Diamonds were edged out by local rivals on a hot and sunny Easter Monday at Hayden Road.
Rushden started the brighter as they pressed and harried their opponents high up the pitch, and this led to a really quick and energetic opening period. Moments after a Sam Brown long-throw bounced just up and over the bar, Jack Bowen almost got in behind the away defence only to be foiled by the keeper. Dan Holman responded for Kettering with a hooked effort that was easily held, and then Aaron O’Connor appeared to be released theough on goal only for the offside flag to be raised. The best chance of the half came in the 16th minute when a long ball over the top by Heath caused confusion between the Kettering keeper and defence, and Bowen nipped in to flick it over the keeper. It ran towards goal but came back off the post, and Bowen then collected the rebound before firing a low effort towards the near-post that was well tipped behind. Jack Ashton rose highest to meet the resultant corner, but his free header was powered wide of the target. Tom Lorraine, who had been announced as the Supporters Player of the Season before kick-off, threatened moments later when he sprinted past one challenge and round another, but his effort flashed well over. The play then settled down after a swift start, and it appeared the game would be deadlocked heading into the interval. However, Kettering took the lead on the stroke of half-time. Full-back Lathaniel Rowe-Turner got down the left after a neat backheel by O’Connor, and he played a ball across that was blocked away. It broke again to the defender though, and he poked a shot past Heath and into the far corner of the net.
The second half was a quieter affair, with the visitors managing the game well and threatening on the counter-attack. Diamonds did press though, and within three minutes of the restart Bowen unleashed an effort from long-range that the keeper managed to parry away. Chances were then shared as firstly O’Connor broke down the left before cutting inside and hitting a shot that was straight at Heath, and Rushden responded with a Reynolds cross that Bowen rose highest to meet. However, his header was straight at the keeper. Ben Diamond was introduced for the industrious Joe Curtis, and a short time later Sam Johnson and Ben Acquaye were also brought on. Kettering did well to limit the threat though, and they threatened to kill the game when Lindon Meikle had a shot blocked and Rhys Hoenes glanced an inviting right-wing delivery wide. Diamonds almost had a leveller when Acquaye was released down the left before his shot towards the near-post was parried away, but Kettering then swept down the other end for Brett Solkhon to strike a powerful effort goalwards that Heath tipped over. Heath made another good save just before the end from Dion Kelly-Evans and, though Liam Dolman had an acrobatic effort saved and despite some late pressure, Kettering held out for the win.
Manager Peaks made three changes to the side that had began the disappointing defeat at Coalville on Saturday afternoon. The favoured formation of last season, and the system had been used occasionally in recent matches, of 3-5-2 was deployed again as Jack Ashton came in to the defence. Ben Farrell returned to the midfield, and Jack Bowen was given a start to partner top-scorer Tom Lorraine in attack.
Before the game began at the early kick-off time of 1pm, the Supporters Player of the Season Award was announced. Zack Reynolds came in third place, Alex Collard in second, and Tom Lorraine was announced as the winner. The striker’s 20 goals in all competitions have been a crucial aspect of the successful first campaign at this level but his overall work-rate, his general link-up play and his ability to fit in at the higher standard of football has endeared him even more to the Diamonds fans.
Shortly afterwards, the two sides entered onto the pitch on a warm and sunny Easter Monday afternoon. Rushden entered the contest eighth in the table and having not won any of their last six games, but they were aiming to end a successful home campaign, where they had only lost two matches at Hayden Road, on a high. Kettering had clinched the title nine days ago, and they had the best away record in the league having won 15 of their 20 matches so far in the campaign. The reverse fixture on New Year’s Day had been one full of drama, with Kettering emerging victorious courtesy of a last-minute winner, and so a highly intriguing clash lay ahead. Following the customary handshakes and coin-toss, referee Scott Tallis got the match underway.
Diamonds, despite their recent winless run, began the game on the front foot. Only one minute had elapsed when they won a throw-in on the left, and Sam Brown moved forward to launch one of his archetypal deliveries into the heart of the penalty box. It bounced up and over everyone, and nestled just onto the roof of the net. Moments later Bowen almost get in ahead of Paul White in the Kettering goal to a long ball forward, but the keeper was able to collect.
