Diamonds fell to defeat in their opening match of the 21/22 Southern Premier Division Central campaign as Banbury ran out deserved winners.
After ex-Diamonds man Sam Brown came close, the visitors took the lead when Henry Landers latched onto a loose ball and arced a strike over Dean Snedker in the Rushden goal. Snedker made two crucial saves from another ex-Rushden man Chris Wreh and Landers to keep the hosts in the match, and Liam Dolman glanced a free header wide just before half-time.
Diamonds built up some pressure in the second period and were boosted by the arrivals of Tom Lorraine and Nathan Tshikuna, though they were unable to truly threaten the away goal. Banbury sealed the contest eight minutes from time when Landers cooly side-footed home after a swift counter-attack, and Diamonds weren’t able to find a way back into the match as they were consigned to defeat.
Manager Peaks named five of his summer signings in the starting line-up as Diamonds went for a 4-3-3 formation. Dean Snedker started in goal, Ben Garwood and Sam Warburton were named as the full-backs, Claudio Dias lined up with Matt Slinn and Jesse Akubuine in midfield, and the returning Ben Diamond was tasked with supporting Lorrell Smith alongside Joel Gyasi.
Banbury, nicknamed The Puritans, began with five ex-Diamonds players – Sam Brown, Jack Westbrook, Chris Wreh, Morgan Roberts and Ben Acquaye, and they started on the front foot. Only five minutes had elapsed when Wreh had a cross-shot parried away by Snedker, but Acquaye scuffed the rebound well wide of the target. After a couple of traditional Brown throws were confidently collected by Snedker, Charlie Pattison then struck an effort harmlessly wide from around 35 yards out.
Diamonds were struggling to maintain possession and build any pressure, with the visitors harrying well and pulling the home players out of position. Dias did have a half-chance for the hosts when he rolled an effort wide from distance, but Banbury soon re-established their early dominance. Connor Roberts half-volleyed off target after a clever flick over Liam Dolman, and then they created their clearest opportunity in the 19th minute. Brown was fed into the left-side of the area, and his powerful strike was parried away by Snedker diving to his left.
However, a minute later, they did take the lead. Morgan Roberts slalomed his way into the area before his effort was partially blocked, but it looped up for Henry Landers who arced an effort over Snedker and into the top corner.
Landers came close to doubling his and Banbury’s tally when, firstly, he was played in by Wreh but his clipped effort was blocked by Snedker. Moments afterwards he bounced an effort towards the far corner following a cross, and the Diamonds keeper was forced into action again as he athletically leapt to his right and tipped it away.
Rushden were winning a few set-pieces that Dias was whipping in towards the danger zone, but they were generally dealt with well by the away backline. 10 minutes before half-time the Puritans should have extended their lead when Wreh was released through on goal. He had time to take a couple of touches and attempt to roll a low effort home from just inside the box, but Snedker stood tall and made a crucial save.
Diamonds ended the half well, with Smith winning a free-kick that Alex Collard met, though his header drifted over the bar into the Peter de Banke terrace. Five minutes later, they fashioned their best opportunity of the entire match. Gyasi did well to capitalise on indecision from Brown to win a free-kick on the right wing, and Dias curled it into the far post. It found Dolman who was completely free close to goal, but the experienced defender could only glance his header wide.
Banbury had once final opportunity in the half when Acquaye outsprinted Garwood and drew a foul, but the resulting set-piece was again claimed well by Snedker.
Half time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0-1 Banbury United
Diamonds came out with more purpose and urgency, but still struggled to create opportunities against a well-drilled and hardworking visiting side. Dolman had a flicked header straight at Jack Harding in the Banbury goal, and he was then pressed into defensive action when he blocked away an attempt from Morgan Roberts.
Both sides continued to trade chances, with Smith shooting wide and Slinn’s header down dropping for Collard but the defender couldn’t bring the ball under his control. Down the other end, Connor Roberts had an effort blocked away after a strong run forward and Wreh shot narrowly wide from the edge of the box.
Peaks made a double change in the 66th minute when he introduced Tom Lorraine and new signing Nathan Tshikuna for Smith and Gyasi. The latter was straight into the action as he drew a routine save from Harding, and fellow midfielders Dias, Slinn and Akubuine all then had respective efforts charged down in a short space of time as Diamonds tried to up the ante.
Banbury still looked a threat though when they sprang forward on the counter-attack, and such a moment in the 72nd minute led to a corner that found ex-Football League defender Kelvin Langmead. His looping header beat Snedker but was headed off the line to keep the hosts in the game.
Moments after Will Jones was introduced for Slinn, the Puritans sealed the contest. A long clearance downfield found Wreh who ran into the box, kept his composure and played it across to an onrushing midfielder. He in turn found Henry Landers on his right, and the midfielder calmly stroked it home into the far corner of the net past a helpless Snedker.
Diamonds had a couple of brief moments to get at least a consolation goal, with Tshikuna firing wide under pressure and Garwood having a long-range strike comfortably held, but it wasn’t to be as four minutes of additional time went by without any further action.
Full time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0-2 Banbury United
Diamonds were simply beaten by the better side on the night, with Banbury looking threatening throughout and restricting the hosts to one big opportunity and a few half-chances. Rushden did look better in the second half and started to build pressure following Lorraine and Tshikuna’s introduction, but they weren’t able to enjoy a sustained period of time on the ball and get enough men into the box to threaten the strong Banbury defence.
One big positive was the performance of Dean Snedker, who kept Diamonds in the game in the opening period and was a commanding presence throughout. They have a chance to bounce back quickly as they host one of the pre-season promotion favourites, Coalville Town, at Hayden Road on Saturday (21 August), 3pm kick-off. Tickets can be purchased here.
Diamonds Man of the Match: Dean Snedker
Match report by Ollie Mortimer
Diamonds: Snedker, Garwood, Warburton, Dias, Dolman (C), Collard, Gyasi (Tshikuna 66), Slinn (Jones 81), Smith (Lorraine 66), Akubuine, Diamond (subs not used: Casey, Hughes)
Diamonds yellows: Slinn (13)
Banbury: Jack Harding, Connor Roberts, Sam Brown, Charlie Pattison, Kelvin Langmead, Jack Westbrook (C), Henry Landers, Alexander Babos, Chris Wreh, Morgan Roberts, Ben Acqauye (Harry Reilly 75) (subs not used: Thomas Sharpe, Ben Taylor, Brandon Patterson, Ethan Johnston)
Banbury goals: Landers (20, 82)
Banbury yellows: Babos (10), C. Roberts (13)
Referee: Elliott Kaye
Assistants: Harry Price, Samuel Lee
Images courtesy of Stephanie Webb Photography ©2021