Diamonds secured a hugely emphatic victory over lowly Northwich at a sunny Dog & Duck on Saturday afternoon.

Ollie Brown-Hill saw a shot well saved by visiting goalkeeper Dylan Forth in as early as the fifth minute, but it didn’t take much longer for the hosts to take the lead. A flick-on by Shariff allowed strike-partner Jack Bowen to run through on goal and calmly slot past Forth into the back of the net. Six minutes later Rushden doubled their advantage as a diagonal ball by Ben Ford found Brown-Hill running in behind, and he neatly looped a header up and over the stranded Vics goalkeeper. Three minutes after that, in the 17th minute, the game was arguably over as a contest when Diamonds notched up their third goal of the afternoon. A Sam Brown long-throw was perfectly flicked on by Bowen for Shariff to guide the ball into the net from five yards out. The home side completely dominated the opening period and could have added to their lead on a number of occasions; Ford saw a free-kick well blocked away by the keeper, Shariff saw a lob go just over the bar and Shawn Richards converted a Brown pull-back only for the offside flag to be raised against him. However, the lead was extended on the stroke of half-time when another long ball was flicked on for Bowen to race in on goal and expertly tuck it past the goalkeeper. Still there was time to add even further gloss to the already one-sided scoreline, but Brown-Hill’s instinctive left-footed effort from the edge of the area clipped the top of the crossbar before going over.

The second half began largely in the same vein as the first one had ended with chances aplenty. First Brown-Hill junked into the box before his quick shot was well kicked by Forth, and then the visitors should have pulled one back only for striker Favour Imade to miss an open goal when only yards out. Northwich did get on the scoresheet soon after though when a long free-kick by David Short caught out Ben Heath in the Diamonds goal and nestled in the back of the net. In response, Bowen saw a curling shot well parried, Farrell had a precise effort cleared off the line, and Brown-Hill and Bowen had fierce attempts blocked away as the hosts tried to regain their four-goal lead. They eventually achieved this when a corner from the right dropped kindly for Shariff to slam the loose ball into the roof of the net. Substitutes Ross Oulton and Fazel Koriya both worked the goalkeeper as Diamonds searched for even more goals, and it was final substitute Dan Quigley who got it when a clearance fell perfectly into his path for him to strike a clean half-volley that flew into the corner of the goal. Shariff had two efforts saved and another from point-blank range somehow stay out via both the post and the keeper, but six goals was more than enough for Rushden to seal an important victory in their attempts to reach the play-offs.

Diamonds manager Andy Peaks made three changes to the side that had been defeated at Witton Albion on Tuesday evening. One was enforced as Callum Westwood’s suspension began after his red card at Market Drayton last weekend, and so Ben Ford took his place at right-back. Ollie Brown-Hill was also given the box to start, and Jack Bowen was reintroduced into the starting XI to replace Tom Lorraine. 

The two teams entered onto the Dog & Duck surface with the sun positively gleaming in the sky, and the match was undoubtedly a crucial one for both sides. For the hosts it was imperative they got their play-off-push back on track after successive defeats in their last two away games, and for Northwich it was important that they gained points in their fight for survival. Diamonds had won the reverse fixture 4-1 in Cheshire back in mid-March, and so they returned to a 4-4-2 formation in the hope that they could again create many opportunities and goals. 

Referee Robert Hathaway got proceedings underway, and it was the Diamonds who sprung onto the offensive straight away. In the fourth minute a Sam Brown long-throw from the right was cleared back out to the full-back, and he found Ollie Brown-Hill before the winger’s curling shot was deflected behind for a corner. A minute later he latched onto a precise header in behind from captain Richard Bunting, and though he was stretching slightly he still hit a shot goalwards that forced away keeper Dylan Forth to block with his legs. 

However, three minutes later, Rushden were able to take the lead. A long ball forward saw Nabil Shariff flick it on, and fellow striker Jack Bowen showed good strength to hold off Adam Lawrence before running through and confidently slotting past Forth into the back of the net. 

The hosts were very dominant in these opening exchanges as they monopolised the majority of possession and territory, and after some further pressure they doubled their lead in the 14th minute. The ball was played out to the right side, just ahead of the dugouts, to Ben Ford, and he quickly moved the ball out of his feet before drilling an inch-perfect diagonal pass over the Vics defence and into the path of Ollie Brown-Hill. The winger had to wait for the ball to bounce up for him, but having done so he looped a precise header up and over the stranded keeper to double the Diamonds’ advantage. 

Rushden were oozing confidence and showing no sign of letting up their concerted pressure, which was confirmed when they added a third goal in only the 17th minute. A trademark long-throw by Brown on the left found the leaping Bowen, and he in turn flicked it perfectly into the path of Nabil Shariff who confidently dispatched an effort past Forth from less than six yards out. The intensity was unrelenting, aside from a shot from Northwich’s Drew Matthews that Heath easily saved, and the hosts won a free-kick on the right shortly afterwards after Shariff was fouled. Ford stepped up to whip in a threatening and dangerous inswinging delivery that may have got a slight touch off a Northwich head, but Forth was required to parry the ball away at his near-post regardless. 

