AFC Rushden & Diamonds earned a hard fought point against Belper Town in an entertaining goalless draw on Saturday afternoon after playing 66 minutes with 10 men.
Joe Curtis was shown a red card for the home side after an aerial arms up challenge in the centre circle on 24 after the home side had shaded the early stages. The sending off didn’t change the pattern of play although Belper had a little more possession but couldn’t create much in the way of first half-chances. Liam Dolman had Diamonds best first half-chance as he stooped to head home from 6 yards but couldn’t make contact, and Ben Farrell fired the rebound just wide.
The second half continued in the same even fashion and if anything became more end to end as Diamonds broke strongly and came close to breaking clear and fashioning their own killer chance numerous times. Nabil Shariff hit a rasping effort on 65 that just cleared the bar, and really should have hit the target a minute later from 18 yards with the away keeper rooted. The pace of substitute Taylor Orosz nearly broke Belper open a number of times and Tom Lorraine came agonisingly close to grabbing his 50th Diamonds goal more than once.
Belper have been relatively goal shy this season and they probed hard but struggled to create too many chances. Phil Watt had their best chance on 76 as his close range header should have found the target but went just over. Matt Finlay spread himself to smother another half-chance on 80 and they also had the ball in the net on 87 the home side saved by an early offside flag. Kyal McNulty earned his man of the match award with a number of brilliant vital saving tackles and some enterprising forward play.
The final whistle was called after just a few minutes of added time on what was an entertaining 0-0 draw with both sides feeling a point was well earned.
Just the one change for Diamonds on a very chilly afternoon with Sam Brown unavailable Ben Ford came into the left back slot with Robbie Parsons replacing him on the bench.
Games at the Dog & Duck had had to be called off this week and with rain and sleet in the area it was down to fantastic effort from ground staff and volunteers that the game was played without a problem. The pitch was heavy in parts but both sides were able to move the ball well over the surface in the early stages. Jon Guy got an early effort in for Belper on 2 with a speculative 30 yard drive flying well over the bar, and Tom Lorraine broke well down the middle on 4 just over hitting his through ball to Fazel Koriya.
Ben Ford had big boots to fill slotting in for 190 appearances Sam Brown at left back but he had a positive impact on the game throughout. On 8 he made a vital interception timing his move from out left to stop a dangerous Belper through ball, and on 10 he struck a great free-kick from deep that found its way to Tom Lorraine for a blocked effort from 18 yards.
The game was developing as midfield battle with plenty of enterprising passing but solid defending was denying much in the way of real chances.
Diamonds did build some momentum around 15 minutes with a short throw (no Sam Brown) finding Nabil Shariff whose quick feet allowed him to get a shot away that was blocked for a corner. The corner was cleared under pressure and then returned twice into the danger area before another corner was earned that was whipped in under the crossbar where Scott in the Belper goal held well.
Rueben Wiggins-Thomas had scored the Belper goal in Derbyshire earlier in the season and he looked the most dangerous threat for the away side. He fashioned a chance on 19 through sheer persistence on the edge of the area but fired his 18 yard effort straight at Matt Finlay.
The major incident of the game came 5 minutes later as a Matt Finlay clearance fell almost vertically in the centre circle where Joe Curtis challenged Mark Armstrong with arms raised as you do in an aerial challenge. Armstrong went down having been caught and the well placed referee Hallam Cutmore deemed it deliberate and immediately produced a red card.
The pattern of play was largely unchanged after the red card although Belper did have a shade more possession. Chances were limited for both sides though with long distance efforts (Belper) penalty appeals (on Tom Lorraine would have been harsh) and decent balls into the box cleared (Finlay with a good punch and Bunting free-kick headed behind by the away side).
The best chances of the half came 5 minutes before half-time as Liam Dolman closed on a ball deep into the box but couldn’t get a firm enough contact from 6 yards. Ben Farrell then fired in the rebound just wide from 15 yards.
2 minutes later Jon Guy struck a loose ball on the volley through a crowd of players where it took a deflection but was well held by Matt Finlay to keep the game goalless at half-time.
Half time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0 Belper Town 0
Diamonds started the second half brightly with Nabil Shariff looking the most likely to break the deadlock getting an excellent effort away on 46 that just went wide in front of the Peter De Banke. Ben Farrell then had a header back across goal from a deep free-kick go just wide.
Belper started to shade possession however and broke well to create a shooting chance on the right hand side of the box on 51 that went just wide.
