AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0 Hitchin Town 0 League Cup Hitchin 4-3 Pens

AFC Rushden & Diamonds may have kept yet another clean sheet in 90 minutes of football, however Josh Bickerstaff scored the deciding penalty for Hitchin Town to send his side through to the Quarter-Finals of the Challenge Cup on Tuesday night. The 222 supporters who admirably braved the cold were treated to an entertaining match, despite what the goalless score-line suggested, with both sides squandering chances to win the match in normal time. The visitors came closest to an opener just before the half-time whistle as miscommunication from Heath and Ashton saw the ball bounce towards the Rushden goal following a Hitchin Town cross, only for Blaize Punter to hack the ball off the line. Ashton himself came close twice in the second half as the Diamonds had the better of the chances after the interval. Even though the hosts didn’t progress in the competition, it was an extremely positive outing from the Diamonds, showing once again that they can compete against higher level opposition.


Manager Andy Peaks made 4 changes to the starting line-up for this midweek cup tie, and adopted an ambitious 3-4-1-2 formation. Ben Diamonds made his first start up front since renewing his contract until the end of the season, and partnered in-form striker Ryan Robbins, with  Tom Lorraine on the bench. Darryl Smith was playing behind the two strikers. Blaize Punter and Callum Westwood replaced Sam Brown and Jack Westbrook, as Ben Farrell was rested for Cameron Gilchrist. Brown, Ross Oulton and Joel Gyasi, who scored two goals in the second round of this competition, completed a dangerous looking bench. Ben Heath, Joe Curtis, Jack Ashton, Luke Fairlamb and skipper Liam Dolman all retained their starting places and made up the rest of the X1.

On a bitterly cold night in Hayden Road, it was the visitors who came closest first. Jonny McNamara, who was a threat to the Diamonds defence all day, cut inside from the left flank and whipped the ball goal-bound, forcing a one-handed parry from Ben Heath to turn it away for a corner.

With the Diamonds struggling to create any clear-cut chances in the early stages, Darryl Smith tried his luck from distance but narrowly missed Michael Johnson’s bottom left corner.

After 20 minutes, Robbie Burns almost put the Premier side ahead. A deflected cross fell to the striker who’s diving header from six yards out hit the billboards rather than the back of the net.

Callum Westwood then saw his shot from a tight-angle saved at Johnson’s near post, but it was the Canaries who once again came inches away from breaking the deadlock.

Trey Charles forced his way through a sliding challenge from Luke Fairlamb and as the ball bounced in front of him, unleashed a curling volley with the outside of his boot which skewered away from Heath’s top right corner at the last moment.

In-form striker Ryan Robbins, who has scored 10 in 14 Diamonds appearances, had been kept quiet until after the half hour mark where he sparked into life.

He first collected the ball on the edge of the area, turned his marker and fired a low left-footed shot that stung the gloves of Johnson at his near post.

Just minutes later, Robbins latched onto a pass down the left side of the box from Fairlamb, but his effort rolled agonizingly across that face of the goal.

It then required superb instincts from Blaize Punter to keep the scores level at half-time.

McNamara fizzed a dangerous cross into the six-yard box, and as Jack Ashton and Heath both went to clear their lines, the ball ricocheted off both Diamonds players and crept towards the goal.

Punter then readjusted himself to clear the ball away at the last moment, denying what would have been a certain Hitchin Town goal.

Half-time: AFC Rushden and Diamonds 0-0 Hitchin Town

After the interval, the Diamonds dominated the proceedings until Hitchin Town had a case for a penalty in the 51st minute. Burns fell under pressure from Heath, but the referee remained motionless.

The hosts continued to have a fair share of possession, but were failing to break down Hitchin Town’s strong defence. Ryan Robbins received a yellow card on the hour mark as frustrations boiled over.

However, just minutes after his booking, the powerful striker broke free from the visitors’ defence, but could only blast into the side-netting from a difficult angle. This came just seconds after Josh Bickerstaff had an optimistic shot on target for the Canaries.

With just under 20 minutes remaining, the Diamonds started to force cracks in their opponent’s fatiguing defence, and Ashton came close twice in five minutes.

A Diamonds corner surprisingly found its way to Ashton in the 6-yard box, who’s reaction shot flew over the bar. And despite his efforts, he could only bundle the ball into the side-netting at the back post following a dangerous free-kick that followed.

Moments later, Ben Diamonds was inches away to turning away a Callum Westwood cross. His determined lunge just not enough to knock the ball goal bound.

It now appeared that the visitors were living dangerously, only scraping through to penalties via last-ditch tackles on Ben Diamonds. A desperate sliding challenge stopped Diamonds connecting with Westwood’s cross, after the striker had the ball stolen from under his nose as he shaped to shoot from 18-yards.

FT: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0-0 Hitchin Town

No ABBA system tonight; instead, a traditional, nerve-jangling penalty shootout for a spot in the Quarter-Finals. Dolman stepped up first, only for his penalty to be saved by Johnson down to his left. Elliot Bailey and Jay Dowie converted for the visitors either side of Joe Curtis’ successful strike off the post. A fresh-legged Lorraine thundered the ball down the middle, before Ben Walster made it three out of three for Hitchin Town. Westwood then buried his penalty after sending Johnson the wrong way, before striker Burns blasted high and wide, giving the Diamonds a lifeline. However, it proved to not be Ashton’s day as he curled his penalty around the wrong side of the post, making way for Bickerstaff to fire his side into the last eight.

FT AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0-0 Hitchin Town. PENS: 3-4

Despite the eventual result, manager Andy Peaks can take plenty of positives from their competitive performance against a Premier promotion candidate. The Diamonds are still unbeaten in 90 minutes since 21st October, and haven’t conceded since the turn of the calendar year. The side will now prepare for their trip to Fleet Town, where they will try to notch three important points in their fight for the league title.

Match Report: Matt Bates

Reporters Man of the Match: Luke Fairlamb (official MOM Ben Diamond)

Attendance: 222


Team Lineups:

AFC Rushden and Diamonds:

13. Ben Heath
2. Cameron Gilchrist
3. Darryl Smith
4. Blaize Punter
5. Liam Dolman
6. Jack Ashton
7. Callum Westwood
8. Joe Curtis
9. Ben Diamond
10. Ryan Robbins
11. Luke Fairlamb


12. Sam Brown
14. Joel Gyasi
15. Tom Lorraine (on for Ryan Robbins 72’)
18. Ross Oulton (on for Darryl Smith 80’)

Hitchin Town FC

1. Michael Johnson
2. Toby Syme
3. Ben Walster
4. Jay Dowie
5. Dan Webb
6. Josh Bickerstaff
7. Kevin Byrne
8. Elliot Bailey
9. Robbie Burns
10. Jonny McNamara
11. Trey Charles


12. Brett Donnelly
14. Lucas Kirkpatrick
15. Josh Coley

Yellow Cards: Ryan Robbins, Callum Westwood

Referee: Ed Pidduck

Assistant referees: Niall Burtt, Jordan Cushen

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