AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0-0 AFC Kempston Rovers
For the second time this season, AFC Rushden and AFC Kempston battled out a hard fought draw. As in the reverse fixture at Hillgrounds Road back in September, the Walnut Boys were clearly the better side in the first half, but the Diamonds responded well after the break and will feel a little aggrieved not to have snatched all three points. Few will argue, however, that a point each was a fair reflection of the game.
Rushden handed a competitive debut to recent signing James Harrison, while Mason Thomas made his first competitive start for the club. With club captain Danny Bird missing due to the ankle injury picked up against FCV Reds, Adam Ziolkowski and Elliot Ames formed the centre back partnership with the latter wearing the captain’s armband. The side lined up in the same 4-3-3 formation which had worked so well against league leaders Cogenhoe United two weeks ago, and in the 28 minutes against FCV Reds 7 days ago.
The opening minutes were cagey but it was the visiting side who looked more comfortable in possession, with the Diamonds struggling to get their passing game going. It was somewhat against the run of play when, on 7 minutes, the home side had the first effort on goal. Louis Smith’s free kick found the head of James Harrison who flicked the ball onto Mason Thomas, but his difficult header was straight at Aaron Bodger in the Kempston goal. Bodger immediately launched the ball up field with the Rushden defence failing to clear the danger, allowing Nathan Mallet to head the ball onto Brad Clarke who hit a stunning 20 yard volley narrowly wide of the post.
The Walnut Boys went close again on 10 minutes, as the Rushden defence once more failed to deal with a ball into the area, Ben Walsh’s free kick being met by an instinctive header from Clarke but the winger couldn’t keep his effort down. Two minutes later, Mallet beat Ames down the left flank and hit a dangerous low cross into the box which just evaded Tom Marvin and was gathered by a relieved Ashley Foulger.
The Diamonds attack had been very subdued in the opening quarter of an hour, but Thomas finally livened things up with a surging run down the left flank, which drew a foul from the Kempston defence, giving the home side a free kick in a dangerous position, 25 yards from goal. Smith’s ball in found the unmarked Zach Farden who hit a volley towards goal but couldn’t keep the shot down. A minute later, Levi Freeman cut in from the left flank and hit a 20 yard shot at goal, but his effort was too close to Bodger who made a comfortable save.
On 18 minutes the visitors came within inches of taking the lead. An inswinging corner was glanced towards goal at the near post and appeared to be heading for the bottom corner, but Farden managed to block the ball on the line and although he sliced the attempted clearance, the ball fell straight into the arms of the grateful Foulger.
The game then settled down for a while with neither side able to make any inroads into the opposition defence. The Walnut Boys were still dominant in possession of the ball, but the Rushden defence had cut out the silly errors of the opening stages. There was a half chance for the visitors on 28 minutes when a long throw into the Diamonds’ penalty area was only cleared as far as Arron Ramsey, but his ambitious 25 yard volley sailed over the bar.
The impressive Brad Clarke was causing plenty of problems for the Rushden defence, and he almost scored with a wonderful solo effort shortly after the half hour mark. He first used his pace to get past Ryan Ellmer, before showing great skill to beat Ames, but his curling shot from a tight angle missed the far post by a matter of inches.
The near miss seemed to spur on the Diamonds and the following 10 minutes saw them enjoy their best spell of the half. A quick break by Jeron Thompson saw him put Thomas through on goal, but with only the ‘keeper to beat he was denied by the assistant referee who signalled for offside, much to the disbelief of a number of Rushden fans who were in line with Kempston defence. Two minutes later, debutant James Harrison came close to giving his new side the lead with the Diamonds’ best effort of the half. Freeman picked out the striker with a good ball into his feet, and Harrison turned his marker before hitting a powerful shot from 20 yards. Bodger got down well to make a good save, before bravely diving at the feet of Thompson who was quickly onto the loose ball.
HT: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0-0 AFC Kempston Rovers
The visitors were quickly out of the blocks again in the second half, and went close to taking the lead inside the opening minute. Ramsey burst past Freeman and into the penalty area, hitting a shot from a tight angle which was deflected just over the bar. The Diamonds responded with Harrison winning a corner, although the ball appeared to come off the Rushden striker last, and Smith’s deep inswinger found Harrison’s head but he couldn’t direct his effort on target. On 56 minutes, Marvin and Mallet burst forward with a two on one advantage, but Farden managed to recover well and prevent a shooting opportunity.
