An improved second half performance gave AFC Rushden & Diamonds a 3-1 victory over AFC Kempston Rovers at Hillgrounds on Saturday afternoon. The hosts had the better of the first period, taking a deserved lead, before a debut goal from Brad Harris made things even at the break. With the Diamonds starting with an unfamiliar 3-4-3 formation, it wasn’t until they took the lead in the 67th minute, through Ben Morgan, that they looked in charge of the game. Arron Parkinson made it 3-1 after 81 minutes which gave the Diamonds the cushion they needed.
On a pleasant spring afternoon, Diamonds manager Mark Starmer made several changes to take into account the players that were carrying knocks, as well as a tactical change to a 3-4-3 formation. Henderson, Parkinson and Walker were the back three, with Bunting and Harris in central midfield flanked by Merrill and Brown, and up front were Taylor and Morgan supported by Koriya. Although they had successfully played with “three-at-the-back” without problems previously, this was the first time the regular full-backs Brown and Merrill had been pushed forwards in place of more conventional wide midfielders. Neither Matt Gearing nor Russ Dunkley were risked to start the game, and they were joined on the bench by Greg Ling.
With the Hillgrounds pitch having dried into a firm surface the first few minutes saw several overhit passes and skied shots at both ends, with the best chance falling to Ben Morgan who ran onto a long ball that flicked off the head of a defender, but his effort only found the side netting. After 10 minutes a similar opportunity fell to Walnutboys striker Scott Joseph on the right, and he slotted confidently past Finlay.
After the confidence boost of the first goal the hosts continued to threaten, with Carter firing wide and then Kirkpatrick ran clear after Parkinson misjudged a long ball, but his first effort was blocked and his second dragged wide.
Merrill and Brown were struggling to get the ball at their feet on the flanks, but one good run and pass from Merrill created a chance for Brown which just missed the target.
As the game entered the second quarter the Diamonds made a break down the right, with the match officials allowing play to continue despite a clear foul near the half-way line – an excellent application of the advantage rule. Brad Harris received the ball and was able to force a corner on the right. The initial corner from Fazel Koriya was cleared back to him, but he was able to fire a low ball back into the box and onto the head of the diving Brad Harris who netted his first goal for the Diamonds on his 58th appearance for the club.
Any thoughts that the equaliser might spur the Diamonds into gaining control of the game were quickly forgotten as the hosts had several good chances to retake the lead, as well as a reasonable claim for a penalty as the Diamonds midfield and defence were both guilty of giving the ball away under minimum pressure. The back three were struggling to find an outlet when they broke down an attack by the home team, as there was no full back to spread the ball out wide.
As half-time approached Scott Joseph once again broke clear as a mistake by the back three was exposed due to the lack of a covering full-back, but he could only find the side netting.
Half-Time: AFC Kempston Rovers 1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1
The Diamonds started the second period with the same formation, and within ten minutes it showed how exposed the back three were without the usual covering full-backs, as Arron Parkinson allowed a long ball to flick off him, setting Kirkpatrick and Dummett clear on goal. Fortunately Matt Finlay was able to come to the rescue and deny what looked an inevitable goal.
At the other end Fazel Koriya broke clear but his first touch allowed the ball to run through to Fagan. Joe Henderson had also been exposed by the new formation in the first half, but he fell awkwardly as he tried to stop Joseph breaking past the defensive line, and although the attack was ultimately halted, Henderson needed treatment for a knock to his arm, before leaving the action after 62 minutes, to be replaced by Greg Ling. With Ling providing a more conventional wide midfield option, the Diamonds attacking threat quickly increased. A foul in midfield produced a Diamonds free kick which appeared to be intended for the head of Arron Parkinson, but it floated out to Ling on the left. He was able to find space to scoop a cross over the head of keeper Fagan and his defenders, and as it landed near the goal-line Ben Morgan was able to prod home.
The Diamonds now took full control, with Jake Gillingwater replacing Alfie Taylor up front, and he and Ling forced the home defence into a number of mistakes. Ling forced a corner on the left, and as this was cleared back across the box Arron Parkinson was on hand to fire home.
It was now a more conventional battle, with Matt Gearing providing the balance to Ling on the right as Gillingwater partnered Koriya up-front, and there was little threat the hosts might get anything out of a game they had the better of for almost an hour.
Full-Time: AFC Kempston Rovers 1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds 3
Diamonds Man of the Match: Brad Harris
The Diamonds rivals for second place in the league also won on Saturday, so they will need to get a result in their home game against Desborough Town on Tuesday evening.
AFC Kempston Rovers
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
1. Aaron Fagan
2. Tom Guiney (Capt)
3. Dan Winfield
4. Dean Dummett
5. Simon Carmichael
6. Billy Roberts
7. Sam Johnson
8. Seb Simpson
9. Scott Joseph
10. Lucas Kirkpatrick
11. Tavon Carter
12. Alex Stoyles (for Roberts 60)
14. Glenn Tumulty (for Carter 81)
15. Steph Kemoagna (for Johnson 73)
16. Jamie O’Grady
17. Matt Mann (GK)
17. Matt Finlay
2. Joe Henderson
3. Sam Brown
4. Arron Parkinson (Capt)
5. Brad Harris
6. Ryan Walker
7. Joe Merrill
8. Richard Bunting
9. Alfie Taylor
10. Fazel Koriya
11. Ben Morgan
12. Matt Gearing (for Morgan 82)
13. Adam Whybrow (GK)
14. Jake Gillingwater (for Taylor 73)
15. Russ Dunkley
16. Greg Ling (for Henderson 62)
Goal: Joseph (10)
Goals: Harris (25), Morgan (67), Parkinson (81)
Yellow Cards: Kirkpatrick, Stoyles, Simpson, Guiney
Yellow Card: Parkinson
Referee: Abdul Kadir
Assistants: Mark Simmons, Michael Chalkley