Diamonds were held to a goalless draw by play-off chasing Bedford Town as they made it six games without a win on Tuesday evening at Hayden Road.
The hosts made a quick start and could have been ahead after three minutes when Joe Curtis found Tom Lorraine who in turn headed down for strike-partner Spencer Weir-Daley, but he shot over from a narrowing angle. Bedford then responded as a ball was played into the feet of Callu Donnelly, and he ran forward before hitting a shot from range that forced Ben Heath to scramble to his right and parry the ball around the post. The early exchanges were end-to-end with both sides threatening, and Diamonds were the next to go close as Joel Gyasi tricked down the right before his cross found the rising Lorraine, but the header went over the bar. Moments later a move down the other wing saw Luke Fairlamb quickly move forward before his cross was cleared to Jack Westbrook to strike, but the shot was always rising and it flew over the goal. The home side continued to press, and after winning a free-kick on the right Fairlamb’s delivery was flicked on by Sam Brown towards the far post, but it just ran away from the advancing Lorraine and went out for a goal-kick. They came closest three minutes before the interval when Ross Oulton drove forward from midfield and showed quick feet before slamming a strike from the edge of the box that beat the keeper but cannonned off the post. The reboudn ran for Lorraine but the striker couldn’t sort out his feet quick enough, and so his resulting effort was weak and easy for the keeper to collect. The final chance of the half again fell to Diamonds as a Gyasi cross was diverted out to Fairlamb whose low shot was just deflected past the post by an away defender, and then from the resulting set-piece the keeper fumbled the delivery allowing Westbrook to pounce, but he was just unable to turn the loose ball home.
Having not seen much of the ball in the opening period, the visitors began to have more possession in the opening stages of the second half, though they failed to create much in the way of clear-cut opportunities. After one visiting free-kick ran out for a goal-kick, Diamonds launched a counter-attack as Weir-Daley latched onto a long ball to run through on the keeper, but the striker was unable to lift it over him and the danger was snuffed out. Shortly after the hour mark a Fairlamb free-kick from the right was only cleared as far as the onrushing Oulton, and his thunderbolt flew narrowly over the bar. Then Lorraine met a long ball forward to flick on into the path of Weir-Daley, but shot found the side-netting rather than the back of the net. Diamonds were the ones doing much of the pressing helped by a quick tempo and getting the ball forward swiftly, and one superb interchange between Oulton, Gyasi and Weir-Daley saw the latter latch onto a loose ball before seeing a strong effort well helped over the bar by the keeper. Two home substitutions were made in an attempt to find the all-important goal and one of these changes, Ben Ford, helped create a chance by delivering a cross that found Oulton, but the midfielder’s header was straight at the keeper. Moments later Brown launched a long-throw from the left and, after a spot of head-tennis in the middle of the area, the losse ball sat up perfectly for Westbrook to hook an effort goalwards that was deflected behind for a corner. However, despite more pressure and more attacking at the end of regulation time and throughout stoppage-time, Diamonds were unable to find a winning goal, and so they were unable to move further clear at the top of the table.
Manager Andy Peaks made two changes to the starting XI that had drawn at Northwood on Saturday afternoon. He reverted back to a 3-5-2 formation after having adopted a 4-4-2 system for the last two games, with Blaize Punter replacing Callum Westwood and Ross Oulton coming in at the expense of Ben Ford. The two replaced players made up a strong-looking bench alongside Cameron Gilchrist, John Dean and Ryan Robbins, and as the two teams took to the pitch a keen sense of intrigue and expectation was felt ahead of the contest. Diamonds came into the match having drawn three consecutive league games and having not won in their last five outings, though they still remained top of the table, whilst the visitors had won their last four league matches and had only lost one of their last eight, a run that had left only one place of the play-off spots. After the two sets of players had shook hands and the coin-toss had been conducted, referee Wayne Barratt got the match underway.
The hosts, keen to make a quick start after their recent run, started brightly and created an opportunity inside the first three minutes. A loose ball fell to Joe Curtis around 35 yards from goal in a central area, and he quickly controlled before looking up and clipping a precise ball into the area for the run of Tom Lorraine. The striker met the ball and unselfishly headed it across for his strike-partner Spencer Weir-Daley, but it was slightly too far ahead of the forward and so the angle was narrow when he thrashed an effort over the bar.
