Diamonds slipped to their first home defeat of the season at the hands of Rushall Olympic on Saturday afternoon.
Rushden started on the front foot and were unlucky not to go ahead in the fourth minute when Jack Ashton’s header from a corner smacked off the post and back into play. The visitors though could easily have taken the lead themselves shortly afterwards when Orrin Pendley was unable to convert from close range, and they also went close when Tyler Little hit a curling free-kick that Ben Heath superbly tipped away. The first half was very competitive and largely even without too many clear-cut opportunities, but it was the visitors who forged into the lead a minute into stoppage time at the end of the half when Pendley met a free-kick to thump a header home.
The beginning of the second half was pretty quiet, and the first action of note saw Rushall double their advantage on the hour mark. Benjamin Lund latched onto a defensive mistake to drive into the area and slip a low finish underneath Heath and into the back of the net. In response Ashton almost met a superb cross by Nathan Hicks which surely would have ended in a goal with any form of connection, Ben Diamond had a half-volley blocked and Zack Reynolds had a shot from distance comfortably held. However, Rushall defended strongly and commandingly to nullify much of the threat and pressure to see out the game and claim all three points.
Manager Andy Peaks made two changes to the starting eleven that had defeated St Ives in the FA Trophy First Qualifying Round the previous weekend. One was enforced as Liam Dolman was unavailable for personal reasons, and so there was a welcome return to the side for Jack Ashton in the centre of defence. Albie Hopkins also was reinstated to the team after being unavailable last time out, and that meant Tom Lorraine was named on the substitutes bench alongside John Dean, Joe Curtis, Dan Clifton and Nathan Pickworth.
The two teams entered the Hayden Road playing surface on a sunny but windy afternoon, with the sides coming into the contest in different form. Diamonds were unbeaten at home so far this season and hadn’t lost a home league game since March 20th, and they were also undefeated in their last five league games and last five matches in all competitions. In contrast Rushall had only won one of their six away league games so far this campaign and one of their nine away matches in all competitions. They also had only emerged victorious in two of their last fourteen games in all competitions, but nevertheless they were an established Step 3 side and would undoubtedly prove to be a test for the Diamonds. After both sets of players had shaken hands and the coin-toss had been conducted, referee Bradley Hall signalled the beginning of the match.
The home side, confident from their recent good run of form, started the game quickly and on the front foot. After a Sam Brown long throw was well cleared and a dangerous Zack Reynolds cross flash just over Jack Bowen, they came so close to opening the scoring in the fourth minute. A Declan Rogers corner from the left was cleared, but the ball was recycled and another corner was won. This one was from the right, and Rogers’ inswinging delivery towards the far post found the run of Jack Ashton whose thunderous header flew across goal but smacked off the post and was eventually cleared.
The visitors responded by fashioning their first chance of the game only two minutes later but, after a loose ball dropped around 25 yards out, captain Ashley Sammons struck an effort goalwards that Ben Heath confidently held. Rushden swept up the other end and Ben Farrell did excellently to win the ball back on the right before his cross towards Hopkins at the back post was well intercepted and caught by away keeper Joe Slinn. Shortly after Rogers latched onto a loose ball and shot from outside the area, but the attempt was weak and easy for Slinn to collect.
The early exchanges had been highly competitive and quite entertaining, with both sides harrying one another and quick to get the ball forward when in possession. One such moment saw Diamonds win the ball back, and Ben Diamond played it up to Hopkins. The loanee from Oxford United was in a promising position, but he couldn’t get it out of his feet properly and his attempted flick past a defender was blocked and cleared away. Moments later Rushall could, and maybe should, have taken the lead. They won a free-kick around 35 yards out, and Sammons’ drilled effort was deflected through to Orrin Pendley who was free and with only Heath to beat. However, the defender couldn’t make proper contact and Heath managed to block the poked attempt before Brown cleared the danger.
The tempo of the game was pretty high as both sides regularly turned possession over swiftly, and they both looked dangerous when attacking. In the 16th minute a good flick-on by Hopkins found Bowen who initially nicked it past one defender, but another defender came across to slide in and win the ball to stop the striker running in on goal. Shortly afterwards a promising break for the visitors saw a neat pass slipped into the path of Benjamin Lund, but ultimately the move broke down and Diamonds were able to clear.
