AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0-1 Hednesford Town

Diamonds lost the crucial basement battle against fellow strugglers Hednesford at Hayden Road.

In a match largely of attrition and with little quality, the hosts had the ball in the net early on as Joel Anker sidefooted home only for offside to be signalled earlier in the move. The visitors responded as powerful striker Jordan Graham headed wide before Thomas Thorley hit a curling effort over the bar.

The first save of the contest came after 50 minutes, and it was a spectacular one as Rushden keeper Loris Marcimain somehow got his fingertips to a powerful Stephan Morley effort from distance. Diamonds applied some pressure as Jenson Cooper fired a dangerous attempt past the far post and had a half-volley blocked away. Captain Luke Massingham then headed over following an inviting delivery.

Hednesford missed a huge opportunity when substitute Stanley Asomugha headed into the side-netting, but it was a fellow sub who decided the clash in the 80th minute. Marcimain was unable to hold Maxwell Brogan’s shot, and it ran to player-manager Danny Glover who gleefully tapped home.

Despite a series of long balls into the box and five minutes of stoppage time, Rushden were unable to find an equaliser as they were cut further adrift at the bottom.

First half

In this clash between the league’s bottom two, Diamonds had lost their last five matches and 12 of their last 13 without scoring since January 7th. Hednesford sat one place and two points above their opponents, albeit having played a couple of games more. They too had lost their previous five and had only won one of their last 11.

The opening 15 minutes were very quiet, with both sides unable to maintain possession for long and play being dictated by midfield skirmishes and challenges. An away strike from outside the area was blocked away before play swung down the other end soon afterwards, and Jim Burnside was fed only for his attempt to be blocked. It ricocheted out to Joel Anker who coolly sidefooted home, but the offside flag had been raised against Burnside.

Bogdan Marian, who was making his home debut in attach alongside Burnside, went down off-the-ball midway through the half. Despite initial treatment and coming back on for a few minutes, he then had to come off to be replaced by Jenson Cooper. Moments before a driven free-kick from deep by the visitors narrowly evaded a couple of onrushing players at the far post, and for Diamonds Miguel Lopes de Matos got down the left before his pull-back to Burnside was mis-controlled and cleared.

Ex-Diamonds man Jordan Graham was the focal point for most of Hednesford’s attacks, and in one such moment he reached a left-wing cross before his header dropped wide of the mark. A minute later he strongly held up the ball on the edge of the area before laying it back to Thomas Thorley whose curling strike went over into the Peter de Banke terrace.

Rushden’s best chance of the half arrived when Cooper was released in plenty of space down the right. He got into the right-side of the area and looked to play it back to a white shirt, but it was easily intercepted and hacked away from danger.

Half time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0-0 Hednesford Town

Second half

Neither keeper had a save to make in the opening period but, within five minutes of the second half, Loris Marcimain was called into action. The ball was worked to left-back and captain Stephan Morley around 30 yards out in a central position. With limited options ahead of him, he sized up a brilliant effort towards the top corner only for Marcimain to fling himself to his left and somehow tip it behind.

The home stopper was called into action again to punch clear under pressure following George Joyce’s panicked clearance, and he was then involved in an attacking sense as his swift kick forward found Cooper breaking away down the right. His cross-shot looked initially dangerous but ended up flashing past the far upright.

There was more action and opportunities as the game wore on, with both sides knowing how imperative a victory would be to keep their hopes of safety alive. Fraser Corden, who had a tidy game in the heart of midfield alongside the industrious Charlie Pattison, found space around 30 yards out but, rather than shoot, he tried to slip Burnside in only for the pass to be overhit.

Moments later Pattison showed excellent awareness to read a pull-back and crucially intercept before Maxwell Brogan hit a half-volley harmlessly wide. Andy Kanga was sent on to replace Anker, and he was quickly involved as his long ball in behind the away defence found Cooper. His first-time effort was well blocked away and, from the resulting attack, Luke Massingham met Joyce’s cross but was stretching and so could only head off-target.

Hednesford should have taken the lead with twelve minutes remaining as a corner was cleared away, but a deep cross was played back into the Diamonds area. It found the totally free Stanley Asomugha at the far post, but he headed into the near side-netting rather than the back of the net.

However, the away side didn’t have to wait much longer to score the all-important goal. Brogan hit a shot from outside the area that Marcimain spilled back into the goalmouth, and player-manager Danny Glover was the first to react to fire home the rebound into an empty net.

Mitchell White was sent on for Ryan Hughes as Rushden pushed more men forward, but their direct attacks were repelled by the well-drilled visiting defence. A long-throw by Cooper almost dropped for a home man but a big challenge stopped an effort, and Charlie Waller then hooked a Cooper cross over.

Five minutes of additional time were signalled but, aside from an important Massingham block, the hosts were unable to create another chance as the full-time whistle was blown.

Full time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0-1 Hednesford Town

Diamonds again battled hard and gave everything, but ultimately a lack of creativity and cutting edge proved to be their downfall. The visitors didn’t create a huge amount but did have more of the ball, looked the more threatening and defended stoically throughout to keep a clean-sheet and secure three crucial points.

Rushden are back in action again next Saturday (25th February) as they travel to third-placed Nuneaton Borough in a 3pm kick-off.

Attendance: 299

Diamonds Player of the Match: Miguel Lopes de Matos

Match report by Ollie Mortimer

Diamonds: Marcimain, Joyce, de Matos, Waller, Hughes (White 83), Massingham (C), Corden, Pattison, Marcian (Cooper 30), Burnside, Anker (Kanga 69) (subs not used: Agemoh-Davies, Doorbar-Baptist)

Hednesford: Luke Jackson, Mark Derricott, Stephan Morley (C), Germaine Agustein (James McQuilkin 76), Ben Kaminda, Ethan Patterson, Maxwell Brogan, Thomas Thorley, Jordan Graham (Danny Glover 66), Todd Parker (Stanley Asomugha 61), Chay Tilt (subs not used: Zac Hartley, Rhys Williams)

Hednesford goals: Glover (80)

Hednesford yellows: McQuilkin (90+4)