The link-up play between Shariff and Bowen was proving a huge menace to the Northwich defence, and the former was inches away from his second of the game in the 25th minute. A ball in behind the away back four found the advancing Shariff and, spotting Forth a few yards off his goalline, he executed a lob from outside the area that ultimately dropped over the bar. The home side thought they had eventually extended their lead two minutes later, but after Brown-Hill found the overlapping Brown and his ball across was fired home by Shawn Richards, the assistant’s flag was raised for offside and the goal was ruled out.

After a frenetic and chance-filled opening half an hour, it was no surprise that the tempo of the game began to slow slightly. The visitors did threaten sporadically with a couple of moves forward and a couple of set-piece opportunities, but the hosts dealt with all of these and continued to look a major threat everytime they moved forward. 

They earnt a free-kick on the left wing when an overzealous shoulder barge by Northwich captain Matthew Clarke left Brown-Hill on the floor, and the subsequent delivery by Richards looked destined to find a white-shirt before the visitors just managed to clear the ball away. 

Possession was frequently turned over in the first half at a very quick rate, with play often switching from one end to the other in a matter of seconds. As the game entered three minutes of stoppage time, required for an injury to Northwich’s David Short, this was in evidence as Diamonds swept into a four-goal lead. A long ball upfield was powerfully flicked on by Shariff for Jack Bowen to run onto, but similarly to the second goal the ball bounced up very high making the chance slightly more difficult. However, it failed to affect the striker as he calmly chested the ball down before stroking an effort past Forth and into the net. 

Many thought that this would conclude the first half proceedings, but one final chance was created by the rampant hosts before the whistle was blown. Bowen latched onto a bouncing ball forward before flicking it into the path of Shariff, and with the away defence seriously stretched, he jinked one way and the other before feeding Brown-Hill on his left. The winger didn’t have much time to decide what to do, but he instinctively flicked a shot towards the far corner with the outside of his left boot. Unfortunately for the Diamonds man though, the ball clipped the top of the bar and went out for a goal-kick.

Referee Hathaway signalled the end of the opening half shortly afterwards, one in which the Diamonds wholly dominated and thus were in complete control of.

Half Time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 4-0 Northwich Victoria

The two teams re-entered the fray from the changing rooms after the half-time break, with many wondering if the pattern of the first half would be replicated in the second half.

As soon as Hathaway signalled for the start of the second period it appeared that the home dominance may continue. In almost a carbon-copy of the beginning of the opening half, Brown-Hill broke past a couple of challenges into the left side of the box before hitting a shot that Forth blocked with his legs. 

However, Northwich fought back and had their first period of pressure in the game. They earnt a corner on the left, and a weak defensive clearance fell for John Bennett to drive a shot across goal. Away striker Favour Imade was standing right in front of an empty goal with a seemingly easy tap-in presented to him, but he miscued his shot back across goal and Heath was able to gratefully collect the ball. Moments later Ford was penalised for holding back Imade on the edge of the box, but Short’s resulting free-kick was easily blocked away by the defensive wall.

In the 53rd minute though, the visitors did manage to get onto the scoresheet. They earnt a free-kick around 15 yards inside their attacking half, and David Short stepped up to drift the ball forward. Whether he intended to have an effort at goal or whether he really meant to find a teammate only the Northwich man will know, but either way the ball sailed through the air and dipped over Heath into the back of the net. 

The home side didn’t let this minor setback derail them though as they swept forward immediately following the goal, and Richards slipped a neat ball into the path of Bowen on the edge of the box. The striker shifted into space on his left foot and curled a shot towards the corner, but Forth was down to his left to palm the ball away to safety. Shortly afterwards Brown-Hill surged to the left byline before whipping an inviting cross into the middle that ran just too far for Shariff. The striker still managed to retrieve the ball though, and he in turn played it inside to Richards who then passed it across to the unmarked Ben Farrell. He tried to delicately place his attempt into the far corner of the goal, but a covering defender was in the right place at the right time to hack the ball off the line.

A minute later, and shortly before the hour mark, Brown-Hill and Bowen had fierce shots blocked as the Diamonds searched to restate their four-goal cushion. Shariff then was found by a pinpoint cross in from the left wing, but his header was straight at the keeper as the offside flag was raised against him. The home defence, despite being tested more than they were in the opening half, still defended strongly and nullified the threat shown by the visitors, and with the scoreline still being relatively comfortable, Peaks decided it was a good opportunity to give Ross Oulton some more minutes in his development and return from injury. He replaced Farrell in a like-for-like alteration.

Moments after this switch, the hosts did manage to regain their four-goal lead. A corner was won on the right side, and Ford trotted across to swing a dangerous delivery into the middle. Bowen and Forth challenged for the ball, and it dropped loose for Nabil Shariff to lash into the roof of the net from close-range. Still Diamonds didn’t relent and ease the pressure, and immediately after their fifth goal Oulton strode forward past three Vics players before seeing his effort easily held by the away keeper. Some minutes were also given to Fazel Koriya as he emerged from the substitutes bench to replace Brown-Hill.