Both teams pressuring the other had been a key feature of the game so far, but one case saw Reynolds in his eagerness to get to a crossfield pass ahead of Sammons foul the Rushall man. Right-back Tyler Little stepped up to take the set-piece, and his curling effort towards the near post saw Heath move across to his right to parry the ball around the post. Sammons was involved again just before the half-hour mark when a free-kick was headed across by Joe Hull and eventually dropped for the captain outside the area, but his drilled shot flew wide of the target. Moments later the away side constructed another neat move as a lay-off found Sammons who was in a dangerous position and with a man on his left, but Jack Westbrook did well to win a sliding challenge to intercept and the ball was cleared upfield.
After the relatively quick and busy opening half an hour, the next ten minutes or so were fairly quiet and short on action as the sides looked to gain an advantage and to build a period of pressure and dominance in what had been an even game thus far. In the 38th minute a loose ball dropped for Hopkins in a promising position with only one defender between him and being through on goal but his attempt to skip past the marker was halted as he was tackled and the move broke down.
Moments later Reynolds made a great interception on the right before he galloped forward and fed Farrell whose attempted cross was blocked behind for a corner. Rogers’ delivery looked threatening as it curled towards the far post, but it just sailed over Ashton and it ran out for a goal-kick. Like it had done for much of the half, play then went up the other end as Rushall won a throw-in on the left. The long delivery was initially cleared, but it fell for the lurking Sammons on the edge of the area whose eventual effort was skewed and went harmlessly wide of goal.
Play had just entered stoppage time at the end of the half when a long ball by Slinn was well laid off by Lund into the onrushing path of Simeon Maye, and he darted past Ashton before going down. Ashton had gone down himself and claimed he had been kicked in the head rather than bringing down Maye, but the referee awarded a free-kick to the visitors. With several targets to aim at Sammons curled an inviting cross into the area, and Orrin Pendley got up to bullet a header past the helpless Heath and into the back of the net.
That was the final action of the half as the half-time whistle was blown shortly afterwards. It had been a 45 minutes which had been largely even featuring one good opportunity for each side, but Rushall had just edged proceedings and had clinically taken a chance to hold the advantage at the interval.
Half Time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0-1 Rushall Olympic
Much of the half-time discussion revolved around how Diamonds would respond to going a goal behind, and what Rushall’s tactics would be now that they held the lead. The attendance was announced as 478, a figure that was the second highest in the league for the day, and soon afterwards both sets of players made their way back onto the pitch from the changing rooms. Moments later the referee got the game back underway.
Unlike the opening period, the second half began scrappily and with neither side able to settle into a consistent rhythm or tempo. Possession fluctuated on a regular basis, and little in the way of goalmouth action was forthcoming. Diamond tried to change that in the 57th minute when he was found by Hopkins, but his header back into the box was eventually cleared.
Moments later, the visitors’ first chance of the half resulted in a goal. A long drop-kick forward by Slinn initially bounced over Westbrook, but the defender recovered to run back and try to head back to Heath. However it dropped short, and Benjamin Lund latched onto the loose ball before running into the area and squeezing a low shot under Heath and into the net at the near post.
It was a big setback in Diamonds’ hopes to get back into the game, but nevertheless they tried to respond immediately. Tom Lorraine replaced Hopkins soon after the goal, and only a minute later they had a good chance to halve the deficit. Farrell played the ball back to Nathan Hicks on the left, and he curled in a fabulous cross with the outside of his right foot. It looked perfect for Ashton in the middle of the six-yard box, but the defender was unable to make contact and the ball ran out for a goal-kick. There were some appeals from nearby Diamonds players for a penalty as Ashton had gone down under pressure from a covering defender, but these claims were waved away.