Bedford responded and came close themselves moments later. A neat ball was played into the path of Callum Donnelly just ahead of the halfway line, and the midfielder ran forward before hitting a strike from fully 35 yards. The attempt moved and dipped as it went towards goal, and Ben Heath was forced to scamper across to tip the ball wide for a corner. After the swift start the match settled down, and much of the action took place in the midfield areas as both sides strived to gain an early advantage. The next chance fell Rushden’s way in the 16th minute as Joel Gyasi danced down the right before slightly fortuitously getting away from his marker on the outside, and he then cut in before placing a cross into the area. It found the head of Lorraine, but he couldn’t direct his header on target and it drifted over the crossbar onto the Peter de Banke terrace behind.
Shortly afterwards it was another attacking move inspired by a winger, this time down the left, that created a further chance for the hosts. Luke Fairlamb embarked on a strong and direct run before crossing into the middle, but it was cleared away. However it fell to Jack Westbrook who was ideally placed to hit an effort goalwards, but his effort was always rising and comfortably cleared the top of the goal. After a few more minutes of keenly-contested play without any real action of note, Fairlamb was involved again in the next opportunity. The hosts won a free-kick in a good position on the right just outside the area, and the winger whipped a pinpoint delivery into the middle. It found the rising Sam Brown who flicked on towards the far post, but despite Lorraine rushing in to meet the flick it just ran away from the forward and out for a goal-kick.
Clear-cut chances were fairly few and far between, but Diamonds were looking the most likely to break the deadlock and they evidently stepped up the pressure as the half wore on. In the 35th minute good persistence from Gyasi won a corner, and from the set-piece Fairlamb hit a deep cross that found Brown in some space, but the defender’s header back across only found a Bedford foot to clear away upfield. Shortly after Ross Oulton played a neat ball in behind the away defence for Fairlamb to run onto, but Bedford defender Devante Stanley timed his tackle well and was ultimately able to avert the danger.
Minutes after these couple of half-chances, the home side created their best opening of the half. It was fantastic work by Oulton to skip forward from the left channel and leave behind a few Bedford players before unleashing a fizzing shot goalwards, and it flew past Kyle Forster in the away goal only for it to slam off the right-hand upright. The loose ball fell for the completely free Lorraine, but he was unable to sort out his feet in time and so his resulting effort was weak, representing an easy save for the grateful goalkeeper. A minute later Oulton was involved again as he led a quick break before feeding Gyasi, who in turn skipped towards the right byline before firing it across goal. It was partly cleared only as far as the lurking Fairlamb but, although he neatly sold a dummy and stepped away from two away defenders, his goalbound right-footed strike was deflected narrowly wide of the post. The resulting corner saw Forster fumble the delivery, with the ball dropping for Westbrook, but he was under pressure from two nearby markers and so was unable to turn the loose ball home.
Moments later the half-time whistle was blown on a half in which Diamonds had held the edge and had created the better opportunities, but one in which they had been unable to find a goal.
Half Time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0-0 Bedford Town
The two teams emerged from the changing rooms ready for the second period, with most thoughts around the ground during the half-time interval centring around what the pattern of play would be and who would be able to make the first breakthrough. After a quick count of both sets of players, referee Barratt signalled the start of the second half.
The early exchanges were fairly quiet with both sides looking to get into a rhythm and set a tempo upon which to build. The first action of note was a substitution for the visitors in the 50th minute, and especially in the first fifteen minutes of the half Bedford saw more of the ball than they had done for most of the opening period. They had an opportunity to put pressure on the hosts when they won a free-kick in the 57th minute, but Ashton Grant’s delivery was too long and ran out for a goal-kick. Diamonds built an attack of their own straight from Heath’s kick as Weir-Daley was set free in behind the away defence, but he was unable to lift it over Forster and the keeper collected.
The match ticked onto the hour mark as Blaize Punter received a yellow card for a mistimed tackle on Donnelly, and though the visitors had enjoyed more possession initially, Diamonds were able to re-establish a degree of dominance and pressure. In the 62nd minute a quick counter-attack led by the lively Fairlamb saw the winger’s shot deflected to Weir-Daley, but the striker’s cross was well cleared. Ollie Swain was then cautioned for bringing down Gyasi, and from the resulting set-piece Fairlamb’s inswinging delivery was headed away only as far as Oulton. The midfielder reached the ball at a rate of knots and hit a powerful effort first-time that flew through the air and towards goal. However, the shot went inches over the crossbar and the scoreline remained goalless.
