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Football: FA Cup - Diamonds turn up trumps.

FA Cup upsets - just like Diamonds - are forever.

Non-League minnows Rushden & Diamonds held Premiership Leeds to a draw and proved the romance of the Cup lives on.

Those hoping for a Nene Park shock weren't disappointed as Brian Talbot's Conference wonders sprung a surprise.

Rushden's owner Max Griggs had said: "We can become another Wimbledon."

His astonishing claim didn't sound quite so far-fetched after Griggs's battlers repeated the Dons' feat of 23 years ago - when the then non-League London side held the mighty Leeds to a goalless draw.

Wimbledon's keeper Dickie Guy's performance in keeping out the likes of hotshot Peter Lorimer made him a household name at the time.

If there is any justice, Diamonds' stopper Ian Feuer will receive similar acclaim.

Feuer played out of his skin to keep the Double Dutch strike force of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Clyde Wijnhard at bay.

The home fans in the 6,500 capacity crowd will savour the day for the rest of their lives. Their non-League heroes gave a team of multi-million- pound signings a run for their money and could even have snatched a shock win.

And Leeds, who had rookie centre-back Jonathon Woodgate sent off for a second bookable offence, were relieved to leave the pitch on level terms.

David O'Leary's youngsters will not look forward to the replay a week on Tuesday at Elland Road.

For most of the match, it was hard to believe that 90 League places separated the two sides.

Rushden pinned back the Premiership title contenders from the start.

In fact it only took 30 seconds for Leeds to be given a nasty fright.

Hamsher's corner was flicked on by Michael McElhatton to Adrian Foster, who should have headed into the Leeds net.

Instead, the 27-year-old striker - Rushden's leading scorer this season with 12 goals - squandered the opportunity and, not for the first time, O'Leary's men were let off the hook.

Rushden's McElhatton played the game of his life. The 23-year-old midfielder was the Man of the Match, having a hand in nearly every Diamonds move.

After eight minutes he set up De Souza, who blasted the ball over Nigel Martyn's bar.

And in the dying seconds of the first half he flicked on Wooding's free- kick to give Foster a golden opportunity - but again the chance was fluffed.

McElhatton battled on heroically, robbing David Hopkin as the Leeds' captain looked certain to score then snuffing out the threat of Harry Kewell - who was Leeds' most dangerous player.

But it was a magnificent all-round team effort by Rushden who refused to be intimidated by their high-profile opponents.

Leeds went closest to scoring when Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink rifled a shot against the post.

And they had their best spell midway through the first half when they forced a succession of corners.

But the Diamonds held firm under pressure with Feuer performing heroics in the Rushden goal.

The American keeper's finest moment came in the 49th minute when Kewell threaded his way through the Rushden rearguard and drove a low shot goalwards.

Somehow, Feuer managed to block the drive with his left foot - a save Dickie Guy would have been proud of.

The home side's best spells came at the end of both halves.

Just before the interval, two clear-cut chances were missed by De Souza and Jim Rodwell's dipping header looped over Martyn - but the ball ended up on the roof of the net.

Then, in the dying minutes of the game, Foster headed over the bar.

By then, Leeds had been reduced to 10 men after Woodgate, who had been given a torrid time by De Souza, was sent off after bringing down Paul Underwood in the 75th minute.

It was the defender's second bookable offence. He had been given the yellow card by referee Steve Dunn in the 43rd minute for a foul on De Souza.

Although Leeds had most of the possession, too many of their star players were below par.

Although they could claim an injury crisis - eight first-choice players were missing from yesterday's line-up - the truth is they were out-fought and, at times, out-played.

O'Leary admitted: "I was relieved at the end of the game.

"That's what the FA Cup is all about - everybody wants to see a small team beat the giants.

"The whole nation will be behind them at Elland Road, but I think their best chance of beating us was here.

"The whole of their team played well. They had a very good chance at the end - and we got lucky."

O'Leary thought the sending-off of Jonathan Woodgate was "harsh" and added: "He's a good lad, it's not in his character to maliciously bring someone down.

"The injuries made it hard for us. We had Kelly, Radebe, Molenaar and Hiden out.

"Perhaps I'll have to put on my boots to play in the replay!"

Rushden boss Talbot said: "We did ourselves proud. We had a big gap to bridge and I think we bridged it.

"In the first half we were on the rack, but we came back and gave them something to think about.

"I couldn't ask for anything more from my players. Now we are all looking forward to the replay."

David might not have slain Goliath - but Rushden proved that the gap between Premiership and non-League football is not the chasm it used to be.

Rushden owner Griggs, the Doc Martens tycoon, has kick-started a football revolution in this sleepy Northamptonshire outpost.

Griggs is the Jack Walker of non-League football, having ploughed pounds 20million into his beloved outfit.

One of the top 50 richest men in Britain, he clearly has great ambitions for his side.

Wimbledon's meteoric rise through the divisions is clearly his role model. But what Joe Kinnear would give for some of the multi- millionaire owner's money - he is believed to be worth more than pounds 300million.

But it was not money which talked yesterday.

It was the unquenchable fighting spirit, determination and true grit of the men of Rushden & Diamonds.

STAR MAN: Michael McElhatton

Had a hand in nearly every Rushden move

RUSHDEN & DIAMONDS.- Feuer 8; Wooding 7, Bradshaw 7, Hamsher 8, Rodwell 8, Heggs 8, McElhatton 9, Butterworth 8, Foster 8, De Souza 8, Underwood 8.

LEEDS.- Martyn 8; Haaland 6, Wijnhard 5 (Smith 6), Hasselbaink 6, Bowyer 5, Hopkin 4, Granville 4, Halle 5, Kewell 7, Harte 6, Woodgate 5.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 3, 1999
Words:1063
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