AFC Rushden & Diamonds played out a thrilling six-goal affair with fellow NPL First Division South side Lincoln United in the Buildbase FA Trophy Second Qualifying Round on Saturday afternoon. 

The visitors opened the scoring in the sixth minute after neat footwork by Rob Norris allowed him to square the ball for Jordan Hempenstall to steer a precise finish into the far corner. Diamonds weren’t behind for long though and equalised four minutes later when Lewis Leslie glanced a header home from Nic Evangelinos’ dangerous inswinging corner. Jake Newman then saw a dangerous ball across goal evade every supporting home player before away winger Kallum Smith went close with a couple of half-volleys, and it was Lincoln who were to retake the lead when a free-kick from the left byline found a rising James Blunden to plant a header into the corner of the net. In response Rushden saw a Nabil Shariff ball right across the face of goal miss any fellow white shirt, Newman missed his kick when presented with an opportunity from Evangelinos’ pull-back and Shariff hit a shot goalwards that Richard Bunting turned over the crossbar from close range, with the referee blowing his whistle for half-time shortly afterwards.

The second period was even more frenetic and eventful than the first from the very get-go, as Hempenstall had a goalbound effort brilliantly blocked behind by Jason Lee almost immediately after the resumption before Diamonds sprung down the other end, resulting in Newman running down the left and playing it across for Taylor Orosz to turn and shoot past keeper Jake Turner via a deflection. The hosts, after Gary King saw a shot from the edge of the box well saved by Finlay, should have taken the lead in the 55th minute when a header back across goal was narrowly failed to be turned home by Shariff before Lee saw his rebound blocked, and Lincoln looked to have made them pay by taking the lead for the third time two minutes later. Norris hit a drifting shot from 20 yards out that Finlay superbly clawed onto the crossbar, but he was powerless to stop King from heading home the rebound into an unguarded net. The end-to-end nature of the tie showed no sign of letting up, and Diamonds had a golden chance to equalise on the hour when Evangelinos had a shot saved before Newman on the rebound was also denied, and his follow-up shot was into the side-netting. They didn’the have to wait much longer for their third leveller though as a Sam Brown long-throw from the right was flicked on by Leslie for Shariff to glance a header past Turner and into the far corner. Away substitute Matt Cotton had the two best chances for either side to win it, as he first saw a shot well parried after cutting in from the left and then curling a free-kick over from a dangerous position, but no further goals came and the full-time whistle signalled the end of a dramatic match that will require a replay on Tuesday night.

 

Diamonds manager Andy Peaks made five changes to the side that drew away at Rugby Town on Tuesday night: Matt Finlay replaced Ben Heath in goal, and there were also return to the starting XI for Sam Brown, Jason Lee, the fit-again Lewis Leslie and Taylor Orosz at the expense of Liam Dolman, Jack Ashton, Tom Lorraine and Lewis Wilson. It meant a 4-4-2 formation for the hosts, with Harris and Lee partnering at the centre of defence, captain Richard Bunting and Leslie linking in midfield and Newman alongside Nabil Shariff up front.

There had been a scattering of rain leading up to the contest, and so both sets of players stepped out onto a slick and damp Dog & Duck surface ready for the start of the match. Before it got underway, however, there was an impeccably observed minute’s silence for Rememberance Sunday, and moments following this referee Mark Howes signalled the start of the contest. 

The hosts were onto the front foot immediately, with Brown finding Leslie in the left channel of the box before the midfielders resulting cross was cleared. It fell for Bunting though, but his shot was mishit and it screwed harmlessly wide of the far post. Lincoln responded with a neat move of their own down the other end, a swift one-two allowing winger Rob Norris the space to shoot over from outside the box.

However, in the sixth minute the midfielder helped to set up the opening goal of the game for the visitors. Diamonds lost possession halfway inside their own half on the left byline, and Norris cleverly rouletted away from Brown before running down the right and rolling it back for Jordan Hempenstall. The Lincoln number 9, without taking a touch to control, hit a precise and measured effort that Finlay was unable to keep out as he dived to his right, and they had an early lead. 

Despite being third-from-bottom in the NPL First Division South table, Lincoln had enjoyed a successful FA Cup run earlier in the season (reaching the Fourth Qualifying Round) and had defeated both Romulus and Gresley to reach this stage of the FA Trophy, and so they couldn’t be taken lightly. Just like on Tuesday it was important that Diamonds got back into the contest as soon as possible, and this they achieved by equalising four minutes after the away side’s strike. Evangelinos slipped a nice through-ball into the path of Orosz who had made a diagonal run in behind the defence, but his subsequent cross was blocked behind for a corner. Evangelinos stepped up to whip in a teasing delivery, and there was Lewis Leslie to leap highest and direct a header inside the near post to level matters. 