Moments later Ryan Robbins began stretching and warming up as it appeared he may be introduced, but before he was Rushden created another opportunity. A long ball forwards saw Lorraine win a flick-on into the path of Weir-Daley, but the striker’s resulting shot went into the side-netting. Before the goal-kick was taken Robbins was brought on at the expense of Lorraine in a like-for-like alteration, with Peaks hoping that it would have the desired effect. He had barely been on the pitch for a minute when the hosts worked a shooting chance. Oulton laid a pass into the path of Gyasi who in turn played it forward to Weir-Daley, and the striker impudently flicked it back into the path of the winger who was just stopped on the edge of the box by a strong tackle. The loose ball ran for Weir-Daley though, and he took a touch to move forward into space before curling an effort goalwards that required Forster to crucially parry over the bar.
Diamonds were now monopolising possession and territory as Bedford seemed content to sit back and attempt to hit their opponents on the counter-attack. The hosts’ next chance came in the 72nd minute when Westbrook found space in the middle to clip a cross in towards Weir-Daley. The striker controlled it on his chest before hitting an attempt that was blocked out for a corner, with the subsequent set-piece coming to nothing in the end. Two minutes later Gyasi quickly ran down the right before reaching the byline and standing up a cross to Robbins, but he was unable to turn it towards goal and another attack was quelled.
The visitors were defending stoutly and stoically in limiting Diamonds in terms of clear-cut chances, and the home side were struggling to find a way through. Away defender Devante Stanley got a yellow card for preventing Fairlamb from sprinting forward, and as the game ticked to less than ten minutes from the end of regulation time Peaks made a further roll-of-the-dice by introducing Ben Ford for Curtis. The alteration almost had an immediate impact when Ford found space to cross into the area, and it met the perfectly-timed run of Oulton. However, his header was straight at Forster who gratefully held on to the attempt.
The time continued to run down as Rushden kept up the pressure on the Bedford goal, but with little sign of avail. Their final real opportunity fell in the 87th minute when they won a throw on the left, and Brown ran forward to launch one of his trademark pitches into the area. It was initially met by a Bedford head, and then another one, before Gyasi chested it up in the air. Another Bedford head met the loose ball, but his header only looped up for the lurking Westbrook who waited for the ball to drop before hitting the ball on the volley. An away defender had thrown himself in front of the effort though, and the shot as a result was deflected out for a corner. The resulting set-piece was well dealt with by the Bedford defence, and it now seemed more and more likely that the game would end deadlocked.
This proved to be the case as, despite four minutes of additional time, neither side were able to conjure up an opportunity at a winner, with Barratt’s whistle signalling the end of the contest. It had been a game in which Diamonds had had the better of territory and pressure, and had created a couple of good opportunities, while the visitors had defended manfully in restricting their opponents, and so a draw was a fair result.
Full Time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0-0 Bedford Town
Despite Bedford coming into the fixture in form and just outside the play-offs, Diamonds will be disappointed and largely frustrated with the result. They created some good openings, most notably Oulton’s effort that smacked the post and Weir-Daley’s shot that was tipped over, dictated much of the territory and tempo, and have arguably played worse in other games this season and still got a victory. Credit must go to Bedford though for representing a threat on the counter-attack and in particular for the way they defended in restricting Rushden to only some clear-cut chances, and they now have only lost one of their last nine league outings. Though Diamonds remain top of the league at the time of writing and extend their advantage over second-placed Hayes & Yeading to two points, Beaconsfield in third now have two games in hand and are only two points behind. Promotion is still very much in Rushden’s hands though with five crucial games remaining, the first of which comes on Saturday (April 14th) as they entertain Aylesbury United at Hayden Road, a fixture that has been designated as a “Pay What You Want” match.
Diamonds Man of the Match: Ross Oulton
Match Report by Ollie Mortimer
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
13. Ben Heath
2. Blaize Punter
3. Sam Brown
4. Jack Westbrook
5. Liam Dolman (C)
6. Ross Oulton
7. Joel Gyasi
8. Joe Curtis
9. Tom Lorraine
10. Spencer Weir-Daley
11. Luke Fairlamb
12. John Dean
14. Ryan Robbins (for Lorraine 68)
15. Ben Ford (for Curtis 83)
16. Cameron Gilchrist
19. Callum Westwood
1. Kyle Forster
2. Devante Stanley
3. Ollie Swain
4. Tommy Hull
5. Steve Gentle
6. James Peters (C)
7. Bradley Woods-Garness
8. Callum Donnelly
9. Lee Roache
10. Ashton Grant
11. David Manu
14. Dean Dummett (for Donnelly 86)
15. Andre Olukanmi
16. Jimmy Hartley (for Manu 50)
17. Paul Benson
Yellow Cards: Punter (59)
Yellow Cards: Swain (64), Stanley (75)
Referee: Wayne Barratt
Assistants: Simon Kavanagh, Mariusz Tomon