AFC Rushden & Diamonds secured the ChromaSport & Trophies United Counties League Premier Division title with a comprehensive 4-1 victory over struggling Northampton Sileby Rangers on Tuesday evening.

With the Diamonds knowing a point would be enough to ensure first place come the end of the season, they were inevitably the ones who attempted to force the issue in the first half, and Scott Joseph’s goal in the 39th minute set them on their way. The second period saw free-flowing football and confidence aplenty from the visitors, with Matt Gearing scoring two goals and Joseph adding another onto the score-sheet with a wonderful curling effort. Despite a late consolation for the ever-trying hosts, the Diamonds parade was not to be rained on and the full-time whistle brought about collective scenes of joy, happiness and elation at the culmination of the Diamonds’ achievements throughout the league season.

Manager Andy Peaks named an unchanged starting 11 to the one that clinically defeated Wellingborough Town in their last fixture, with Scott Joseph and Tommy Berwick again making up the front pairing and Tom Lorraine starting in centre midfield. There was a welcome return for Brad Harris to the squad after his holiday, with the Rushden man taking a place amongst a strong substitutes bench that also included Russ Dunkley and Jason Turner.

On a lovely spring evening at Fernie Fields, the game got underway with the Diamonds fans holding good memories of their previous two visits to Sileby and knowing that only 90 minutes and one more strong performance stood between them and the title. However, the hosts only needed one point of their own to secure a further season in the UCL Premier next year, and this was evident in the opening exchanges where they defended solidly and counter-attacked with pace and carried a threat going forward.

The first chance of the contest fell to Diamonds in the seventh minute when striker Scott Joseph won the ball on the right touchline and crossed to the back post. Under seemingly no pressure, Sileby full-back Dominic Okanu headed back across the penalty area into a potentially dangerous position, but Matt Gearing was only able to drill the ball across goal and wide of the mark. The home side responded with John Dean tricking his way into an ideal crossing position on the left wing, and his cross to the back post was sensibly headed behind by Jack Ashton before any Sileby player could meet it.

Although the Diamonds were looking to use the crisp playing surface to get the ball down and dictate the tempo of the game, Sileby were chasing and harrying them high up the pitch early in the half in an attempt to force mistakes from the Diamonds backline and midfield. One such instance saw ex-Diamonds man Elliot Dent pick up the ball in midfield and feed a pass across to winger Karabo Motshweni, and his throw of the shoulder to the right and subsequent twist to the left took him away from Sam Brown. As he advanced on the away defence, he unleashed a shot from 25 yards out which saw Matt Finlay rooted to the spot, but thankfully for Rushden it went wide of the left-hand post.

This near miss only seemed to galvanise the Diamonds into upping the pace of their play and looking to use the clever movement of Joseph and Tommy Berwick to create opportunities. In the 22nd minute, the ball was ferried out to Berwick just outside the area on the left side, and his dangerous looking low ball into the middle was well held by fellow ex-Diamonds player Quincy Shorunmu in the Sileby goal. Berwick was again involved when he was fouled by defender Daniel Dineen on the right flank, and Declan Rogers’ inswinging delivery saw the ball flick off a host’s head and just out the reach of any Diamonds players for a corner kick. The subsequent kick saw Jack Ashton rising to meet the Gearing delivery, but he was unable to keep his header down under pressure.

Diamonds were really starting to get a firm grip and dominance on the game at this stage, with the ball being moved well and efficiently all around the pitch and with clear intent. On 35 minutes, Charlie Butt was found in an advanced position after a ball chipped down the right channel for him, and he in turn fed the ball into Gearing who took the ball forward in his stride and curled an effort at goal that floated just over the top of the crossbar. However, the away side only had to wait a further four minutes before they were to take the lead. Berwick was instrumental in the goal as he robbed Dineen of the ball 30 yards from goal and was faced with a three on one situation in his favour as he ran deeper into the home side’s half. He unselfishly slipped the ball to his left where Scott Joseph was able to keep his composure as he advanced into the penalty area and slide a cool finish under Shorunmu for the opening goal of the game.

