Ultimately, the word ringing in Justin Edinburghs’ ears at the moment will be ‘pleased’. Pleased at the way that Rushden held off Blackpool’s advances, at the way Rushden peppered Barnstaple’s goalmouth, and, despite what seems like a heavy 4-1 defeat to Grimbsy, pleased at the way Rushden attacked continuously. Anyone watching from this seasons’ opposition will certainly have raised their eyebrows at the free-flowing football Rushden played, as a difference to the stereotypical ‘hoofing’ that is so often said about Non-league clubs.
Placed in Group D with favourites Blackpool, Rushden were expected to be leaving not long after they arrived. But, with no expectancy placed on their shoulders, Blackpool were put under the cosh and even Ian Holloway, the Tangerines’ manager, admitted that Curtis Osano and Kurt Robinson made defending against his higher-rated wingers ‘look like a training session’. After summer signing Aaron O’Connor raced clear and slotted home, Ben Burgess equalised for Blackpool. Dale Roberts was then forced to make a number a top-drawer saves, ensuing a penalty shoot-out. As Blackpool missed two of their penalties, Sam Smith was left with the chance to slot home and win the game unexpectedly.
After facing a team in the second tier of English football, Rushden came up with a much easier task against tenth-tier Barnstaple. Fielding what was almost a second-string side, goals from Smith, O’Connor, and Craig Farrell won the game before Barnstaple scored a last-minute consolation, meaning Rushden would face Grimsby in the Semi-Final.
After Grimbsy took an early lead, Neil Cousins equalised for Rushden after Farrell’s free-kick could only be palmed away. With the incentive of a final place against Luton awaiting, Rushden went on the attack and looked dangerous, before two quick flowing moves from the Mariners put Grimsby in control. In the last minute, Danny North sealed the game for Grimsby, lobbing the advancing Roberts.
After Grimsby withdrew for both timing and policing issues, RRFC Montenegee took their place in the final; everyone else had gone home! As expected, Luton were victorious by three goals to one, and picked up what was their first (and hopefully only) piece of silverware of the season.