AFC Rushden & Diamonds concluded their pre-season wth a 1-0 home defeat at the hands of Codicote FC.
Despite dominating possession and creating several clear cut chances throughout the course of the game, the Diamonds were not able to find their way through a well organised Codicote backline. They were duly punished midway through the first half when a deflected free kick found its way to a Codicote midfielder, who slotted home the only goal of the game.
Manager Andy Peaks made six changes to the team that impressively beat Rugby Town a week ago, with Liam Dolman, Jack Ashton, Matt Gearing, Adam Confue, Tom Lorraine and Jason Turner all getting an opportunity to stake a claim for a starting berth in the opening UCL Premier fixture of the season on Tuesday night.
On a sunny and slightly breezy day at the Dog & Duck, the Diamonds were quickly on the offensive, and Greg Ling forced an early save from visiting goalkeeper Billy Barnes after receiving the ball in midfield and driving at the Codicote defence. The left midfielder threatened again in the eighth minute when a long throw from the right fell for Lorraine, who pulled it back for Ling to fire a 12 yard effort at goal which was well parried away.
Diamonds were finding themselves with plenty of time on the ball in the early stages, and this led to a long ball over the top from Dolman reaching Ling, who nodded down for Turner to execute an arching shot that hit the crossbar and bounced away to safety.
Codicote, who defeated UCL Premier side AFC Kempston Rovers 4-1 last weekend, fashioned their first chance of note in the 22nd minute. A nice interchange in midfield allowed Carter to slip a neat reverse pass into the path of winger Sam Stephenson, but Finlay produced a vital diving save to tip the ball around the post for a corner.
However, in their very next attack, the Spartan South Midlands League Division One side scored the first, and ultimately winning, goal of the game. Bunting mis-controlled the ball in the centre of the park, and was forced to give away a free kick on the edge of the penalty area. Stephenson hit the free kick which ricocheted off a couple of Diamonds bodies, and fell perfectly for Andy Carter to sweep the ball into the far corner of the goal.
After such an encouraging start, the goal seemed to have a knock-on effect on the Diamonds performance, with the rest of the half being a case of trying to find the killer ball to unlock the Codicote defence. Tom Lorraine, who impressed early on with his direct running, had a header ruled out after Gearing took a corner kick too early, and Dolman had a goalbound header blocked from a further corner, but apart from these two moments, chances were hard to come by as the referee blew his whistle for the half time break.
Half Time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0-1 Codicote FC
Diamonds made a tactical alteration at the break, with Brad Harris replacing Brown, meaning a re-shuffle in the defence. Harris dropped into the heart of defence alongside Dolman, while Jack Ashton moved across to cover the left back berth. Codicote brought on four of their five substitutes at the break, and this naturally led to a slow beginning to the second period.
With Codicote appearing to be content with sitting back and soaking up the Diamonds pressure, set pieces were always going to be important, and so this proved. From a Gearing corner, Turner looped a header towards goal that dropped onto the top of the bar, and less than 10 minutes later, another Gearing delivery again found the ex-Wellingborough man, but Barnes pulled off another important save at his near post to keep his clean sheet intact.
Turner was proving himself a nuisance to the opposition defence, and midway through the second half, Ashton slipped a ball through to the striker, and his cross found the head of fellow front-man Lorraine to glance a free header wide of goal in front of the Peter De Banke terrace. A minute later, Lorraine found himself in a similar position to meet Confue’s cut back from the left byline, but he again put his effort wide of the right-hand post.
In an attempt to inject some urgency into the home side, three substitutions were made, with F. Koriya, McBride and Lamb-Johnson all entering the field of play. This, coupled with a Codicote change of formation to 5-3-2, led to a wholly dominant last 20 minutes for the Diamonds. In the 74th minute, a lung-bursting run from Henderson down the right wing saw him beat three players and pull the ball back for Turner, who seemed odds on to score, but he was again denied by a brilliant point blank save from the Codicote stopper.
Barring a cross from the right which narrowly avoided Stephenson sliding in at the back post, Codicote created very little in the second period, and it was almost constant Diamonds pressure. It was Henderson again who helped to carve out a chance seven minutes from time, when his right wing cross found its way to the feet of Koriya, but despite a quick turn and shot, his effort was again blocked away by a red shirt in front of the Diamonds striker.
Despite further home pressure, the Diamonds were not able to find a breakthrough that their efforts deserved, and the referee sounded the final whistle after a single minute of added on time.
Full Time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0-1 Codicote FC
So not the result that the Diamonds wanted to end pre-season on, with the main concern being the amount of chances that were created and squandered in this game. However, the results and comprehensive performances against Bedford and Rugby should provide strong optimism for the season ahead, with Andy Peaks now having the tough choice of naming his starting 11 for the club’s opening fixture of the 2014/2015 UCL Premier season on Tuesday night away at Harborough Town.
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
17. Matt Finlay
2. Joe Henderson
3. Sam Brown
4. Jack Ashton
5. Liam Dolman
6. Adam Confue
7. Matt Gearing
8. Richard Bunting (C)
9. Tom Lorraine
10. Jason Turner
11. Greg Ling
12. Russ Dunkley
13. Rhys Redding
14. Rashid Koriya
15. Brad Harris (for Brown 45)
16. Séan McBride (for Bunting 71)
18. Elliot Lamb-Johnson (for Ling 71)
19. Aaron Parkinson
20. Fazel Koriya (for Lorraine 71)
1. Billy Barnes
2. Michael Ettienne
3. Charlie Marshall
4. Joe Tyler
5. Liam Errington
6. Ricky Bridge
7. Andy Carter
8. Ray Ancliff
9. Krystian Michalak
10. Joel Mason (C)
11. Sam Stephenson
12. Paul Donnelly (for Ettienne 45)
14. James Taylor (for Bridge 57)
15. Bailey Chapman-Hearn (for Marshall 45)
16. Sam French (for Errington 45)
N.B No. 6 Ricky Bridge returned to the field of play after 78 minutes, replacing no. 14 James Taylor
Goals: Carter (26)
Yellow Cards: None
Yellow Cards: None
Referee: Josh Few
Assistants: Sam Gurney, Jamie Loades
After the game AFC Rushden & Diamonds Manager Andy Peaks gave his thoughts on the pre-season campaign and on the season ahead – you can view that interview here.