In their second pre-season game of the new campaign AFC Rushden & Diamonds lost 3-0 to 1874 Northwich in the Supporters Direct Shield. The game was held in the Select Security Stadium in Widnes, which hosts both football (Vikings FC) and Rugby League (Widnes Vikings RLFC) on a synthetic surface.
After a hot afternoon the players would have been grateful for a breeze blowing through the stadium as the temperature began to drop. Mark Starmer fielded a starting team chosen almost entirely from his first team squad, including several fringe players, but also brought along a youthful bench.
New signing Nat Liburd had an early chance in his Diamonds career to demonstrate his flexibility, as he lined up at centre back alongside captain Alex Deakin. Séan McBride took on an unfamiliar role at left back, with Ashley Meeks at right back. Matt Gearing started in left midfield, with Elliot Dent on the right, with Aaron King and Louis Smith in centre midfield. Up front were Jake Reynolds and Lance Allen.
The first quarter of the game was fairly even, although the hosts tested Quincy Shorunmu rather more, with the Diamonds keeper pulling off an excellent save from the impressive Lee Hendley. At the other end Louis Smith was set up with a clear shooting chance as he arrived late on the edge of the box, but he fired wide. Neat work from Lance Allen set up Matt Gearing for a dipping shot that just cleared the crossbar, but another Northwich player who impressed was Phil Coffin, once he had got used to the surface, and he fired narrowly wide after 24 minutes. Hendley forced a second good save from Shorunmu before he was able to fire home an incisive cross from the left from Coffin, who had made a break while the Diamonds were out of shape whilst Aaron King was on the sidelines calling for a change of boots.
The Diamonds forced a number of corners in the first period, but Northwich keeper Matt Conkie commanded his area, plucking them out of the air each time. At the other end the hosts cemented their lead just before the break, as the Diamonds went to sleep at a corner on the left, with only Elliott Dent attempting to cover two players working a corner routine, meaning that the ball could be fired into the box for Ryan Stewart to see his effort hit the underside of the bar and roll over the line as it hit the Diamonds keeper on the way down.
After the break the game continued in a similar vein during the third quarter, with Aaron King and Jake Reynolds both going close, and a Matt Gearing cross well cleared by the home defence. At the other end Phil Coffin worked a neat move with Mike Brandon before seeing his shot thump the post.
The hosts were certainly good value for their lead at this point, but the Diamonds injection of new faces into the line-up made a real difference to their attacking intent, with Joe Holmes spraying the ball out wide as the Diamonds finally started to present a threat down the flanks, with Omar Ghavami also not afraid to run at the defence.
There was one bizarre incident during the fourth quarter when Quincy Shorunmu appeared to confuse one of the gridiron markings for the limits of his penalty area, and innocently caught the ball whilst a yard outside of the penalty box.
The Diamonds performance during the fourth quarter might have merited a consolation goal, but it was the hosts who completed the scoring in the 89th minute, when a cross from the right was fired against the bar by Mike Howarth, but Kyle Wilding was on hand to fire home the rebound.
1874 Northwich were able to see their name “in lights” on the electronic scoreboard as they lifted the Supporters Direct Shield, whilst the Diamonds will look ahead to their trip to Stamford on Wednesday.
Diamonds Team: Quincy Shorunmu, Ashley Meeks, Séan McBride, Louis Smith, Nat Liburd, Alex Deakin, Matt Gearing, Aaron King, Lance Allen, Jake Reynolds, Elliot Dent.
Substitutes: Joe Holmes (for Smith 67), Omar Ghavami (for Reynolds 67), Jack Crow (for Meeks 67), Matt Foster (for Dent 72), Mason Thomas (for Allen 74), Smith (return for Gearing 81), Meeks (return for McBride 85)
Attendance Approx 130 (Away 40-50)