The hosts had upped their pressure and purpose following Rushall’s second goal, but the away side were defending stoically and limiting Diamonds to very little in the way of clear-cut chances. In the 70th minute the ball ricocheted around the visitors’ box before it fell invitingly for Diamond to strike at goal from just outside the area, but the effort was well blocked. Shortly afterwards a ball dropped for Reynolds to strike at goal on the volley from 25 yards out, but his bouncing effort was well held by Slinn.
Often Rushden’s final ball and invention was lacking to seriously trouble the well-marshalled and organised Rushall defence, and the visitors still looked a threat on the counter-attack as Diamonds sent more men forward. One away attack saw them win a corner on the left, and the curling delivery was initially cleared before being headed back in by Maye. It pinballed around the area, and Heath was required to make a good low save on the line to keep the scoreline at 0-2.
Moments later the home side won a throw-in on the right, and Brown moved across to launch one of his trademark dispatches into the area. It flew over Lorraine but not Ashton, though the defender didn’t expect the ball to reach him and so his free header was easily cleared away. They then won a free-kick on the right in a similar area to where Rushall’s first goal was created from, but Rogers’ delivery was well headed away which typified the visitors’ strong defensive efforts.
That was Rogers’ final action as John Dean came on to replace him but, despite plenty of effort and endeavour, Diamonds still couldn’t make an inroad into the away defence and ultimately onto the scoresheet. Several attempted attacks and long balls forward were confidently and capably dealt with by the Rushall backline, and as the minutes ticked down it was evident that the Diamonds were becoming more and more resigned to defeat.
The match entered stoppage time, and one final chance for a goal back saw a loose ball break to Lorraine, but his half-volleyed effort was ultimately rushed and flew across the area. Moments later the referee signalled the full-time whistle to confirm Rushall’s success, and to confirm the end of Diamonds’ recent unbeaten run.
Full Time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0-2 Rushall Olympic
This was Diamonds’ first home league defeat by two or more goals since a 0-2 loss to Stocksbridge Park Steels back in April 2017, but they were ultimately well beaten by a well-organised, diligent and clinical Rushall side. The visitors didn’t look like a side who had not won any of their last four away league games and last seven away games in all competitions as they chased and harried Diamonds into mistakes, took two of their chances and then commandingly and comfortably defended their lead. It wasn’t for the want of trying, but Rushden just couldn’t make sustained inroads into the away defence and couldn’t build enough consistent pressure to threaten getting back into the game. In all three of Diamonds’ previous league defeats before today fine margins had gone against them as they could have gained at least a point in each, and had Jack Ashton’s early header found the net rather than the post in this fixture then the result could have been very different. However, Rushall produced a professional display to deservedly take all three points, and they jump above Diamonds into 10th in the table. Rushden drop to 11th with four wins, four draws and four defeats from their twelve games so far, but that still represents a good start to the season at a new level, and this was simply a bad day at the office. They are back in action on Tuesday (November 6th, 7:45pm kick-off) night when they entertain Northampton ON Chenecks in a NFA Hillier Cup quarter-final clash at Hayden Road.
Diamonds Man of the Match: Nathan Hicks
Match Report by Ollie Mortimer
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
13. Ben Heath
2. Zack Reynolds
3. Sam Brown (C)
4. Jack Ashton
5. Jack Westbrook
6. Declan Rogers
7. Albie Hopkins
8. Ben Farrell
9. Jack Bowen
10. Ben Diamond
11. Nathan Hicks
12. John Dean (for Rogers 79)
14. Joe Curtis
15. Tom Lorraine (for Hopkins 63)
16. Dan Clifton
17. Nathan Pickworth
1. Joe Slinn
2. Brian Smikle
3. AJ Adelekan
4. Sam Whittall
5. Joe Hull
10. Ashley Sammons (C)
12. Tyler Little
14. Simeon Maye
15. Edwin Ahenkorah
18. Orrin Pendley
19. Benjamin Lund
8. Simeon Paisley (for Ahenkorah 87)
11. Gurjit Singh
16. Kevin Monteiro (for Sammons 72)
17. Kieron Berry (for Lund 90)
Goals: Pendley (45+1), Lund (60)
Yellow Cards: None
Yellow Cards: None
Referee: Bradley Hall
Assistants: George Enever, Darren Laska