With the home side still struggling to really trouble the Kempston defence, Mark Starmer made a double substitution on the hour mark, replacing Freeman and Thompson with Ashley Meeks and Blake Helsdown. With the 4-3-3 formation not proving as effective on this occasion, Starmer also took the opportunity to revert to a 4-4-2, with Helsdown on the right of midfield, Smith on the left and Meeks partnering Bell in the centre.
The changes had an almost immediate impact, with Harrison playing a great ball over the Kempston defence for Thomas to run onto, but Bodger was off his line quickly and just reached the ball ahead of the Rushden striker. A minute later the visitors had another half chance when Marvin broke into the area, and although Ames did well to push him wide, the Kempston striker still managed to get in a powerful shot at goal which stung the fingertips of Foulger.
That proved to be the Walnut Boys last chance at a goal, as the Diamonds dominated the final 20 minutes. Conor Bell was seeing much more of the ball in the new formation, and after linking well with Helsdown he struck a decent shot from 20 yards which was very well held by Bodger, diving to his right. Helsdown then embarked on a good run down the right flank, cutting inside before laying the ball off to Harrison, but with the goal at his mercy the striker mishit his shot against his standing foot and the defence cleared.
With 15 minutes remaining Harrison won a corner which was delivered to the back post by Meeks, but with Bodger stranded Bell couldn’t quite climb high enough to get a decent contact on the ball, and his header was glanced wide.
Two minutes later, Farden got forward well from left back playing the ball to Bell who in turn switched it to Helsdown on the right. His excellent cross found the feet of Farden who had continued his run into the penalty area, but his goal bound volley was blocked on the line and the danger was cleared.
The same combination worked again minutes later, as another Helsdown cross found Farden in the penalty area, but just as he seemed certain to score a defender got back and made a great challenge to take the pace off the ball, leaving Bodger with an easy save.
Farden was involved again in the Diamonds’ next chance, his cross from deep finding the head of Ellmer, but the right back couldn’t direct his header on target.
There was one final chance for Rushden to snatch all three points, and it fell to Harrison. Helsdown and Meeks combined well down the right, with the latter feeding Harrison inside the area. The striker saw his first shot blocked by a defender, but was quickly onto the loose ball, chipping it towards the far post. With two Diamonds’ players waiting to tap home the winning goal Bodger climbed brilliantly, just managing to reach the ball and hold onto it to deny the home side.
FT: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0-0 AFC Kempston Rovers
After the game, Mark Starmer told AFCRDTV that despite his side’s late pressure, they weren’t good enough over the 90 minutes to have deserved the victory, and that a draw was definitely the right result.
The Diamonds travel to Woodford Halse next week (NOT Woodford just up the road from Raunds) for what bodes to be another very difficult game against Woodford United, who sit just above the Diamonds in the league table. Click HERE for the full match preview. Please note the slightly earlier kick off time of 7:30pm.
Man of the Match: James Harrison
Photos courtesy of Malcolm Swinden email : firstname.lastname@example.org
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
AFC Kempston Rovers
|24. Ashley Foulger
14. Ryan Ellmer
4. Elliot Ames (c)
15. Adam Ziolkowski
3. Zach Farden
9. Levi Freeman
13. Louis Smith
19. Conor Bell
10. Jeron Thompson
16. Mason Thomas
17. James Harrison
|1. Aaron Bodger
2. Adam Abbott
3. Ben Walsh
4. Arron Ramsey (c)
5. Alex Smith
6. Josh O’Neill
7. Gareth Hunt
8. Sam Moroney
9. Tom Marvin
10. Nathan Mallet
11. Brad Clarke
2. Ashley Meeks (for Freeman, 61 mins)
6. Alex McDonald
7. Blake Helsdown (for Thompson, 61 mins)
11. Lewi Williams (for Thomas, 82 mins)
12. Matti Ellis
12. Tom Roberts (for Hunt, 74 mins)
14. Antonio Mitre (for Mallet, 67 mins)
15. Jake O’Neill
16. Jordan Darvall