Sileby still represented a threat on the counter attack however, with their early quick passing and direct running troubling the Diamonds in some instances. With three minutes to go before half-time, Richard Bunting lost possession in the middle of the park and ex-Desborough man Michael Byrne was able to pick up the ball and move towards goal. He attempted to cut inside from the right, but a slight piece of luck saw the ball loop up perfectly for him to hook an effort goalwards over his shoulder, but the shot was straight at Finlay in the visitors goal.

Diamonds created two further half chances before the break, with Joseph winning a corner on the left side after good hold-up play and Gearing’s delivery being cleared at the near post close to the goal-line. Joseph was then able to release Berwick running in behind the home defence, but Shorunmu was quickly off his line to quell the threat and clear the ball away to safety.

Half Time: Northampton Sileby Rangers 0-1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds

Both sets of players emerged for the second period, with many fans in attendance wondering if the Diamonds could carry on the dangerous and threatening play that had characterised their win over Wellingborough at the weekend and had been seen in brief glimpses during the first half of this affair.

It was Sileby who had the opening chance of the half in the 48th minute as the referee allowed an advantage in play to the home side, but then pulled it back for a foul earlier on in the move. Captain Mark Forbes whipped the ball into the penalty area and Dineen was able to glance the ball towards goal, with Finlay being required to pull off a good save to his left to keep the Diamonds’ lead intact.

This however represented one of the few opportunities that the home side was able to create in the second half, as the Diamonds displayed a performance of desire, confidence and fluidity for large spells after the break. A Liam Dolman quick free-kick almost found the run of Gearing who had raced beyond half-time substitute Randy Bondjanga, but Shorunmu was again alert to the danger and was able to deal with the initial move. Berwick picked up the loose ball and ran at the recovering Sileby defence, but his left-footed curling strike was just wide of the Sileby keeper’s far post.

The link-up play and partnership of strikers Scott Joseph and Tommy Berwick was a persistent threat throughout the second period, and in the 57th minute, Joseph brought a goal-kick down in the centre circle, pirouetted away from two Sileby midfielders and sprinted goalwards. With options left and right, he decided to go for goal from 25 yards out with his effort being slightly weak and proving a routine save for Shorunmu.

Two minutes later, the Diamonds were able to extend their lead. Bunting fed the ball to Berwick on the right side of the box, and although his initial effort was blocked, the ball squirmed free and was contested for by Shorunmu and Joseph. The Diamonds striker won out, and his improvised back-flick to Berwick saw the Rushden number 10 pull the ball back to Matt Gearing to slot the ball home past a couple of defenders between him and the goal.

 The visitors were now well in their stride and in almost complete dominance of the game in terms of territory, possession and chances at goal. Joseph’s, Berwick’s and Gearing’s movement and running of the channels was a key feature of the second period, with much of the Diamonds’ good play going forwards involving at least one of those three players. Another case eight minutes after the second goal saw Joseph play the ball back to full-back Charlie Butt just ahead of the Rushden dugout and his curled cross in saw Gearing flick a header that drifted harmlessly wide of the Sileby net.

Gearing was playing with a confidence and verve that many of the Diamonds fans know that he is capable of, and he was pivotal in the Diamonds extending their lead further in the 69th minute. A nice move saw Rogers pick up the ball in his own half and race up the pitch towards goal, though he seemed to be crowded out by a Sileby-esque blockade on the edge of the box. He fed the ball back to substitute Brad Harris, and he in turn spread the play to his right and to Gearing. The Diamonds winger attempted to knock the ball back past Bondjanga, but the ball struck the Sileby defender’s left hand and left the referee in no doubt to point to the penalty spot. Matt Gearing stepped up and confidently dispatched the ball high into the middle of the goal leaving Shorunmu grasping thin air as he dived to his right.

Tom Lorraine had again excelled in the middle of the park with his industrious and energetic nature, but the introduction of Harris for the limping Berwick had seen the Diamonds joint top goalscorer move back into an attacking role. He was able to power his way to the left byline thirteen minutes from time, and his cut-back into a threatening area found Rogers, but he miscued his shot and the ball bobbled out for a goal-kick for the home team.