It was an understandably quick and energetic start to the game, with the two rivals wanting to stake a claim over the other and wanting to build some early dominance. The hosts won a free-kick on the right, and Joe Curtis whipped it in towards the far post only for White to collect. Play then swept down the other end in the visitors’ first attack of the game, and Dan Holman got a shot away that was comfortably held by Ben Heath.
Brown and Zack Reynolds, in wing-back positions, had license to get forward, and they almost combined in the 13th minute. The right wing-back Reynolds did really well to get down the flank and he played it in towards the back post for Brown. The left wing-back collected it and attempted a pull-back towards the middle of the area, but it was well cleared away.
Three minutes later, Diamonds came within centimetres of taking the lead. A long ball forward went over the top of the Kettering defence and reached Bowen who suddenly found himself in on goal. The front-man flicked it impudently over White and it ran towards the bottom corner of the net, but it cruelly smacked off the post and back into play. Bowen picked up the rebound and hit a low effort towards the near post, but White pulled off a superb save low down to tip it behind for a corner. The resultant set-piece from the left reached Ashton with a free header, but the defender’s header flashed wide of the target.
The hosts kept up the pressure and, soon afterwards, they attacked with pace again to find themselves in a three-on-three situation. Lorraine got past the first defender and then ran on the outside of another, but his final effort was slammed over the bar. Brown was fouled at the beginning of the move and Michael Richens, who was sent off in the reverse fixture, was subsequently booked.
Rushden, who hadn’t scored in four of their last five games, were looking much more of a potent attacking threat. In the 25th minute they won a free-kick on the right, and Curtis curled it in towards the area. It was initially flicked away, but Diamonds recycled the ball and Ashton was fed before it was played to Nathan Hicks. The midfielder attempted a cross towards the near post, but it was well collected by White in the end.
The away side hadn’t threatened much thus far, but they looked like they would fashion an opportunity just before the half-hour mark when Richens played a clever ball over the top of the home defence looking for Holman. It looked like the striker would reach the ball and threaten to get a strike in at goal, but he suddenly pulled up clutching his hamstring. After a few minutes of treatment, he hobbled off to be replaced by Rhys Hoenes.
The next ten minutes saw the play settle down after the enthralling and often breathless nature of the opening half an hour. Three minutes before the end of the regulatory 45 minutes, Hicks did excellently to win the ball high up the pitch before he unleashed a thunderous shot towards goal, but it was well blocked away.
Stoppage-time at the end of the half was just about to begin when Kettering took the lead. Left-back Lathaniel Rowe-Turner got down the wing before his initial cross was blocked away. However, the loose ball ran for him on the left corner of the area, and he quickly poked an effort towards the far post the beat Heath and nestled into the corner of the net.
The goal was harsh on Diamonds who had had the better of the half, but it could have been worse in the third minute of additional time when the visitors launched another attack. Lindon Meikle embarked on a strong run before he fed Ben Milnes in a promising position, but the subsequent strike flew well over the bar.
That was the final action of the half as Tallis soon blew the whistle to signal the half-time break. It had been an entertaining half where Diamonds had looked the most likely to score, but it was Kettering who had been clinical and held the slim advantage at the interval.
Half time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0-1 Kettering Town
The teams soon emerged from the changing rooms for the second period, with most thoughts during the half-time break focusing on if the high intensity of the match could be maintained, and who would be able to make the next breakthrough. Kettering made a substitution with Gary Stohrer replacing Richens and, after a quick count of both sets of players, Talis got the match back underway.
Diamonds, kicking towards the Peter de Banke terrace, had the opening effort of the half when Bowen hit an instinctive long-range strike that almost caught White by surprise, but the keeper did well to get down to his right to turn the effort away. Soon afterwards, a loose ball dropped for Hicks around 25 yards out, but his half-volley flew wide of the post.
However, Kettering had most of the early pressure in the half. Just before Hicks’ opportunity, Aaron O’Connor got in down the left in their first opportunity of the period, and he cut inside before seeing a shot held by Heath. Rushden responded, and Reynolds sped down the right before swinging in a fantastic cross towards the far post where Bowen rose to meet. His downward header looked threatening, but White managed to save the effort and hold on.