Koriya, like Oulton, had an immediate impact in Rushden’s next opportunity. A pull-back from the left byline was narrowly missed by Shariff as he stretched for it, but it fell for the substitute with only the keeper to beat. However, in his attempts to jink past Forth and generate a better shooting position, he ran out of angle and his dinked ball looking for a teammate was easily intercepted by the Northwich keeper. The game ticked into the final ten minutes of normal time, with Diamonds taking their foot off the gas slightly, and their final change was made in the form of Dan Quigley replacing Bunting.

Like with the previous two home alterations the substitute had an immediate impact, but this time it led directly to a goal. Another corner was won on the right side, and the resulting delivery was headed out as far as Dan Quigley lurking just inside the area. He had time and space to set himself, and then dispatch an excellent effort into the far corner of the goal despite a defender back on the line.

The visitors, much to their credit, continued to work hard and attempt to pose a threat, and one long ball forward found Niall Sultan running in behind only for his flick towards goal easily held by Heath. The rest of the contest then became a shooting gallery for Shariff to try and attain his hat-trick, and what would have been his second one against the Vics this season. First he met a Ford cross from the right before directing a header goalwards, but Forth was right behind it and able to collect comfortably. Then in the 86th minute he collected an Oulton pass before running past an away challenge and seeing a shot saved, and then the subsequent rebound blocked away also.

The hosts continued to pour forward in their attempts to increase their lead and also their goal difference, with Richards sprinting down the right to deliver a cross into the middle that Bowen glanced wide of the far post. Two minutes later a neat and quick move down the left saw Quigley flick a pass into Brown’s path, and his attempted ball across the six-yard box towards Shariff and Bowen was importantly cleared away for a corner. The resulting delivery saw Liam Dolman challenge for a header, and it dropped for Shariff who looked for all the world like he would turn the ball home to complete his hat-trick. However, his fierce shot from close in smacked off the post and then the keeper before it ran away from the goal.

There still remained time for two final opportunities as the game moved into added-on time. Firstly Richards and Shariff linked up well on the right flank as the latter flicked the ball into the path of the former, but his eventual shot was charged down. A deep free-kick by Ford then saw Shariff brilliantly control the ball ahead of the keeper and spin away from him, but he tried to shoot in the same moment also and it proved too much as the effort dribbled wide of the left post.

The full-time whistle was signalled moments later by referee Hathaway to confirm three important points for the hosts, and to confirm their just rewards for a dominating and clinical display.

Full Time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 6-1 Northwich Victoria

This result represented a perfect riposte for the Diamonds after consecutive defeats in their last two outings, and the way in which they attacked with real pace, verve and creativity for much of the contest was very pleasing to see. 10 goals against Northwich in the two league fixtures this season, half of them coming from Nabil Shariff, is testament to the strikers and to the whole team for their level of performance in both matches, but credit must go to Northwich also for never letting their heads drop and for continuing to search for more goals even towards the end of the ninety minutes. With Basford, Lincoln, Leek and Newcastle all winning too this win was made even more vital for the Diamonds, and with only six games of the regular season to go they remain one point off a play-off spot. One of their games in hand on Basford, directly above them in the table, comes on Tuesday night when they travel to Staffordshire to take on Chasetown (April 4th).

Diamonds Man of the Match (chosen by match sponsors Barry Pitfield and Bill Taylor): Ollie Brown-Hill

Attendance: 604

Match Report by Ollie Mortimer

AFC Rushden & Diamonds

Northwich Victoria

17. Ben Heath

2. Ben Ford

3. Sam Brown

4. Brad Harris

5. Liam Dolman

6. Ben Farrell

7. Shawn Richards

8. Ollie Brown-Hill

9. Jack Bowen

10. Nabil Shariff

11. Richard Bunting (C)

 

Substitutes:

12. Dan Quigley (for Bunting 80)

13. Matt Finlay

14. Fazel Koriya (for Brown-Hill 70)

15. Ross Oulton (for Farrell 65)

16. Tom Lorraine

1. Dylan Forth

2. Adam Lawrence

3. George Mannion

4. Andy Fitzgerald

5. Drew Matthews

6. John Bennett

7. Matthew Clarke (C)

8. Stuart McDonald

9. David Short

10. Favour Imade

11. Niall Sultan

 

Substitutes:

12. Jack Kelleher (for Matthews 66)

14. Matty Shaw (for Clarke 71)

15. Reece Lyndon

Goals: Bowen (8, 45), Brown-Hill (14), Shariff (17, 67), Quigley (81)

Goals: Short (53)

Yellow Cards: None

Yellow Cards: Imade (61)

Referee: Robert Hathaway

Assistants: Kurt Barlett, Joshua Hackett

 

 

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