AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0-1 Cogenhoe United
AFC Rushden & Diamonds slipped to the narrowest of defeats to league leaders Cogenhoe United, in a game which proved to be an outstanding example of youth football.
Rushden were determined to make amends for the recent 7-0 defeat at Cogenhoe, and although they will be disappointed not to have taken anything from the game, the young Diamonds can be immensely proud of their performance against one of the top youth sides in Northants.
As with the game at Compton Park, influential skipper Danny Bird was missing from the Rushden line-up, but the squad was boosted by the appearance of new signing Mason Thomas among the substitutes. The centre forward had impressed in Monday night’s friendly victory over Stamford AFC, scoring the only goal of the game on that occasion.
With the Rushden players fully aware that they had contributed to their own downfall in that heavy defeat just a few weeks earlier, it was clear from the outset that if Cogenhoe were to take maximum points from this game then they were going to have to earn them. The Diamonds were much quicker to close down their opposite numbers, refusing to allow them any time on the ball, although still looked a little nervous in possession in the opening stages.
The Cooks seemed to pick up on this and piled on the pressure early on, winning a corner on 4 minutes which just cleared the head of Nana Doudu at the far post. 5 minutes later and another set piece saw the visitors go close to opening the scoring, but Antar Phipps-Norton’s free kick just cleared the bar.
On 10 minutes however, the league leaders did take the lead with the first clear cut chance of the game. Doudu embarked on a good run across the face of the Diamonds penalty area, hitting a fierce shot which proved too hot for Ashley Foulger to hold on to, with the loose ball falling kindly for Korey Morgan who tapped home from close range. There was a suspicion that Morgan may have been in an offside position when the first shot was struck, but despite appeals to the assistant referee on the far side, his flag stayed down.
A minute later and things looked set to get even worse for the home side as the Cooks were awarded a penalty. A ball down the Cogenhoe left flank saw Morgan and Adam Ziolkowski shoulder to shoulder just inside the penalty area, but just as the ball was about to roll out of play the visiting striker threw himself to the floor as if he had been expertly picked out by a sniper amongst the crowd. Much to everyone’s amazement referee Kevin Seckington pointed to the penalty spot, but justice was done when Morgan’s spot kick was fired against the underside of the bar with Foulger gratefully claiming the rebound.
The Diamonds were still struggling to get their passing game going, and on 13 minutes Cogenhoe went close with another set piece. Ziolkowski could have no complaints this time about conceding a foul some 25 yards out, and Phipps-Norton’s excellent strike appeared to be heading into the corner of the goal until Foulger’s outstretched hand superbly tipped the ball around the post.
With 19 minutes gone the Diamonds finally started to settle down and began passing the ball around with their usual confidence and accuracy, and their first decent move of the game almost resulted in an equalising goal. Blake Helsdown set off with the ball down the right flank before playing it inside to Levi Freeman, who in turn played quick one-twos with Conor Bell and Jeron Thompson, before finding Lewi Williams on the left hand side of the area. Williams used his pace to get away from his marker but delayed his shot too long allowing the defence to recover and block his effort behind for a corner.
Despite the Diamonds’ improvement Cogenhoe were still looking threatening going forward, especially from set pieces. A short free kick on 23 minutes saw a low cross played into the Rushden box and was deflected narrowly over the crossbar, before a dangerous right wing corner evaded several players from both sides and was met by an instinctive header from Toby Jones, but he couldn’t react in time to keep the ball down. Two minutes later, excellent work in the middle of the park by Louis Smith saw him win back possession and find Williams with a good pass out to the left wing, but unfortunately for the Diamonds he slipped while attempting to cross the ball allowing the visitors the chance to clear.
There was little to choose between the sides in the final 10 minutes of the first half, with the home team finishing perhaps slightly the stronger of the two. Phipps-Norton managed one more half chance for the visitors, latching onto a long ball forward before hitting a decent 20 yard effort that was well held by Foulger. In stoppage time, Freeman played the ball through to Bell who tried his luck from 25 yards, but his decent strike drew a smart save from former Rushden & Diamonds youth team ‘keeper Kyle Swailes. In between those two half chances, Cooks full back Merson Styles was very lucky to escape a booking after an awful, late lunge on Ryan Ellmer.
HT: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0-1 Cogenhoe United
Cogenhoe started the second half as they had the first, threatening the Diamonds’ goal with a set piece within a minute of the restart. A short free kick was followed by a dangerous cross into the Rushden penalty area where Helsdown did really well to clear the ball behind for a corner, with a Cogenhoe player behind him ready to pounce.
Five minutes later, visiting captain Jamie Wilson got forward well from right back and tried his luck from 25 yards, but his effort was wild and troubled only the car park behind the goal.
On the hour mark, Korey Morgan managed to break away from the Rushden defence for the first time in the second half before teeing up Phipps-Norton on the edge of the box, but he also sliced his shot well wide of the post. A minute later the visitors had a great opportunity to double their advantage when a long throw was flicked onto Morgan just 6 yards from goal, but Foulger threw himself at the ball making a superb block to deny the Cooks’ striker. From the resulting corner the ball was headed towards goal but cleared off the line by the well placed Zach Farden.