The play was not as frenetic and as quick-paced as the opening half, but it was still intriguing and with chances for both sides. Diamonds won a free-kick just before the hour mark, and Curtis played a delivery into the area only for White to come out to punch it away. A few moments later the attendance was announced as 1165, and then the hosts made their first substitution of the match as Ben Diamond was introduced for Curtis.
It didn’t have an immediate effect as Kettering kept possession well and looked to hit on the counter-attack. In the 70th minute Marcus Kelly had a free-kick in a promising position, but his effort was well headed away by Liam Dolman. Meikle then had an opportunity seconds later only for his strike to be blocked behind, and the resultant corner was well punched away by Heath.
The visitors were doing well to limit Diamonds to only a few half-chances, and they were managing the game effectively in their hopes of seeing out the win. Brown pitched a long-throw into the area that was well cleared away, but the wing-back played it back in and Dolman was just unable to get a strike away. Moments later a promising counter-attacking opportunity saw Diamond just overrun the ball, and an away defender was felled in the process to relieve the pressure.
Peaks then made his final two changes as he sent Sam Johnson and Ben Acquaye on in place of Ashton and Bowen, but Kettering almost sealed the game before they could make an impact. Stohrer played a neat ball into the area from the right, and Hoenes flicked a header towards goal only for it to run harmlessly wide of the post.
However, one of the Diamonds substitutes soon made an impact as they came close to an equaliser. Acquaye latched onto a good Diamond flick-on and he got into the left side of the area before hitting a strike towards goal that was superbly parried away. The visitors then broke at pace, and Brett Solkhon found room to smack an effort goalwards from outside the area that required Heath to make a brilliant save to tip it over the bar.
Rather than a Rushden leveller, Kettering were looking the more likely to score next as the full-time whistle loomed. Two minutes from time Dion Kelly-Evans hit a fizzing effort that Heath did well to parry round the post, but the keeper was only able to partially parry the resulting corner. It ran to Craig Stanley, but the defender’s bobbling effort ran wide of the post.
The hosts had one final chance to find an equaliser. A long-throw reached Dolman and he hooked an effort towards goal from inside the area, but White was able to make a comfortable save. Reynolds was then announced as the sponsors Man of the Match, and two additional minutes were signalled.
Aside from a Heath clearance that was charged down by Hoenes and Lorraine being booked, stoppage-time passed without any action of note. Tallis soon blew the full-time whistle to confirm the result, and to consign Diamonds to defeat in their final home match of the season.
Full time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0-1 Kettering Town
Although the final result was disappointing, the performance from Diamonds was largely positive. They had the better of the opening period, and if Bowen’s effort had gone into the net rather than hitting the post then the final result could have been very different. Kettering clinically took their chance at a perfect time just before the interval, and they then defended strongly in the second period whilst managing the game superbly to see out the result. Despite Rushden losing their last two home matches, their home form throughout the campaign has been excellent and had seen them go 13 games unbeaten prior to the two recent narrow losses. It has been a highly successful season overall despite the recent poor run, and they have one final game to end the season on a high as they travel to Staffordshire to take on Tamworth on Saturday 27th April, 3.00pm kick-off.
Diamonds Man of the Match: Zack Reynolds
Match Report by Ollie Mortimer
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
13. Ben Heath
2. Zack Reynolds
3. Sam Brown
4. Jack Ashton
5. Liam Dolman (C)
6. Alex Collard
7. Joe Curtis
8. Ben Farrell
9. Tom Lorraine
10. Jack Bowen
11. Nathan Hicks
12. Sam Johnson (for Ashton 79)
14. Ben Acquaye (for Bowen 79)
15. Declan Rogers
16. Ben Diamond (for Curtis 68)
1. Paul White
4. Brett Solkhon
6. Michael Richens
7. Lindon Meikle
8. Aaron O’Connor
9. Dan Holman
10. Ben Milnes
12. Dion Kelly-Evans
14. Marcus Kelly
18. Lathaniel Rowe-Turner
19. Craig Stanley
2. James Brighton
3. Ben Toseland
5. Gary Stohrer (for Richens HT)
11. Rhys Hoenes (for Holman 28)
16. Luke Graham
Goals: Rowe-Turner (45)
Yellow cards: Collard (73), Lorraine (90+2)
Yellow cards: Richens (19)
Referee: Scott Tallis
Assistants: Mitchell Cartwright, Mariusz Tomon