AFC Rushden & Diamonds 3-2 Northampton Spencer
AFC Rushden & Diamonds returned to winning ways in the Northants Senior Youth League with an entertaining victory over Northampton Spencer. The Diamonds endured an awful start to the game, falling behind in the opening stages, but fought back well and, in the end, could have won the game by a much greater margin.
Spencer had enjoyed an improved run of form in the recent games leading up to their visit to Kiln Park, and strengthened their squad on the day of the game with the signings of three new players. In contrast, the Diamonds had suffered back to back defeats in recent weeks, and lined up with a new look 4-3-3 formation, with Jeron Thompson spearheading the attack, supported by the pacey duo of Lewi Williams and Blake Helsdown.
On a wet and miserable October evening, the game was little more than a minute old when the visitors stunned the expectant home crowd by taking the lead. A near post corner by debutant Hussein Kofi appeared to be straight forward for Ashley Foulger, but the Rushden ‘keeper seemed to lose sight of the ball as it cleared Ashley Meeks’ head and fumbled it into the back of the net to gift the opening goal to the Millers. There was some debate as to whether the goal would go down as an own goal against Foulger, but the Dubious Goals Committee eventually agreed to credit it to the Spencer player.
The early setback noticeably knocked the young Diamonds’ confidence, as the visitors dominated the opening stages. On 8 minutes the AFC defence failed to deal with another Spencer corner, presenting Ivan Toney with a scoring chance, but he was denied by a brave block from Zach Farden.
Rushden were making things difficult for themselves with some uncharacteristically sloppy passing, and the Millers looked to take advantage of the hosts generosity. On 11 minutes, Jake Sharpe embarked on a powerful surge down the right flank, breezing past the flailing Alex McDonald before leaving Danny Bird for dead, but was stopped just as he reached the penalty area by a good tackle from Farden.
Liam Tasker was the next player to worry the Diamonds’ backline, latching onto a great ball through the middle of the park before striking a powerful shot towards goal, which Foulger did well to hold onto.
With 17 minutes gone Rushden again gave the ball away cheaply in a dangerous area, allowing Callum Peach a shooting chance from 20 yards, but under pressure from Meeks he could only fire just wide of the goal. Within a minute Kofi latched onto another ball through the middle of the Rushden defence, but was denied by a superb tackle from Bird just as he was about to pull the trigger.
With the Millers looking comfortable in the opening 20 minutes and the Diamonds still struggling to get their passing game going, it was very much against the run of play when the home side equalised. Lewi Williams was fouled cutting in from the left wing, 30 yards from goal. The striker-turned-winger stepped up to take the free kick himself, and curled the ball in to the near post where Blake Helsdown instinctively stuck out a leg to volley the ball into the bottom corner for his first league goal in a Diamonds shirt.
Having been fortunate to only find themselves a single goal down before the equaliser, the Rushden defence seemed intent on gifting Spencer the lead again. A defensive mix up allowed Kofi another chance to double his account for the evening, but he sliced over the bar from the edge of the box.
A minute later though the Diamonds made it two goals in quick succession, and although the finish had a slice of luck about it, the build up play was archetypal of the style of football the Rushden fans are becoming accustomed to. Levi Freeman showed determination and tenacity to win the ball back in midfield, before playing a great pass into the path of Jeron Thompson on the left hand side of the penalty area. Thompson cut back on his right foot and delivered a cross towards Freeman who had made a strong run into the area. David Sibanda intercepted the ball for Spencer, but his header fell straight to the feet of Freeman who smashed the ball home via a deflection off Reece Gwilliam in the visitor’s goal.
The Rushden defence were still looking shaky when put under pressure by the pacey Spencer attack, and on 27 minutes almost allowed them an equaliser. A long throw into the penalty area was not cleared, with the ball falling to Peach 10 yards from goal with only Foulger to beat. Just as it seemed he was certain to score, Alex McDonald flew in from nowhere with a fantastic block to deny the Millers’ front man.
After this scare the Diamonds finally got to grips with the game and the slippery conditions, and dominated the remainder of the half. With half an hour gone, Helsdown finally received the ball in a position where he could utilise his blistering pace, and he did so to good effect, bursting past the Spencer left back before hitting a low cross into the area which just evaded Thompson and Williams. A minute later another cross from the right saw Williams challenge ‘keeper Gwilliam in the air, winning his side a corner despite a considerable height disadvantage. From the corner kick the ball was cleared to McDonald 25 yards out, and his excellent first time cross found the outstretched leg of Williams but he couldn’t get enough of a contact on the ball and it went narrowly wide.
As half time approached the Diamonds came close to a third goal with what would have been a carbon copy of the game’s opening goal. Conor Bell won the corner after a good run down the left, but although Helsdown’s in swinger was fumbled by Gwilliam he managed to gather it at the second attempt before the ball crossed the line. Gwilliam immediately launched the ball upfield finding the run of Kofi who managed to get between two AFC defenders, but he couldn’t get the ball under control and the danger was cleared.
Williams and Kofi then exchanged 35 yard efforts as the first half drew to a close, with neither player able to worry the opposition goalkeeper.
HT: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 2-1 Northampton Spencer
Rushden went on the attack straight from the restart, with Bell firing narrowly wide of the post from all of 35 yards just 20 seconds into the half. With 48 minutes on the clock, Spencer had what turned out to be a rare second half chance as a cross from the right wing found the unmarked Toney, but his difficult volley went just wide of Foulger’s left hand upright.