 The game had just entered the final 10 minutes when Diamonds added the cherry on top of the title cake with the goal of the game. Dolman strode out of defence and dinked a ball over the top for Scott Joseph to run onto, with his quick feet giving him some space free from Okanu. He cut inside the Sileby full-back and pinged a delicious effort past Shorunmu and into the far side of the goal from just outside the area for his fourth goal in two games. The finish was met with rapturous applause and celebration for a superb individual effort and finish, but also for the realisation that the Diamonds were now in no doubt of securing the three points and winning the coveted title.

The final moments saw Joe Merrill and Russ Dunkley being given some game-time on the field of action replacing Butt and Joseph respectively, and Sileby were able to grab a consolation in the third minute of stoppage time when substitute Gokhan Ulker dispatched a 20 yard shot into the bottom corner of Finlay’s net after good work from Stuart McMichael. However, this wasn’t to dampen the Diamonds party spirits in any way, and the referee’s final whistle was met with cheers of jubilation, cries of ‘Champions!’ and a mini pitch invasion that was all in high spirits and signified the togetherness and unity that has been evident both on and off the pitch throughout the entire season.

Full Time: Northampton Sileby Rangers 1-4 AFC Rushden & Diamonds

So AFC Rushden & Diamonds have been officially crowned as the United Counties League Premier Division Champions 2014/2015, and many thanks have to be given to all the players, coaches, fans and volunteers who have made the achievement and the target come true in the end. The second half performance was indicative of a title-winning side, with the pace, skill and movement on show a sign of why the Diamonds have been able to finish top of the division. The ability to grind out results when not playing at their fluent best has also stood Rushden out from other teams in the league, and thoughts will return to the Wisbech home and away fixtures, and especially the Holbeach away game, for potential turning points of the season. One half of the potential league and cup double has been completed, so attentions will now turn to Diamonds’ next league fixture when they will entertain Newport Pagnell Town at the Dog & Duck on Saturday April 18. 

Diamonds Man of the Match chosen by Match Sponsor Hevey Building Supplies: Liam Dolman

Attendance: 586

Match Report by Ollie Mortimer

Northampton Sileby Rangers

AFC Rushden & Diamonds

1. Quincy Shorunmu

2. Dominic Okanu

3. Danny Pownall

4. Daniel Dineen

5. Emmanuel Bella

6. Elliot Dent

7. Karabo Motshweni

8. Mark Forbes (C)

9. Michael Byrne

10. Stuart McMichael

11. John Dean

 

Substitutes:

12. Randy Bondjanga (for Bella 45)

14. Jimi Emefuna (for Byrne 85)

15. Gokhan Ulker (for Dent 66)

16. Lance Allen

17. Matt Finlay

2. Charlie Butt

3. Sam Brown

4. Jack Ashton

5. Liam Dolman

6. Tom Lorraine

7. Matt Gearing

8. Richard Bunting (C)

9. Scott Joseph

10. Tommy Berwick

11. Declan Rogers

 

Substitutes:

12. Joe Merrill (for Butt 82)

13. Rhys Redding

14. Jason Turner

16. Brad Harris (for Berwick 67)

19. Russ Dunkley (for Joseph 90+1)

Goals: Ulker (90+3)

Goals: Joseph (39, 81), Gearing (59, pen 69)

Yellow Cards: Dent (27)

Yellow Cards: None

Referee: Samuel Harris

Assistants: Sam Brough, Michael Brennan

 

 

Updated player profiles with appearance and goalscoring details are now available.

The updated Match Stats, Player Stats and Attendance figures along with league stats are found in the First Team stats area on this website here. You can also find updated results / fixture lists in the main fixture and results grid.

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 Match Gallery courtesy of Malcolm Swinden Photography (click on the link to access the Diamonds Photo Gallery for more images from this game and ecommerce options). Copyright Mal Swinden ©2015

 

 
 
 

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