The AFC Rushden & Diamonds U21 squad concluded their home friendlies when they played Oxford City Nomads Development side at Raunds Manor on Saturday 29th August.
The AFC R&D U21 squad was depleted due to holidays and festivals and called up two players from the newly formed U18 squad. They were facing a mixed team of U17-U21 players from the broad Oxford City setup.
A very young team matched up against a physically bigger Oxford City side and playing a 4 5 1 system with Alex Harker the only recognised centre back in the squad started very well.
The two holding midfielders, Danny Atkins and Matthew Gauntlett, both 16 years old, played with real discipline and intelligence keeping the ball moving and pressing a physically stronger opposing midfield duo.
The young Diamonds took the lead on 10 minutes when Lewis Fisher playing in his familiar role behind striker Karlos Augustine fed the striker with a tantalising through ball, Augustine still had a lot to do but struck an unstoppable shot past the Oxford City keeper. Throughout the first half they kept the ball and created two more good chances forcing the Oxford keeper into saves. The back four of Luke Gardner, Alex Harker, Richard Platt and Tom Rogers defended with resilience and played their way out of trouble with composure. The wide players Luke Garner and James Barron provided good outlets and it was Garner who showing real strength came closest to doubling the lead with a run taking on 3 defenders and shooting into the side netting.
The second half continued much the same until Tom Rogers was injured and the pack had to be reshuffled. The two young U18 players, Liam Ufton and Raphael Francois-Noel, entered the fray, replacing Tom Rogers and James Barron who were both injured. Francois-Noel almost made an instant impact collecting the ball from Atkins he jigged past 3 players into the box, his shot easily saved by the keeper. Ufton worked tirelessly on the right and whipped a teasing cross in which went just over Augustine’s head.
With 10 minutes remaining it was evident the Diamonds pressing game was taking it’s toll, and Oxford were rotating their subs to keep having fresh players on the pitch. On 82 minutes the Oxford midfielder escaped the attentions of both Atkins and Gauntlett shot low and hard, his shot was superbly saved by Rossheart in goal but the rebound fell kindly to Arthur Osofsky who lifted it over Rossheart to equalise. Oxford’s tails were up and AFC R&D looked tired, and with 3 minutes remaining with Oxford seeking the winner they put a long ball forward that looked hopeful. Platt was poised to head away but heard a call from Rossheart, left it for Connor Mattimore to hit the ball into an empty net.
The match ended 2 1 to Oxford City Nomads Development, but the young Diamonds team can be proud of the performance they put in leading in to the new season.
They have one final pre-season match Wednesday away at MK College before the season starts away at Eynesbury Rovers next Saturday.
For 80 minutes today the lads played controlled disciplined football and kept the ball well with a purpose. With the squad we have and the benefit of a full bench of substitutes they will be doing it for the full 90 minutes.
Thanks to Oxford City for providing a stern test.