stand containing around 100 black seats. Also a row of tall conifers separates the football and cricket ground beyond, and new lights have been installed.

Inside the Social Club was good friend Paul ‘Splodge’ Proctor and at pitch-side, amongst a decent gathering of hoppers, were Chris Garner and James Rennie. Dave Meeson also arrived but he was one of several to be disappointed that programmes sold out before kick-off.

As the only morning kick-off in the division, both sides had the opportunity to move up above second-placed Huntingdon Town. Bugbrooke (3rd with 34 points from 14 games) were looking to get a run going after picking up just four points from their last four games while Rushden & Higham (4th with 32 points from 17 games) needed a win to keep up with the top three who all had games in hand.

In winter sunshine, Bugbrooke (in blue and yellow halves, blue shorts and socks) got the game underway attacking down the slope. I enjoyed the first half even though precious few scoring opportunities were created and just one corner. Good work by Damon Herbert down the Bugbrooke left in the 39th minute set up a chance for Nick Worley who rifled a low shot just wide of the left-hand post.

Bugbrooke lost Antonio Aguilar-Rohan just before half-time who was hurt in a challenge with Craig Harrower who picked up a booking. The keeper, who did have his right knee bandaged up from the start, limped away after lengthy treatment and central defender Ryan Dufty took over the gloves. In stoppage time, Dufty made a confident save from Barry Deacon’s shot but Ashley Green’s cross caused all sorts of problems.

Now attacking down the slope, Rushden & Higham took the lead in the 49th minute. Lewis O’Dell crossed from the right for Mark Weekley to head home into the bottom left corner through the hands of the luckless Dufty (see photo right).

Acting as a “wake up” call to the visitors, Michael Parkes delivered an excellent cross from the right which Craig Patterson dropped and Nathan Lacey had a shot blocked.

Bugbrooke won several corners as they pressed for an equaliser though it looked like being one of those games they’d get nothing from. However, the home side remained threatening and a good move saw Harrower hit an angled shot straight at Dufty.

Patterson produced a flying catch in the 73rd minute to hold on to a glancing header from Danny Barnes. Three minutes later Ashley Bradshaw had the ball in the net only for the referee to spot a foul on the home keeper.

Rushden & Higham, who responded to calls to “raise it” after “walking around happy with this”, got a vital second goal in the 81st minute. Dufty failed to deal with a left-wing cross and O’Dell forced the ball home.

To their credit, Bugbrooke lifted themselves to pull a goal back three minutes later. Chris Davies, fouled 25 yards out, stuck a free-kick past the wall which Patterson failed to hold and Bradshaw converted the rebound. They looked for an equaliser as the home side defended their slender lead in depth and Lacey saw a shot blocked inside the area.

Overall, this was a decent game at a ground I’d wanted to revisit for some time. Back in the car, I asked someone to check mitoo for me and, with no UCL postponements, I decided to head for Bourne Town for the second leg of this ‘double’.

Rushden & Higham United (orange/black/black): 1. Craig Patterson, 2. Ben Lord, 3. Ashley Green, 4. Chris Walton (capt), 5. Ryan Kalla, 6. Tyler Merries, 7. Lewis O’Dell, 8. Darren Farrar, 9. Mark Weekley, 10. Craig Harrower, 11. Barry Deacon. Subs: 12. Jack Dyson (for Weekley, 90), 14. Tony Graham (not used), 15. Matthew Jones (not used).

Bugbrooke St Michaels (blue and yellow halves / blue / blue): 1. Antonio Aguilar-Rohan, 2. Chris Dickens, 3. Damon Herbert, 4. Danny Barnes, 5. Ryan Dufty (capt), 6. Nick Ling, 7. Michael Parkes, 12. Adam Balme, 9. Ashley Bradshaw, 10. Nick Worley, 11. Damon Black. Subs: 14. Chris Davies (for Balme, 53), 15. Ben Foster (not used), 16. Nathan Lacey (for Aguilar-Rohan, 45), 17. Dave Drinkwater (for Parkes, 77), X. Richard Dannell (not used).

Referee: Mark Wardell (Wellingborough).
Assistants: Kevin Davis and Piotr Roj.

1-0 Mark Weekley (49)
2-0 Lewis O’Dell (81)
2-1 Ashley Bradshaw (84)

Rushden & Higham: Craig Harrower (YC, 42), Darren Farrar (YC, 66)
Bugbrooke: none