On 52 minutes the hardworking Thompson almost got the goal that his efforts deserved as he latched onto a long throw in to the Millers’ penalty area, but his goalbound shot struck the legs of Lewi Williams and went out for a goal kick. Spencer broke immediately and a great ball from Peach found Kofi on the right hand side of the penalty area, but the angle was against him and shot was well held by Foulger.
The lively start to the half continued with Thompson racing onto a ball though the middle of the Spencer defence, his first shot being saved by the legs of Gwilliam and his attempted lob from the rebound just lacking enough height to beat the ‘keeper. A minute later Freeman played in Helsdown with a great ball from midfield, with the winger knocking in a low cross that Thompson was inches away from getting on the end of.
The visitors were now finding it much more difficult to break down the AFC defence than they had in the first half. Shortly before the hour mark Tasker tried his luck with a blistering strike from 30 yards, but Foulger made the save, holding the ball superbly especially given the wet conditions. That effort was about the best the visitors could muster, with the exception of one goalmouth scramble which looked like it may result in a goal until the referee noticed his assistant flagging for offside.
With around 25 minutes to go both sides made their first substitutions, as a mist began to descend upon Kiln Park. Louis Smith replaced Alex McDonald for the Diamonds, while Peter Howgego took to the pitch for Spencer and immediately picked up a yellow card for a dreadful lunge on Levi Freeman.
On 69 minutes, with Rushden still in control of the game, Williams fashioned a great chance for himself when he burst past his marker and into the penalty area, but he delayed his shot allowing the Millers’ defence to recover and get in a tackle. Three minutes later Williams was presented with another chance following good work from Thompson on the left hand side of the area, but he could only shoot tamely at Gwilliam with his weaker foot.
The game’s most controversial moment arrived with 15 minutes remaining, as Tasker jumped into a challenge with Farden as the two players competed for a loose ball. Farden reached it first, knocking the ball out of play, but was caught late by the Spencer midfielder and required treatment from physio Colin Hodsden. Much to the amazement of those in attendance, the referee saw nothing wrong with the challenge and signalled a throw in to the visitors, despite having penalised players from both sides for totally innocuous challenges all throughout the game.
When the action finally got underway again, Rushden continued where they had left off with Freeman trying his luck with a good curling effort from 25 yards, but the shot was just too close to Gwilliam who made a comfortable save. With 5 minutes to go the Diamonds seemed set to make the game safe following the best attacking move of the game. Williams won the ball on the left hand side of the pitch, and played a great cross field pass to Helsdown who just beat Gwilliam to the ball playing it perfectly into the path of the onrushing Freeman. With the ‘keeper out of the equation, Freeman had just one defender between him and the unguarded Spencer goal, but he took an age to decide what to do with the ball, allowing Gwilliam to recover and block the eventual shot.
The crucial third goal did eventually arrive though, with just a minute of normal time remaining. Lewi Williams raced onto a through ball down the left flank, beat his marker for pace before coolly rounding Gwilliam and sliding the ball home to all but seal the points.
It could have been 4-1 in the first minute of stoppage time as Freeman set off on great run down the right, beating two defenders with some sublime skill before unleashing a vicious shot at goal, but Gwilliam pulled off a stunning one handed save to tip the ball over the bar.
Just as it looked as though Spencer were beat, they set up a very nervous final few seconds with a goal in the fourth minute of added time. A low cross into the Diamonds’ penalty area looked straight forward for the defence, but both centre backs missed it completely with Jake Sharpe on hand at the back post to lash the ball in from close range.
After an astonishing 6 minutes of injury time the referee finally blew up to end the game, much to the relief of the home side.
FT: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 3-2 Northampton Spencer
For the second week in succession, Rushden were nearly made to pay for their profligacy in front of goal, and Mark Starmer will no doubt continue to work on that aspect of their play in training.
Next up is a friendly match against Stamford AFC on Monday (details HERE) before the Diamonds entertain Cogenhoe United next Thursday, looking for revenge for the 7-0 defeat by the Cooks earlier this month.
Man of the Match: Lewi Williams
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
|86. Ashley Foulger
2. Ashley Meeks
4. Elliot Ames
5. Danny Bird (c)
3. Zach Farden
6. Alex McDonald
9. Levi Freeman
16. Conor Bell
7. Blake Helsdown
11. Lewi Williams
10. Jeron Thompson
|1. Reece Gwilliam
2. Ben Harris
3. Jacob Gartland
4. Corey Haslehurst
5. David Sibanda
6. Liam Tasker
7. Matty Fowkes
8. Hussein Kofi
9. Jake Sharpe
10. Callum Peach
11. Ivan Toney
12. Matti Ellis
14. Ryan Ellmer (for Bell, 85 mins)
15. Adam Ziolkowski
19. Louis Smith (for McDonald, 64 mins)
20. Kai Robertson (for Williams, 89 mins)
12. Toby Brand (for Sibanda, 85 mins)
13. Freddy Morriss
14. Robbie Watson (for Toney, 71 mins)
15. Peter Howgego (for Harris, 66 mins)
Helsdown (20 mins)
Freeman (23 mins)
Williams (89 mins)
Kofi (2 mins)
Sharpe (90+4 mins)
Howgego (68 mins, foul)
Brand (90 mins, foul)