Manager Peaks made three changes to the side that had drawn with Barwell last Saturday. Jack Ashton came in to replace Sam Brown at left-back, Nathan Hicks returned at the expense of Sam Johnson, and top-scorer Tom Lorraine was named in the starting XI with Jack Bowen dropping to the bench. Joining Bowen amongst the substitutes was Brown, Joe Curtis, Ben Acquaye, and John Dean.
The two sides stepped out onto the Hayden Road playing surface that was bathed in sunshine ahead of the match. The new 156 seated stand had been officially opened prior to kick-off, and that added to the intrigue surrounding the fixture. Rushden entered the match sixth in the table one point behind the play-off positions, and they were unbeaten in their last twelve home league games. Royston came into the affair in excellent form having won six of their last seven, including three victories against top-eight opponents, and having won their last three away matches. Therefore an entertaining spectacle was expected and, after the pre-match formalities had been completed, referee Simon Barrow got the contest underway.
The hosts had a half-chance immediately when Hicks latched onto a loose ball on the edge of the area, but his bobbling shot dribbled wide of the post. Shortly afterwards Lorraine managed to get in behind the away defence, and the ball bounced up for him to strike from just outside the area. However, the effort was always rising and it flew well over the crossbar.
The early exchanges were really even, with both sides unable to maintain possession for long periods of time and defences largely on top in restricting the opponents’ attack to little. In the 15th minute Royston threatened for the first time as they won a free-kick on the right, and the resulting delivery was a dangerous one only for a home head to importantly flick it out for a corner. The set-piece came in, but Alex Collard was well positioned to head it away from the area. A minute later full-back Gus Scott-Morriss whipped in a deep cross, and striker Adam Murray met it with a flicked header that went wide of goal.
Diamonds broke and forged an opportunity of their own just before the twenty-minute mark. Ben Farrell did well to feed Lorraine in behind on the right channel, and he sped into the area before playing a low ball across the face of goal. It initially looked like it may reach the onrushing Declan Rogers, but it was cleared just ahead of him out for a corner. The subsequent delivery found the rising Collard, but the defender’s header went over. Rogers was then involved again moments later. Ashton was brought down halfway inside the home attacking half, and he stayed down after the challenge before he received treatment and got to his feet. Rogers stepped forward to take the kick, and his cross towards the back post just evaded the arriving Ashton and the danger was cleared upfield.
The next ten minutes passed without much action of note, and still the contest was very much nip-and-tuck with neither side able to get on top or to create loads of chances. 11 minutes before the interval, the visitors won a free-kick on the left that was whipped towards goal, and it went just over Ben Heath’s goal on its way out for a goal-kick. Only a minute later play swung down the other end as Farrell released Rogers advancing down the left, and he did well to get past the full-back before moving into the area. He looked up and tried to find either Lorraine or Ben Diamond arriving into the middle, but the ball was jut narrowly behind both and the attack was ended.
A minute later, in the 36th minute, Royston created the best chance of the half. Striker James Potton neatly flicked a loose ball over Liam Dolman, and he found himself clean through on goal. He hit an effort on the half-volley that Heath did well to save with his legs, but the ball looped back up into the middle of the area. Murray rose highest to reach the rebound and head goalwards, but it deflected off Zack Reynolds for Heath to gratefully collect. Seconds later a threatening cross in looked like it would find an away man, but Dolman crucially just got to it first to flick it out for a corner. The set-piece was a dangerous delivery, but it ran past everyone and away from harm for Rushden.
It was a big let-off for the hosts, and they responded by fashioning an opening a minute before the break. A neat attacking move was built up down the right, and the ball was eventually fed inside to the marauding Hicks. He cleverly played it further across to his left and Rogers, but the midfielder’s strike was always rising as it sailed over the target.
This was the final action of the half as, shortly afterwards, the referee blew for half-time. It had been a half that been tight and close, with Diamonds perhaps having more of the ball and pressure but the visitors having had the best chance of the half.
Half Time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0-0 Royston Town
Both sets of players returned from the changing rooms, with much half-time thinking surrounding whether the game would open up and who, if anyone, would be able to seize control of the game. The attendance was announced as 634 and, after a quick count of the 22 players, referee Barrow blew to restart the match.
Diamonds won a free-kick on the right only two minutes in after Diamond was pulled back. Rogers came across to drill the cross in towards the back post, but it ultimately went just over Ashton and out for a goal-kick. The away side countered and won a set-piece of their own via a corner on the left. The inswinging delivery found captain Dan Brathwaite, but his header drifted over the bar.
The second period had begun at a lively pace, with both sides threatening the opening goal of the game. Diamonds won a corner in the 51st minute after Rogers’ attempted cross was blocked behind, but the eventual set-piece was cleared. Royston broke at pace, and it appeared that midfielder Eren Kinali may be through on goal only for Ashton to get across to win a vital sliding challenge. The hosts won another corner two minutes later and, though it was initially cleared, it was fed back in for Dolman whose flick almost found Lorraine. The move continued, and it ended up with the striker having a hooked effort that flew wide of the target.
