Yeovil Town 0 Rushden & Diamonds 0 – Saturday 21st April 2001

Although Yeovil were struggling to find form in early 2001, they were still just about in the title race when leaders and favourites Rushden and Diamonds came to town on 21st April with just five games of the season to go. Indeed, had the Glovers won they would have taken the destiny of the title back into their own hands, as a victory would have seen the two teams level on points but with Rushden having played a game more.

There was a chance that the attendance would beat the then-Conference record of 9,432 set by Lincoln in 1988, but only if Rushden sold all of their allocation and the building work was finished in time. Following the successful ‘Erection 2000’ fundraising campaign to extend the home terrace and put a roof over it, construction began in February 2001 in the hope that it would be completed in time for the Rushden game, but it was always going to be tight, in fact during the local news visit the week before, construction seemed to still be in progress!

The construction of the terrace roof created some confusion with the ticket sales and away allocation. Initially, Rushden had been offered around 700 tickets in the Bartlett Stand – deposing a few season ticket holders as it was a bigger section of the stand than would usually be given – with home fans taking the Copse Road terrace. In the event that the roof was finished, the seating was decreased and they were given the terrace as well. In order to guarantee this arrangement Rushden owner Max Griggs personally paid for 1,000 tickets whether they were sold or not in order to secure the additional space. As it was, Rushden returned 800 tickets for what was biggest match in their history so far, bringing around 1600 fans.

It was an incredibly tense and nervous atmosphere, and chances were relatively few. Rushden knew that they could sit back and didn’t really need to attack. Yeovil needed the win in order to bring themselves level, but with them being out of form and Warren Patmore carrying an injury, it was always going to be a long shot. The team wore black armbands and there was a minute’s silence as Yeovil legend Alec Stock had died just a few days before over Easter, and if there was a script then the perennial underdogs Yeovil would have beaten the millionaires of Rushden to secure promotion to honour the memory of the man who masterminded their greatest ever FA Cup win.

Unfortunately football isn’t a fairytale and the underdogs don’t always win, that’s why they’re underdogs. When Patmore limped off with a recurrence of his hamstring strain in the first half, it became increasingly unlikely that Yeovil would be able to get anything out of the game. There were no more than half chances for either side, with Tony Pennock having to make the most difficult save, tipping a header over the bar from Duane Darby. It was an indication that the home side were running out of options when they resorted to putting both Skiverton and O’Brien up front with Belgrave, although with McIndoe taken off, Lindegaard an unused substitute and Ben Smith not even in the squad, the manager could arguably have gone a different way. Instead Yeovil were reduced to lumping balls into the box in the hope that something would fall for them. On another day it might have done, with a looping O’Brien header having to be cleared off the line and a close range Tom White shot blocked but in all honesty these were also really no more than half chances. Darren Way dragged a shot wide and with that the whistle blew and the game ended in a draw. It was still not over, as Yeovil were only three points behind with a game in hand, but they had missed the opportunity to bring their destiny into their own hands, and they would still have to win that second game in hand against Hereford, having already lost the first one at Doncaster.

Colin Addison’s men had done well to take the title race this far, despite their disappointing form since Christmas. They were by no means favourites going into the start of the season, and the highest position they had ever finished in the Conference was 4th, back in 1993. By contrast, due to the huge resources they had at their disposal by non-league standards, Rushden were favourites to go up every season, having blown their chances three times already. It was really ‘no excuses’ this time for manager Brian Talbot.

Yeovil had finally turned full-time towards the end of the previous season, but done it on a budget. Long-serving players who were on high wages or unable to turn full-time were released, and a number of players were promoted from the youths to the first team, such as Andy Lindegaard, Anthony Tonkin and James Bent. It was a risk to have expected to challenge with this kind of strategy, but it almost paid off. Despite manager David Webb walking out on the club without warning after 12 games, the Glovers went top shortly afterwards with a 4-0 win over Dover and maintained their position under new manager Colin Addison from the beginning of October to mid-February. This period included some of the Glovers’ best performances, such as the 5-1 demolition of Colchester in the FA Cup, the 2-1 win away at Rushden and a narrow defeat at Bolton, who were on their way to being promoted to the Premiership.

It was that defeat at Bolton which signalled a loss in form – maybe it was the injury-time defeat which caused a dent in confidence, or maybe it was coincidence as the games started to catch up with Colin Addison’s young squad. Before the Glovers were involved in that FA Cup match, their lead at the top of the Conference was at its biggest – seven points ahead, with two games in hand. Rushden won while Yeovil were at Bolton reducing it to four but with three games in hand. Yeovil’s form absolutely fell off a cliff after that loss, going from 20 league and cup games unbeaten, to winning only one league game in February (2-1 over Boston) and one in March (3-0 over Hayes), as confidence and goals dried up. However they did cling on and were never truly out of it – despite being in very good form themselves, Rushden were never miles ahead, just about dropping points often enough to keep the Glovers interested. It was when Yeovil lost 3-1 at home to Dagenham in February that Rushden took top spot on goal difference, although they had played two games more. This hit the Glovers hard, as they went on a run of six games without a win, going out of the FA Trophy in the process. The low point was surely a devastating 2-1 defeat at relegation-threatened Kettering that had seen the Glovers lose a 1-0 lead to goals in the 85th and 89th minutes and miss a penalty in between. Just when all seemed lost, Rushden dropped points at Northwich while Yeovil won convincingly 3-0 at home to Hayes, in what was the first ever live Conference match shown on Sky. There had been some rumours of Sky wanting to air live Conference matches and it is possible that they used the Hayes game as a dry run with the aim to perhaps show the Rushden clash in April. However, with the absolutely atrocious state of the pitch at that point and building work not guaranteed to have been finished in time, perhaps they got cold feet. As it was, the game was not shown live although Sky did present very reasonable highlights on their Conference round-up the following week.

The Glovers fought on with late goals earning points at Dover, and an epic 4-3 against Kingstonian. Just when hoped seemed to be gone, Rushden went and lost comfortably at Hereford over Easter while the Glovers were spanking Leigh 6-1 despite having to play Skiverton up front in the absence of Patmore. Somehow, despite all the setbacks, we continued to fight on.

Yeovil were always mathematically still in it because of those games in hand, but as we should all know, games in hand do not equal points. And in our case, those games in hand equalled zero points. The first was away at Doncaster, an absolute shambles of a performance which saw Yeovil lose 2-0 and Barrington Belgrave get himself sent off for violent conduct which would see him miss the last three games of the season.

The other game in hand would be played on the last midweek of the season, and was of course against the old rivals Hereford. Despite Hereford having nothing to play for, and an absolutely abysmal record at Huish Park – they had lost every game and not even scored a single goal since their relegation from the League – they saved up their only decent result for the occasion it hurt the most. They won 3-2 with a last-minute goal and with that Yeovil’s title challenge was ended. We did get some measure of revenge, beating them in injury time in 2002 with a goal from Yeovil-born Andy Lindegaard, and then playing them off the pitch on the way to the title in 2003 winning 4-0, but that night in 2001 was a very bitter way to end the season and it took some time to recover from.

Team that day: Tony Pennock, David Piper, Anthony Tonkin, Terry Skiverton, Tom White, Darren Way, Marcus Jones, Nick Crittenden, Michael McIndoe (sub. Simon Betts, 76), Warren Patmore (sub. James Bent, 28) (sub. Roy O’Brien, 86), Barrington Belgrave. Subs not used: Chris Weale, Andy Lindegaard

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