With the home side lacking an attacking threat in the second half, Mark Starmer replaced the unusually quiet Lewi Williams with debutant Mason Thomas, and almost immediately the Diamonds began to look more dangerous going forwards. On 69 minutes a ball over the top of the Cogenhoe defence almost put the substitute through on goal, but Swailes was off his line quickly and just reached it ahead of the onrushing Thomas.
The final 20 minutes of the game was probably the most entertaining spell of football witnessed all season as both sides searched for the crucial next goal. A good run down the Cogenhoe right by Doudu resulted in a cross which looked to be sailing over Foulger’s head and into the back of the net, but was kept out by a terrific header from Ryan Ellmer. A goalmouth scramble ensued with the AFC defence bravely blocking everything the Cooks threw at them, eventually clearing the ball to safety. A minute later the referee awarded a very soft free kick to the visitors, with the resulting cross finding Morgan at the far post with only Foulger to beat, but for the second time in the match the Rushden ‘keeper made an outstanding point blank save, with Morgan volleying the rebound wide of the post.
With 15 minutes remaining the Diamonds supporters got their first taste of what to expect from Mason Thomas, as he battled for the ball inside the Cogenhoe half, showing good strength and pace to burst away from two defenders before unleashing an excellent 30 yard strike that was unfortunately straight at Swailes. The Cooks goalkeeper fumbled the shot but managed to gather it at the second attempt just ahead of the onrushing Helsdown who followed up well. The visitors immediately went on the counter attack, with Morgan clearly nudging Ziolkowski in the back as he tried to latch onto a through ball, however the referee bizarrely waved play on allowing the striker a chance to make the game safe, but justice was done again as he hit his effort inches wide of the post.
Jeron Thompson was then booked for what appeared to be dissent after the Diamonds were on the receiving end of another questionable refereeing decision, before Mark Starmer made his second change of the night by bringing on Ashley Meeks in place of Ryan Ellmer. Meeks pushed up into midfield leaving just 3 at the back for the home side as they desperately searched for an equalising goal, and the diminutive winger almost made a heroic entrance, hitting a powerful 20 yard drive with his first touch which stung the fingertips of Swailes.
With just two minutes remaining the Diamonds won a free kick some 30 yards from goal, presenting Man of the Match Louis Smith with a shooting chance. His curling effort appeared straight forward for Swailes, but the ball seemed to swerve late almost catching out the Cogenhoe ‘keeper, who managed to react in time to hold onto the ball. Rushden won back possession from Swailes’ kick up field, playing in Helsdown who had now switched to the left wing, and his strong run won the home side a corner. The inswinging ball from Meeks was half punched clear by Swailes under pressure from an AFC player, and the cross back into the danger area found Helsdown with his back to goal, but the winger’s attempted overhead kick sailed over the bar.
The visitors were now the side looking nervous in possession and Doudu picked up a yellow card for pushing his time wasting a little too far as the game entered injury time. The Diamonds then won a free kick from a similar position to Smith’s just a couple of minutes earlier, but this time they opted for Thomas’ powerful approach. His shot deflected off the wall going narrowly wide of the post and behind for a corner, which allowed goalkeeper Ashley Foulger the chance to get forward and join the attack. Meeks’ excellent ball in found the head of the Rushden ‘keeper but his effort flew inches wide of the post.
Cogenhoe played keep ball for the remaining few seconds and breathed a huge sigh of relief when the final whistle sounded.
FT: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0-1 Cogenhoe United
Although no doubt disappointed with the result, the Diamonds players left the pitch to a rapturous ovation from the crowd, and can hold their heads high following an outstanding performance against the team to beat at this level of football. The game as a whole was a tremendous advert for the Northants Senior Youth League, a sentiment which was backed up by some members of the Northamptonshire FA who were in attendance.
Mark Starmer spoke after the game about how delighted he was with his team’s performance, and hopefully they will take great confidence from that going into the next league game against AFC Kempston Rovers in a fortnight’s time.
Before that game, the Diamonds entertain Football CV Reds in a friendly match, detailed HERE.
Man of the Match: Louis Smith
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
|86. Ashley Foulger
14. Ryan Ellmer
4. Elliot Ames (c)
15. Adam Ziolkowski
3. Zach Farden
8. Conor Bell
13. Louis Smith
9. Levi Freeman
7. Blake Helsdown
10. Jeron Thompson
11. Lewi Williams
|1. Kyle Swailes
2. Jamie Wilson (c)
3. Merson Styles
4. Casey Wiles
5. Toby Jones
6. James Henderson
7. Antar Phipps-Norton
8. Liam Roache
9. Nana Doudu
10. Korey Morgan
11. Josh Olowoyo
2. Ashley Meeks (for Ellmer, 85 mins)
6. Alex McDonald
12. Matti Ellis
16. Mason Thomas (for Williams, 64 mins)
22. Zaak Moon
12. Sam Watkins (for Phipps-Norton, 63 mins)
14. Jake Chamberlain
15. Luke Skirrow
16. Liam Bond
17. Kieron Furniss (for Styles, 67 mins)
Morgan (10 mins)
Thompson (Dissent, 79 mins)
Doudu (Time wasting, 90 mins)
Images courtesy of Mal Swinden.