AFC Rushden & Diamonds bowed out of the FA Cup after being narrowly edged out by Barwell in the Fourth Qualifying Round replay on Tuesday evening.
The first half saw the Northern Premier Division visitors dominate possession and the general flow of the game, with striker Jamie Towers firing one chance wide and Diamonds defender Liam Dolman being forced to clear away two dangerous crosses into the box. The hosts struggled to keep the ball for long periods and only threatened sporadically as Tom Lorraine saw a shot from a tight angle saved and Dolman flicked a header over the crossbar from a corner.
Diamonds, just as they did in the original tie on Saturday, improved in the second half and began to look more of a threat going forward as Courtney Herbert saw a free-kick well held by the Canaries goalkeeper, though the away side should have led when full-back Eddie Nisevic volleyed wide of the far post after the ball had dropped ideally for him in the Rushden penalty area. Barwell eventually took the lead in the 70th minute when an Alex Tomkinson free-kick from the right was powered home at the far post by Brady Hickey, and despite some late Diamonds pressure and six minutes of stoppage time, there was to be no repeat of Saturday’s drama as the visitors advanced through to the First Round.
Manager Andy Peaks kept the same starting XI that had begun the original tie at Kirkby Road on Saturday, with the only change being amongst the substitutes where Jake Gillingwater was included to make up the full quota of seven players on the bench. There was a keen sense of anticipation around the well-populated ground as the game got underway, with many fans wondering how both teams would react in the early stages to that late Liam Dolman equaliser on Saturday.
It was the away side who looked the brighter of the two teams from the get-go, and as early as the first minute a deep left-wing cross found the head of winger Alex Tomkinson who placed a header back across goal and out for a goal-kick. Callum Woodward then shanked a volley wide from the edge of the area after home defender Delroy Gordon had powerfully headed away a corner, and Barwell were very much on the front foot.
This was largely down to their quick and persistent harrying of the Diamonds players whenever Rushden found themselves in possession, and this led to many long balls that the visiting defence were easily able to deal with. One effective long ball came in the 13th minute from the right foot of Gordon as he sprayed a diagonal ball out to Tommy Berwick, and he did well to control the ball and bring it under his control. He turned and fed midfielder Dan Quigley in the box, and the ball ran through for Tom Lorraine to thrash a shot at goal from a narrow angle which Barwell keeper Liam Castle saved at his near post.
Aside from this chance though, the Diamonds weren’t able to sustain possession for any long periods of time and Barwell were winning many loose balls in midfield and looking dangerous when they came forward. 20 minutes had elapsed when further harassing forced Liam Dolman into a mistake in giving the ball away, and after the Diamonds number five brought down Brady Hickey, Jamie Towers seized on possession and drove a shot through Gordon’s legs but thankfully for the home side wide of the left-hand post. Dolman was then subsequently booked for the challenge which led to play being waved on.
Three minutes later the Canaries created another chance when a deep free-kick from their own half found its way through for defender Liam Kay on the right of the box. He lofted a dangerous cross back into the middle which Diamonds keeper Matt Finlay and Barwell striker Towers both missed, but Ollie Wilkinson was on hand to clear the danger close to his own goal.
Diamonds were being required to defend stoutly and to deal with a high amount of pressure just as they had done at the Dog & Duck in the previous round against Ashton United, and two more important clearances were made to keep the score goalless. Firstly a swift move down the left saw the ball fed into overlapping full-back Eddie Nisevic who burst into the penalty area and cut the ball back, but Dolman cleared the ball away. Then a jinking and weaving run by Callum Woodward again saw the ball fired across goal from the left side, though Dolman was on hand to deal with the situation for a second time and put the ball out for a throw-in.
Claudiu Hoban had struggled to have an impact on the game due to the visitors doubling up on him whenever the Romanian found the ball at his feet, but he proved his quality in the 34th minute as he did brilliantly well to keep the ball in down the left flank and see a cross deflected behind for a corner. The subsequent inswinger from Berwick found Saturday’s hero Dolman, but he could only flick a header over the bar from around eight yards out.
The rest of the half followed the same pattern of Barwell pressing and monopolising the ball with the Diamonds trying to soak up the pressure and hit the Canaries on the break, though there was no more opportunities of note as referee Simon Barrow called time on a somewhat edgy and nervy opening period.
Half Time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0-0 Barwell FC
The record home attendance of 1162 fans was confirmed shortly before the half-time interval, and feelings of nervousness, tension and eagerness were dominant amongst them as the second half got underway. Barwell again threatened within the opening minute of the half with a throw-in from the right finding the feet of Ant Carney, and after holding the ball up well under pressure from Dolman, he turned to the byline and pulled the ball across for Hickey who was denied by a well-timed block from Gordon.
There appeared to be a greater sense of urgency and tempo from the home side at the start of the second half, and this was evidenced well when Lorraine was able to run onto a through ball and sprint towards goal before being brought down 25 yards out by Declan Towers. The referee had a big call to make and had to weigh up the fellow defender in close proximity against the fact Lorraine was bearing down on the Barwell area, but his decision was to issue the Canaries’ number five with a yellow card. The subsequent free-kick from Courtney Herbert beat the four-man wall but was relatively comfortable for Castle to collect to his right.
