AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0-2 Irchester United
For the second time this season, AFC Rushden & Diamonds slipped to a two goal friendly defeat at the hands of Irchester United. Unlike the pre-season friendly at Alfred Street, however, the Romans were this time worthy of their 2-0 victory, but the young Diamonds can be proud of their performance against a team consisting of many regular first team UCL Premier Division players.
The game at the Dog & Duck was the first once since the announcement that AFC R&D would be groundsharing there with Wellingborough Town from next season, and they almost marked the occasion perfectly inside the opening two minutes. A dangerous inswinging corner from Louis Smith was only cleared as far as Alex McDonald on the edge of the penalty area, and the midfielder hit a sweetly struck volley which flew inches over the bar.
The Romans went close to opening the scoring from the resulting goal kick, with Tony Walker racing onto a through ball that had dissected the Rushden defence, but Ashley Foulger was out quickly and made a great save at the feet of the powerful striker.
They didn’t have to wait much longer to take the lead however, as a corner on 4 minutes was flicked on at the near post and glanced into the top corner by the unfortunate Adam Ziolkowski for an own goal.
Rushden’s Zach Farden was on the receiving end of an appalling lunge by the pachydermic Dave Maguire on 7 minutes, a challenge far from befitting a friendly game, and one that could conceivably have resulted in a straight red had it been in a competitive match. Farden was fortunate to escape without serious injury, although perhaps not as fortunate as Maguire was in being allowed to remain on the pitch.
James Harrison had been the Diamonds’ stand out player in the opening stages, more than holding his own against the far more experienced opposition, and often bossing players some 20 years his senior. On 14 minutes he managed to get clear down the right flank and cut inside before hitting a goalbound shot that was blocked just in front of goal. The rebound landed back at the feet of Harrison, but his second effort was just the wrong side of the post.
Foulger was called into action again on 17 minutes, holding onto a 20 yard strike from Stuart Reid, who had been set up after a good run down the right flank by the tricky Liam Bright. Five minutes later he was the Diamonds’ saviour again, as Elliot Ames lost possession just outside the Rushden box, allowing Walker to play in Reid, but his shot was too close to the impressive Foulger.
The second goal arrived just a minute later though. Reid was played in down the left flank and broke clear of the AFC defence. Foulger was out quickly and smothered the first shot, but the loose ball fell kindly for Reid once more, who tapped home from a tight angle.
The best move of the match on 32 minutes almost presented the Diamonds with a clear chance to pull back a goal. Harrison started the move deep inside his own half, turning his man before playing the ball inside to Zaak Moon. Moon and McDonald combined to switch play to Blake Helsdown on the right flank, who carried the ball forwards before picking out the run of Harrison who was now clear of the defence with only the ‘keeper to beat, but he was denied the chance of a wonderful team goal by an offside flag.
Two minutes later, Rushden had a great shout for a penalty as Harrison again cut in from the right, beat two defenders and was then bundled over inside the box, but the referee waved away the Diamonds’ appeals. The Romans immediately went up the other end of the pitch and almost added a third goal, but Reid’s powerful shot from the right hand side of the area was brilliantly saved by Foulger.
As half time approached, Bright embarked on another good run down the Irchester right, before picking out Reid with a perfect cross. The striker completely missed his attempted volley with the ball falling instead for Deon Putnam, but he fired well over the bar.
HT: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0-2 Irchester United
Both sides made several changes at the interval, with the Diamonds giving a debut to trialist Anthony Ottaway at left wing back.
It was the home side who started the brighter, winning a corner inside the opening minutes which was taken by Helsdown, who picked out the unmarked Fred Devereaux. The substitute hit a first time shot on the volley which drew a fine save from Josh Owen who was at full stretch to keep the ball out.
Three minutes later Lewi Williams, another half time substitute, thought he had pulled a goal back for the Diamonds, as he raced onto a great through ball from Devereaux before sublimely lobbing the ball over Owen and into the net, but an offside flag once again came to the Romans’ rescue.
A minute later, Irchester substitute Richard Maggott broke clear of the AFC defence and looked set to net a third goal for the visitors, but Foulger continued his heroics from the first half with another excellent one-on-one save.
Rushden created a good chance to get on the score sheet shortly before the hour mark, as a great free kick delivery from Devereaux found the head of Conor Bell, but his glancing header flew just wide of the post.
It was the Romans who were the next to go close as Chris Homer looked to capitalise on a weak kick by Foulger, but the Rushden ‘keeper made amends with another great save as he tipped the ball around the post.
The final 20 minutes petered out with very little in the way of goalmouth action. Williams did his best to inject some life back into the game, with a quick burst of pace followed by a 25 yard shot on his weaker left foot, but his effort flew narrowly wide of the post.
The final chance of note came on 85 minutes, as a Diamonds’ right wing corner found the feet of Ben Roche, but his instinctive volley was straight at Owen who made a comfortable save.
FT: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0-2 Irchester United
After 3 weeks without a game due to the inclement February weather, it was good to see the team back in action ahead of the important league game against ON Chenecks next Thursday – match preview HERE.
Once again, the young Diamonds showed their ability to compete against stronger and far more experienced opposition, and can take many positives from the game despite the scoreline.
Man of the Match: Ashley Foulger
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
|24. Ashley Foulger
4. Elliot Ames (c)
15. Adam Ziolkowski
18. Ben Roche
7. Blake Helsdown
6. Alex McDonald
8. Zaak Moon
13. Louis Smith
3. Zach Farden
9. James Harrison
10. Jeron Thompson
|1. Josh Owen
2. Dave Maguire (c)
3. Lewis Sheridan
4. Ben Wilson
5. Phil Lawrence
6. Deon Putnam
7. Liam Bright
8. Darrell Smith
9. Tony Walker
10. Stuart Reid
11. Curtis Long
11. Lewi Williams (for Harrison, 45 mins)
16. Conor Bell (for L. Smith, 45 mins)
17. Dan Paterson (for Helsdown, 69 mins)
20. Fred Devereaux (for Moon, 45 mins)
22. Anthony Ottaway (for Ziolkowski, 45 mins)
10. Richard Maggott (for Reid, 45 mins)
12. Matt White (for Wilson, 45 mins)
14. Casey Kiernan (for D. Smith, 45 mins)
15. Shaun Melville (for Bright, 45 mins)
16.Josiah Spencer (for Long, 45 mins)
17.Chris Homer (for Walker, 45 mins)
Ziolkowski o.g. (4 mins)
Reid (23 mins)
All Photographs courtesy of Mal Swinden