AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0-2 Northampton Town
A valiant effort from the Diamonds wasn’t enough to see them overcome Northampton Town, as a goal in each half saw the visitors earn a place in the quarter finals of the NFA Boys U18 Cup.
Rushden lined up without the services of James Harrison and Lewi Williams, as both players had featured for Corby Town in their FA Youth Cup tie against Manchester City the previous night. With Mark Starmer expecting a tough encounter against the Cobblers’ first choice U18 side, he opted for a new look 5-3-2 formation with Ashley Meeks and Zach Farden employed as wing backs. The defence was boosted by the return to fitness of club captain Danny Bird who stepped straight back into the starting lineup following his three week absence.
The match was preceded by an impeccably observed minute’s silence in memory of Gary Speed, the popular Wales manager and former Leeds, Everton, Newcastle, Bolton and Sheffield United player, who sadly passed away the previous weekend.
The game kicked off with the Diamonds attacking the A45 end of the ground, and despite being considered the underdogs, it was they who looked more dangerous in the opening stages. In only the second minute a great ball from midfield by Matti Ellis picked out the run of Ashley Meeks who had found plenty of space down the right flank. Meeks burst into the area and hit a powerful shot from a narrow angle, but couldn’t keep his effort down.
More good work by Meeks on 5 minutes saw him win a corner for the home side, and his right wing delivery found Danny Bird who hit a volley towards goal, but he too fired over the bar. The Diamonds impressive start continued and three minutes later they fashioned another half chance. A deep free kick from Bird just inside the Northampton half found the head of Mason Thomas, who out-jumped his marker and headed the ball goalwards, but his effort lacked power and forced an easy save for Dean Snedker in the Cobblers’ goal.
After a great opening 10 minutes for the home side, the visitors then started to up their game and take control of proceedings. Their first effort on goal came on 11 minutes, as a good move down the left ended with the ball being played into the feet of Lewis Hornby, but his 20 yard shot was easily saved by Ashley Foulger.
On 15 minutes the Cobblers created their first good scoring chance of the game. Daniel Elmes burst away down the right flank, inadvertently playing a one-two with the unfortunate Louis Smith, before hitting an excellent cross onto the head of Claudio Dias at the far post, but the winger headed just over the bar. A minute later Elmes almost opened the scoring himself in what would have been extremely fortuitous circumstances, as his overhit left wing cross cleared everyone including Foulger, and just clipped the top of the crossbar before going behind for a goal kick.
The visitors’ pressure continued but the Diamonds’ defence were doing a good job of limiting them to half chances. Another followed on 19 minutes as a long throw into the Rushden penalty area was only half cleared by Meeks, falling perfectly for George Craddock, but his volley from the edge of the area flew narrowly wide of the post. A minute later Daniel Bucciero got forward from right back and hit a decent effort from 30 yards, but his shot was also narrowly wide of the upright, with Foulger appearing to have it well covered.
On 27 minutes however, the visitors’ pressure paid off, but it took a defensive error for them to open the scoring. A long ball over the top was misjudged by the unfortunate Adam Ziolkowski allowing Elmes a clear run at goal, and the striker made no mistake in smashing the ball into the bottom corner past the helpless Foulger.
Two minutes later Elmes got away from Ziolkowski once more and hit a powerful drive from the edge of the penalty area, which Foulger did well to hold on to. Dias then tried his luck from similar range a minute later, but Foulger was again equal to his effort.
With 32 minutes gone the Diamonds finally troubled the Cobblers’ goal again, as great determination by Conor Bell, being supported by his cousin David Bell who was amongst the crowd, saw him win the ball 20 yards from goal, play a one-two with Jeron Thompson before firing in a shot which was unfortunately straight at Snedker. A minute later a great burst forward by Zach Farden drew a late foul from Harry Mattock, who became the first player to enter the referee’s notepad.
With 10 minutes to go before the break, Craddock managed to evade the AFC offside trap and burst away from the defence. Ziolkowski did well to get back and put the winger under pressure although he still managed to get in a good strike at goal, which forced a great save from Foulger who held the ball superbly. 3 minutes later Hussein Mohammed twisted and turned on the edge of the penalty area, before shooting inches wide of the goal.
As the first half entered into stoppage time the Diamonds almost gifted the Cobblers a second goal. A through ball from midfield saw Foulger race from his goal to clear the danger, but the Rushden ‘keeper completely missed the ball under pressure from Dias. It looked as though the ball was going to run out of play for a goal kick, but the speedy Northampton winger just managed to keep it in play, but having done so was denied a simple tap in by Elliot Ames who recovered well to put the ball out for a corner.
