GRIMSBY TOWN manager Mike Newell will be up against his former club Luton Town in tomorrow's Errea South West Challenge Cup final.
Newell's Grimsby beat Rushden and Diamonds 4-1 in this evening's semi-final at Appledore.
Goals from Adrian Forbes and Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro saw the Mariners lead 2-1 at half-time.
Nathan Arnold and Danny North added two more in the second half but the final scoreline was harsh on Rushden who had enough chances to have at least taken the match to a penalty shoot-out.
Newell’s history should give the final at Bideford’s Sports Ground an extra edge. Having scored 18 goals in 63 appearances as a striker for the Hatters in the late 1980s, he returned to Kenilworth Road as manager in 2003.
After early success at the helm, Newell was sacked in March 2007 after criticising the board for not investing enough money in the club.
Both sides were playing their second game in less than 24 hours and it took them a while to get up to speed on a Marshford pitch playing surprisingly well given the heavy rain that had forced last night's clash between Wycombe Wanderers and Luton Town to be postponed.
Coca-Cola League Two side Grimsby started more strongly, but it was Rushden, of the Blue Square Premier, who should have taken the lead.
Aaron O'Connor, who scored against Blackpool on Wednesday, was guilty of a glaring miss on eight minutes, shooting wide from point-blank range after Jamie Stuart had headed on a corner.
Not for the last time, Rushden were made to pay for not taking their chance.
Five minutes later, Grimsby left-back Joe Widdowson surged into the area and, when his shot was blocked by keeper Dale Roberts, Forbes nodded the loose ball into the net.
With Akpro a real handful for the Rushden defence, Grimsby continued to press. So Rushden's 22nd-minute equaliser came as a surprise.
Goalkeeper Nick Colgan, who joined Grimsby this week after being released by Sunderland, spilled a Craig Farrell free-kick and Neil Cousins slammed in the rebound.
Four minutes later, skipper Stuart should have put Rushden ahead. The centre-back had a free header from Lee Tomlin's free-kick but his weak flick dropped into Colgan's hands.
As the pace of the game rose, the shots came thick and fast.
For Rushden, Nicky McNamara snatched the ball off Peter Sweeney and fired a dipping shot just over before Akpro saw a fizzing effort tipped over by Roberts.
While they were lively in attack, Rushden were shaky at the back and it was some terrible defending from the resulting corner that allowed Akpro to hook the ball in and make it 2-1 on 32 minutes.
After more poor defending, Roberts kept Rushden in the game by keeping out two efforts from Danny Boshell.
Newell had made 10 changes at half-time in Grimsby's previous two matches but limited himself to four this time, including sending on Arnold and North who had been on target against Yeovil in last night's Group B match.
But it was Rushden, attacking down the slope, who looked more dangerous after the break, with roving winger Tomlin outstanding.
Four minutes in, he fired a right-footed free-kick against the outside of Colgan's post. Five minutes later, Tomlin put a left-footed effort wide under pressure from Paul Linwood.
If Rushden's hopes were raised by their start to the second half, they were dashed 15 minutes in when Arnold put Grimsby 3-1 up. Akpro played a superb pass through to the trialist and he rounded Roberts to finish high in the net.
Rushden refused to accept defeat though and Grimsby's defence, with the exception of man of the match Linwood, found Tomlin increasingly hard to deal with.
The 20-year-old attacker set up O'Connor for a shot that was saved by Colgan and was denied himself when Widdowson blocked a close-range effort.
After Colgan had kept out sub Sam Smith's shot, Tomlin threatened again, this time having a strike deflected into the side-netting.
Rushden thought they were back in the game on 82 minutes when Tomlin slid a pass through for O'Connor and he rounded Colgan to score, but the goal was ruled out for offside.
With Rushden rueing their luck in front of goal, North netted Grimsby's fourth, clipping the ball past Roberts in the last minute.
Grimsby Town: Nick Colgan, Robbie Stockdale (Peter Bore 61), Joe Widdowson, Ryan Bennett (Matt Heywood 61), Paul Linwood, Peter Sweeney, Adrian Forbes (Nick Hegarty ht), Nathan Jarman (Michael Leary ht), Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro (Chris Jones 69), Barry Conlon (Danny North ht), Danny Boshell (Nathan Arnold ht).
Rushden and Diamonds: Dale Roberts, Curtis Osano, Kurt Robinson, Nicky McNamara (Rob Wolleaston ht), Jamie Stuart, Simon Downer (Michael Corcoran 65), Neil Cousins (Sam Smith 51), Max Porter (Jake Beecroft 63), Aaron O'Connor, Craig Farrell (James Reid ht), Lee Tomlin (Jamie McGuinness 89). Sub not used: Joe Day.