Diamonds were defending solidly with 10 men and despite Liam Dolman clearly carrying a knock he was superb in marshalling the back four and reading the game well to intercept and challenge at the right times.
In a quiet period around the hour mark Tom Lorraine suffered a similar challenge in the centre circle to the one which saw Joe Curtis sent-off. Referee Cutmore deeming it more accidental this time and contenting himself with a talking to for the Belper player.
Lewis Leslie was introduced for Fazel Koriya on 61 and he helped Diamonds build some momentum as Ben Farrell broke away on 65 his ball squared to Nabil Shariff who hit a screamer that just whizzed over the bar. Almost immediately Diamonds broke again with Ben Farrell involved his shot from 20 yards was blocked into the path of Shariff with the keeper rooted he couldn’t quite find the target from 18 yards.
The Belper keeper Scott Low then dropped a deep corner right on the line but no Diamonds player could quite force it home.
Belper responded well as the game became end to end in the closing stages with Mark Armstrong firing in fierce effort on 74 that was just blocked and then they really should have scored on 75 as Phil Watt got to a right wing cross unmarked but headed just over when everyone felt the net was about to bulge.
Taylor Orosz had been introduced for Nabil Shariff and his pace caused Belper many problems in the last 15. He broke clear into the box on 74 after good interchange in midfield his ball towards Tom Lorraine intercepted at full stretch. On 78 he again got clear in the left of the box his cross was not well cleared and the lunging Tom Lorraine nearly got the vital touch in the 6 yard box.
It was Belper’s turn next as great passing down the left saw Guy clear into the left of the box but quick reactions from Matt Finlay saw him out to smother the ball away for the corner. Kyal McNulty then made yet another last ditch challenge to stop another dangerous break and then Belper survived an almighty scramble in the box after more good work from Taylor Orosz.
As the game swung from end to end Belper looked to have broken Diamonds hearts on 85 as Rueben Wiggins-Thomas swung in a great ball for Evan Garnett to head home. The raised yellow flag on the far side was never a more welcome sight.
There was still time for Tom Lorraine to come close to that 50th Diamonds goal as he hit a volley on the turn from deep inside the Belper box that was blocked, and then Belper broke to have three consecutive efforts from around the box blocked by heroic Diamonds defending.
The final action on 92 saw Taylor Orosz break into the box again only to see his angled effort blocked for a corner.
Two very tired sets of players left the field soon after to much appreciation from the 399 crowd for one of the more entertaining 0 0 draws.
Final Score: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0 Belper Town 0
Diamonds have fared pretty well when reduced to 10 men at the Dog & Duck in the past and Manager Andy Peaks will be happy that his side continued to attack and play their part in what was an open and an entertaining game.
Diamonds arguably had the better chances and with more clinical finishing could have won the game. Belper are a strong side though who don’t score many but don’t concede many either. They had their own chances but were largely kept out of the 18 yard box with some great tracking and challenging by the whole Diamonds side with Kyal McNulty having his best game in a Diamonds shirt.
The point sees Diamonds solidly in the play-off places as they head into a period of games against top half sides. Next up the trip to Kidsgrove Athletic next Saturday.
Man of the Match: Kyal McNulty
Match Report by Paul Judd
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
17. Matt Finlay
2. Kyal McNulty
3. Ben Ford
4. Brad Harris
5. Liam Dolman
6. Ben Farrell
7. Nabil Shariff
8. Fazel Koriya
9. Tom Lorraine
10. Richard Bunting
11. Joe Curtis
12. Lewis Leslie (for Koriya 61)
13. Ben Heath
14. Taylor Orosz (for Shariff 71)
15. Ollie Brown-Hill
16. Robbie Parsons
1. Scott Low
2. Dominic Allen
3. Jonathan Guy
4. Eric Graves (C)
5. Dean Freeman
6. Philip Watt
7. Evan Garnett
8. Michael Armstrong
9. Ruben Wiggins-Thomas
10. Jonathan Williams
11. Alex Steadman
12. Matthew Richards (for Steadman 69)
14. Haydn Goddard
15. Gerome Palmer (for Guy 69)
16. Fenwick Butcher
Yellow Cards: Watt
Red Cards: Curtis
Referee: Hallam Cutmore
Assistants: Junior Jones-Eyre, Shaun Gregory
Updated player profiles with appearance and goalscoring details are now available.