HT: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0-1 Northampton Town
With only the single goal separating the teams at half time, the Diamonds’ fans would have been hopeful, although not expectant, that their side could perhaps find a way back into the game. They weren’t able to start the second half as they had the first, however, as the visitors immediately regained control of the game. Two minutes after the restart, a cross into the AFC penalty area was only half cleared with the ball falling for Daniel Banister 20 yards from goal, but his volley was straight at Foulger.
The Diamonds were then dealt a blow as Bird picked up a knock and had to be substituted. Mark Starmer took the opportunity to revert to a more familiar 4-4-2 formation, with Blake Helsdown replacing Bird and taking up the right midfield position. Elliot Ames took over the captain’s duties.
On 53 minutes Ziolkowski evened up the scoreline in terms of bookings, as he received a soft caution for what looked like an innocuous shoulder charge on Mohammed. Shortly after, Starmer made his second change of the night, replacing Matti Ellis with Zaak Moon in the centre of midfield.
Rushden were struggling to get a hold of the ball as the Cobblers dominated possession, but the defence were holding firm and not allowing the visitors a clear sight at goal. It was 60 minutes before Foulger was tested again, Dias embarking on a good run down the right flank, before cutting inside and firing in a shot from the edge of the area, but the Diamonds’ ‘keeper was well positioned once more and made a routine save.
The Northampton bench then made their first change of the night in an attempt to find that all important second goal, with Mohammed making way for David Moyo. They soon received a second caution however, as Hornby was booked for dissent after protesting too vociferously against a perceived foul which had gone unpunished during a rare Diamonds’ attack. From that attack, the home side won a throw in deep inside the Northampton half with the ball eventually finding its way across the penalty area to Zach Farden 25 yards from goal. Unfortunately though the shooting opportunity fell on his weaker right foot, and although his effort was on target it was easy for Snedker.
Three minutes later and Rushden had their best moment of the second period. Meeks got forward well from right back and hit a superb cross towards the unmarked Louis Smith, but unfortunately it was just too high for the midfielder who would have been left with a simple header at goal.
The visitors were soon back on the front foot again, and Ziolkowski had to be alert to cut out a dangerous low cross from Dias on 71 minutes.
With 15 minutes remaining Moyo latched onto a long ball and was presented with a shooting opportunity, but was denied by a brilliant block from Ames. The Cobblers’ full time training was now paying dividends as the Rushden players tired. A good run down the left by Dias saw him play in Dominic Green just inside the penalty area, and the left back curled a great effort inches wide of the far post. Two minutes later the diminutive Eyasin Hussain, a 78th minute substitute for Elmes, picked out Moyo with a great cross to the far post, and although the striker took the ball down superbly his attempted lob over Foulger just cleared the crossbar.
Any slim hopes that the Diamonds might be able to snatch a late equaliser were dashed in the 87th minute as the visitors made the game safe. Banister went on a good run down the left before finding the feet of Dias 15 yards from goal, and his shot found the bottom corner giving Foulger no chance. There was one final chance for the Cobblers as another Hussain cross was met by the head of Mattock but his effort flew just wide of the post.
FT: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0-2 Northampton Town
Mark Starmer spoke after the game of his pride in the team’s performance against a full time, professional youth setup. While Northampton were no doubt the stronger side for the majority of the game, they were made to work hard for the victory by a determined and spirited Rushden team, and each player can hold his head high.
The good news afterward was that the injury to Danny Bird was not a recurrence of the ankle injury which had kept him out for the previous 3 weeks, but was in fact a dead leg, which means he should be fit for Monday night’s League Cup game against Daventry Town. Match preview HERE.
Man of the Match presented by Hair by Michael Franks: Ashley Meeks
Photos courtesy of Malcolm Swinden email : firstname.lastname@example.org
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
|24. Ashley Foulger
2. Ashley Meeks
4. Elliot Ames
5. Danny Bird (c)
15. Adam Ziolkowski
3. Zach Farden
8. Conor Bell
12. Matti Ellis
13. Louis Smith
10. Jeron Thompson
16. Mason Thomas
|1. Dean Snedker
2. Daniel Bucciero
3. Dominic Green
4. Lewis Hornby
5. Harry Mattock
6. Josh McGoldrick
7. Claudio Dias
8. Daniel Banister
9. Daniel Elmes
10. Hussein Mohammed
11. George Craddock
86. Adam Batten
6. Alex McDonald
7. Blake Helsdown (for Bird, 49 mins)
14. Ryan Ellmer (for Bell, 83 mins)
17. Zaak Moon (for Ellis, 59 mins)
12. David Moyo (for Mohammed, 64 mins)
14. Jordan Chambers
15. Michael King (for Craddock, 78 mins)
16. Eyasin Hussain (for Elmes, 78 mins)
Elmes (27 mins)
Dias (87 mins)
Ziolkowski (53 mins, foul)
Mattock (35 mins, foul)
Hornby (66 mins, dissent)