As was a significant aspect of the opening forty-five minutes, play quickly sprang down to the other half and Lee was forced to head away a dangerous looking cross from the left side. The game had begun at a quick and lively pace, with both teams looking to turn over possession swiftly and pit their opposing numbers onto the back-foot. Rushden were the next to threaten as a long ball from Bunting found the ever-willing Newman running in behind, and he skipped past a defender on the left before drilling a ball across goal that no fellow white shirt could latch onto. 

Lincoln wingers Norris and Kallum Smith had proven a menace to the Diamonds midfield and defence in the opening twenty minutes, and it was Smith who first saw a half-volley from the left flash wide of the mark and then hit another bouncing effort that this time forced Finlay into a confident save. In between these chances Orosz did well for the hosts to pick out Shariff in the middle, though the striker’s shot was ultimately charged down before it could threaten Lincoln’s keeper.

After this succession of chances, the visitors were able to regain the lead shortly after in the 26th minute. Kyal McNulty was penalised for a foul out on the right byline in Diamonds’ half, and the following set-piece found a rising James Blunden to divert his header down and past Finlay into the bottom right-hand corner of the goal. The hosts attempted to retort immediately again as Orosz showed good strength to latch onto a ball down the right flank and cut inside, but he could only hit a firm shot straight into Turner’s midriff from a narrow angle. 

A number of threatening crosses were being played in by both sides, with first Smith for Lincoln and then Shariff for Diamonds hitting left-footed deliveries across the face of goal that no attacking players could latch onto. The opening half was also characterised by sliding and wholehearted challenges that were to be expected on the greasy surface, with these very much adding to the committed and entertaining spectacle that was being played out in front of the 458 fans in attendance. 

Four minutes before half-time Finlay was required to dash out of his goal to Lincoln’s left flank to slide the ball out for a throw-in, and the goalkeeper received a yellow card for kicking the ball away as they attempted to take the throw swiftly. Diamonds then created a couple of opportunities to draw level before the interval, firstly as Evangelinos showed good close control before hitting a cross into the middle that Newman missed, and then as Orosz’s cross dropped for the lurking Shariff to stab a shot goalwards that Bunting in turn lifted over the crossbar. The whistle was signalled for the end of the opening half moments later however, a half that was thoroughly entertaining and a game that was still very much in the balance as the players made their way off the pitch. 

Half Time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1-2 Lincoln United

The two teams re-emerged from their respective dressing rooms onto the still-damp Dog & Duck pitch, and with neither side having made a substitution at the break, the game was able to be gotten back underway quickly. 

Less than a minute after the sound of the referee’s whistle Lincoln could have extended their advantage: a right-wing cross found top-scorer Hempenstall in acres of space, but Lee courageously threw himself in front of the striker’s shot and deflected it behind for a corner. 

This block was made even more crucial two minutes later as Diamonds levelled the tie up again. A visiting attack broke down, and with a few players caught upfield the hosts broke with pace as Newman was released down the left channel. He ran forward and pulled the ball across for Taylor Orosz, and though it seemed the initial pass was slightly behind the number 11, it mattered little as he was able to turn and shoot past the helpless Turner with the help of a deflection. 

The second period had begun very openly and end-to-end just like in the first 45 minutes, and this pattern of the game was not to relent. A couple of minutes following Rushden’s second leveller, a loose clearance from the home defence fell invitingly for Gary King to lash a shot at goal, but thankfully for the hosts the attempt was straight at Finlay who was able to pat it down and then collect. Evangelinos then created some space on the left wing to curl an inviting delivery into the box, but Shariff was always going to find it difficult to generate power on his header and the effort sailed wide of the far post.

Lincoln had shown quick and tidy build-up play in many of their forays forward, and another telling example saw Hempenstall float a pinpoint pass out to King making tracks down the right channel, but his eventual shot was weak and ran well wide of the target. The sides were trading chances consistently, and Diamonds were the next to produce a threat with Newman running down the right and then feeding the ball back to Orosz, though his strike from 30 yards was always sailing over the top. 

In the 55th minute Rushden went agonisingly close to forging into the lead for the first time in the contest. Another accurate Evangelinos corner found a Diamonds head at the back post, and the header back across goal seemed as if it was going to be turned in close to the goal-line by Shariff, but superb defending smuggled the initial danger away. The ball broke for the lurking Lee though, and again stout defending protected the score as the shot was blocked away. Shariff threatened again a minute later as he met a right-footed cross from Brown, but his header drew a comfortable save from Turner. 

And after this small period of pressure, Lincoln delivered the classic sucker-punch by re-assuming the lead. A quick spot of pinball on the edge of the Diamonds box saw the ball drop for Norris, and he struck a floating left-footed shot that Finlay scrambled to his right, leapt and tipped onto the crossbar. Gary King was the quickest to react to the rebound though, and he had the simple task of nodding the ball into the empty net. 