Play continued to switch between both ends, and there was a lot more pressure and goalmouth action from both sides than there had been in the opening half. Royston threatened when a loose ball broke to the edge of the box, but the subsequent volley was charged down. Reynolds then slalomed his way through a number of challenges before looking to release Lorraine through on goal, but it was just intercepted in the nick of time and cleared away.
Moments later, Rushden had their best chance of the game so far. A quick break saw Diamond feed Hicks down the right, and he was faced with a two-on-one situation. He reached the ball just before the covering defender, and he played it across on the stretch to the arriving Farrell. The ball was ahead of the midfielder and so he was forced wide of goal on the left of the area, but he still slid in to direct an effort goalwards that keeper Joe Welch blocked behind. The resultant delivery was cleared away, but the ball was then played back in for Diamond to flick a header that went wide of the post.
The match passed the hour mark and, though the game had opened up considerably since the interval, the scoreline was still scoreless. In the 65th minute Murray struck a shot over for the visitors, and then Peaks made the first Rushden change of the afternoon as Acquaye was brought on to replace Jack Westbrook. Murray had a further chance moments after the switch when a long ball forward found the striker to flick a header goalwards, but it appeared to come off his shoulder and Heath was able to easily catch.
The longer the game went on, the more it seemed that one goal would be enough to decide the contest. Diamonds broke forward through Rogers down the left, but his pullback was cleared behind for a corner. The inswinging delivery was headed up and away, but it fell for Farrell to thunder a volley from around 25 yards back towards goal. It flew through the air, but Welch reacted quickly to dive to his left and parry the effort around the post for another corner. This delivery was cleared away, and still neither side were able to make a breakthrough.
Away winger Thomas Knowles, who had been slightly quiet in the match, then had a couple of dangerous moments. Firstly he cut in from the left and into a shooting position, but his effort went straight at Heath. After Reynolds had then had a cutback just intercepted down the other end, Knowles then launched a long-throw into the area from the right only for it to be cleared back out to him. He stepped inside away from a home challenge, though his subsequent attempt went wide of the far post.
Farrell had come closer than anyone to scoring the opening goal in the second half, and in the 79th minute he came close again. Diamond buffeted his way in from the right-hand side, but the ball ran away from him and towards the edge of the area. Farrell anticipated the loose ball well and reached it before hitting a first-time effort towards goal. Welch was rooted to the spot as the attempt went past him, but it also beat the upright by a narrow margin. A minute later Acquaye was fed just over 30 yards out from goal, and he swiftly dispatched a shot that went just wide. Peaks then made his final two substitutions as Brown and Dean were summoned to replace Ashton and Lorraine in like-for-like changes.
The play entered the final ten minutes of normal time, and both teams were still pressing in their search for a winner. Royston came within inches of a goal when a deep free-kick into the area was headed across by Murray, and it bounced for Scott-Morriss to launch himself into an overhead kick that hit the crossbar. It looped up and hit the top of the bar before Dolman flicked it away, but only to Murray who thrashed an instant volley over the target.
The hosts broke two minutes later, and they were faced with a promising position after Diamond flicked a pass around the corner to the onrushing Rogers. The midfielder had time and space to move in to on the right, and he got into the area before looking up to assess his options. Acquaye and Dean were in the area waiting for a cross, but Rogers’ cutback was cleared away from danger.
Aside from a home corner that was well defended, that was the final action of the contest as the referee blew to signal the end of the game.
Full Time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0-0 Royston Town
This was a fair result for both sides, with defences largely on top during the encounter. The second half was livelier and saw more pressure and chances than in the opening period, but neither keeper or defender were pressed into too much consistent action. Diamonds came close through Farrell on three separate occasions in the second half, and Royston easily could have scored through Potton and Scott-Morriss towards the end, but a winning goal for either would have been harsh on the other team. Diamonds’ excellent home form so far this season continues, and they still remain well in the hunt for the play-offs at the end of the season. Their next match sees them turn away from league action as they travel to Sixfields to take on National League North high-fliers Brackley Town in the NFA Hillier Senior Cup Final on Tuesday evening (April 2nd, 7.45pm kick-off).
Diamonds Man of the Match: Zack Reynolds
Match Report by Ollie Mortimer
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
13. Ben Heath
2. Zack Reynolds
3. Jack Ashton
4. Jack Westbrook
5. Liam Dolman (C)
6. Alex Collard
7. Declan Rogers
8. Ben Farrell
9. Tom Lorraine
10. Ben Diamond
11. Nathan Hicks
12. Joe Curtis
14. Ben Acquaye (for Westbrook 65)
15. John Dean (for Lorraine 81)
16. Jack Bowen
17. Sam Brown (for Ashton 81)
1. Joe Welch
2. Gus Scott-Morriss
3. Joseph Newton
4. Scott Thomas
5. Taylor Parr
6. Dan Brathwaite (C)
7. Eren Kinali
8. Luke Knight
9. Adam Murray
10. James Potton
11. Thomas Knowles
12. Joseph Neal (for Kinali 59)
14. Harold Joseph
15. Josh Castiglione
16. Devante Stanley (for Potton 75)
17. Ryan Ingrey
Yellow cards: None
Yellow cards: Brathwaite (87)
Referee: Simon Barrow
Assistants: Darren Laska, Adam Clenaghan