The Northern Premier Division side then created a great opportunity to forge into the lead moments after this Diamonds chance. Jamie Towers broke away down the right wing and drilled a cross to the back post where Carney was lurking with intent. Although Wilkinson did well to block the initial header, the ball spun perfectly for Nisevic in acres of space with the Diamonds defence prepared to stand back and attempt to block the shot, but his half-volley crept wide of the far post when he should have at least hit the target.
A minute later Hoban dragged a right-footed shot wide after a Sam Brown long throw had only been half cleared and then eventually worked back to the Diamonds winger, and contrastingly Woodward dipped a volley over Finlay’s goal for the visitors as a header away by Gordon had fallen into his path. The game was becoming a lot more open and expansive, with both sides sensing the chance to go ahead and then protect the lead.
And it was the Leicestershire-based visitors who broke the deadlock and scored the ultimately decisive goal 20 minutes from time. Hoban was penalised for a high foot as he attempted an overhead kick to clear the ball, and with the foul having occurred close to the right touchline, it seemed perfect for a left-footer to curl the ball in. Tomkinson subsequently whipped in an inviting delivery to the back post where Brady Hickey bulleted a header home to the sheer jubilation and elation of the travelling supporters behind the goal.
Scott Joseph had been introduced into the fray shortly before the goal at the expense of Herbert, and it was he who almost levelled the tie three minutes after Barwell’s goal. A free-kick from in front of the dugouts was lofted into the visitors’ box, and after a flick-on by Gordon and then by Lorraine the ball came to Joseph but his header lacked power and direction as the ball dropped into Castle’s arms in the Barwell goal.
The away side continued to look dangerous as the hosts threw more and more men forward in search of an equaliser, and Hickey was at the forefront of two moves which almost nailed the Diamonds FA Cup coffin firmly shut. In the 82nd minute he powered away down the right and spotting Carney in space laid the ball across for his teammate, and it took an excellent sliding challenge from Wilkinson to rid the home side of the danger. Then four minutes later substitute Dominic Brennan was found in space down the right side and he cleverly squared the ball for Hickey to thrash a shot over from ten yards.
The muchly expected throwing of bathroom fixtures at the Barwell back four never really materialised, and though Joseph lashed a shot over the Peter de Banke terrace after being fed by Berwick and a couple of set-pieces were launched into the away side’s mixer, they dealt magnificently well with any sort of pressure and were excellently marshalled by captain Richard Lavery. After six minutes of additional time had elapsed, the whistle was blown on Diamonds’ proud and memorable FA Cup run of 2015, and the Canaries’ celebrations showed how much it meant to them on reaching the 1st Round for the first ever time in their history.
There was little doubt that Barwell deserved to advance to the next round over the two ties, but the Diamonds can be mightily proud of the amount of real chances that they did limit their opponents to not just tonight but also on Saturday, and the way they defended and never gave in over the 180 minutes overall. Memories that will last a lifetime were created with Liam Dolman’s second leveller in that first game and with the celebratory scenes that were to follow, and the fact that four tricky rounds previous to this one were negotiated successfully means full credit must be given to every single Diamonds player involved in the run. Praise must also go to Jimmy Ginnelly’s Barwell side on their achievement of reaching the First Round where they will face National League side Welling United, but for the Diamonds thoughts return to the Southern League Division One Central and their trip to Barton Rovers on Saturday afternoon.
Diamonds Man of the Match: Claudiu Hoban
Match Report by Ollie Mortimer
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
17. Matt Finlay
2. Ollie Wilkinson
3. Sam Brown
4. Delroy Gordon
5. Liam Dolman
6. Dan Quigley
7. Courtney Herbert
8. Richard Bunting (C)
9. Tom Lorraine
10. Tommy Berwick
11. Claudiu Hoban
12. Brad Harris
13. Alex Vitue
14. Scott Joseph (for Herbert 66)
15. Charlie Butt
16. Joe Ackroyd
18. Matt Pinder
19. Jake Gillingwater
1. Liam Castle
2. Scott Lower
3. Eddie Nisevic
4. Liam Kay
5. Declan Towers
6. Richard Lavery (C)
7. Alex Tomkinson
8. Callum Woodward
9. Jamie Towers
10. Brady Hickey
11. Ant Carney
12. Dominic Brennan (for J. Towers 83)
13. Jack Hartopp
14. Iyseden Christie
15. Daniel Gaunt
16. Blaize Punter
17. Aaron Opoku
18. Jordan Wakeling
Goals: Hickey (70)
Yellow Cards: Dolman (20), Bunting (63), Joseph (73), Quigley (90+6), Hoban.
Yellow Cards: D. Towers (51), Woodward (75)
Referee: Simon Barrow
Assistants: Mark Pearson, Greg Rollason
For video highlights and post-match interviews see here.