As was the hectic and almost crazy nature of the game, the home side should have equalised for the third time on the hour mark. A loose ball fell for Evangelinos on the edge of the area, and his half-volley forced Turner into a smart parry to his right. Newman followed up, but his initial shot was again saved by the keeper, and then he couldn’t bundle the resultant effort in as it flicked off the post and into the side-netting for a goal-kick. That missed opportunity represented a huge let-off for the visitors, and after Orosz hit a shot well over the bar, Lincoln seeked to extend their lead through substitute Tom Maddison as a clearance fell to him 30 yards out, and his fizzing shot was gratefully seen by the motionless Finlay as flying wide of goal. 

Diamonds didn’t need much longer to grab a third equaliser though as they levelled things up again in the 68th minute. A throw-in was earnt down the right wing, and Brown trotted across to launch one of his trademark pitches into the heart of the Lincoln penalty area. Lee was able to win an important flick-on and it looped up for Nabil Shariff to flash a header beyond the dive of Turner and into the back of the net.

Three times the visitors had taken the lead, and three times the Diamonds had responded with a leveller; the stat was befitting of what had been an unrelenting and wholly open seventy minutes and there still remained twenty minutes of the regulation 90 to go. A quiet period was bound to occur at some stage, and the first such section of the contest came in the next ten minutes as both sides maintained a level of attrition and with the game still very much on the proverbial knife-edge.

Tom Lorraine replaced Newman in a like-for-like swap up front for Rushden, and he was part of a promising counter-attack that broke down with a heavy touch on the edge of the penalty area. It was the away side, however, who came closest to scoring what surely would have been a winning goal, and this came in the 84th minute. Substitute Matt Cotton faced McNulty up before driving inside and away from the Diamonds full-back, and as he moved into the penalty area his curling shot towards the back post was parried away by Finlay. It looked for all the world that the rebound would be gleefully tucked home by a closing Lincoln striker, but Harris slid in to make a hugely important challenge to put the ball out for a corner-kick.

Shariff and Lorraine then linked up well for the latter to hit a left-footed effort wide of the near post shortly before the 90 minute mark, and moments later Harris was booked down the other end for tripping the advancing Cotton as he threatened to cross towards a couple of free fellow blue-shirted players at the back post. The resulting free-kick, being only 25 yards out from goal, represented a good chance for the visitors, but Norris curled the ball over the top of the crossbar.

Four minutes of added-on time was played, and aside from a couple of late Lincoln corners that were well defended by the hosts, these passed with little action as referee Howes blew for full-time and for the end of a pulsating and rollercoaster FA Trophy tie.

Full Time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 3-3 Lincoln United

To say this was an action-packed and compelling encounter would be to give it a grand disservice; credit must go to the visitors for belying their indifferent league form to perform so well, to pose such a threat on a regular basis and to take the lead three times, but Diamonds showed tremendous character and belief to fight their way back into the tie with three equalisers. It would not have been fair if either side had of lost after both had contributed to such an enthralling match, and so a replay will be needed in Lincolnshire to decide who will advance into the Buildbase FA Trophy Third Qualifying Round. The draw for that round will take place on Monday lunchtime, and the replay will be played at Lincoln United’s home ground Ashby Avenue on Tuesday (November 15th) evening, with Diamonds’ Integro League Challenge Cup tie against Corby Town originally scheduled for that date to be re-arranged in due course.

 Diamonds Man of the Match: Taylor Orosz

Attendance: 458

Match Report by Ollie Mortimer

AFC Rushden & Diamonds

Lincoln United

17. Matt Finlay

2. Kyal McNulty

3. Sam Brown

4. Jason Lee

5. Brad Harris

6. Richard Bunting (C)

7. Nabil Shariff

8. Nic Evangelinos

9. Jake Newman

10. Lewis Leslie

11. Taylor Orosz

 

Substitutes:

12. Joe Curtis

13. Ben Heath

14. Tom Lorraine (for Newman 80)

15. Ben Ford

16. Chris Wreh

1. Jake Turner

2. Luke Hornsey

3. Callum Ward

4. Daniel Brooks

5. Michael Jacklin (C)

6. James Blunden

7. Robert Norris

8. Andrew Toyne

9. Jordan Hempenstall

10. Gary King

11. Kallum Smith

 

Substitutes:

12. Sam Mullarkey (for King 77)

14. Matt Cotton (for Smith 72)

15. Tom Maddison (for Brooks 61)

16. Sean Cann

17. Philip McGann

Goals: Leslie (10), Orosz (47), Shariff (68)

Goals: Hempenstall (6), Blunden (25), King (57)

Yellow Cards: Finlay (41), Harris (89)

Yellow Cards: Maddison

Referee: Mark Howes

Assistants: Mark Groves, Dave Barrett

 

 

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