AFC Rushden & Diamonds progressed to the Buildbase FA Trophy Second Qualifying Round by defeating step three side Coalville Town at a cloudy Dog & Duck stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The opening half was a very even affair and one where clear-cut opportunities were often at a premium. The two main chances fell to the Diamonds, with the first coming in the 26th minute when Jack Ashton met a inswinging Nic Evangelinos corner and powered a header at goal that forced Ravens goalkeeper Matt Coton to tip the ball over the bar. Evangelinos then shortly afterwards brilliantly controlled a long ball upfield and ran away from the covering full-back before lashing a half-volley at goal that Coton stretched to parry around the post. The visitors in response often had periods of neat build-up play that often broke down on the edge of the Diamonds box, and Matt Finlay was only called upon to make one routine save from a long shot from distance early on in the half. One incident of note saw Coalville man Bradley Munn sustain an injury just after the half-hour mark, and after eight minutes of treatment time he was carried off the field on a stretcher. This led to a lengthy spell of added-on time at the end of the half before referee Simon Brown blew for half-time.
The second half saw the contest open up a lot more and be played at a quick and often frenetic tempo. More chances naturally followed for both sides as a direct result, none more so than when away midfielder Jack McMillan ran past several Diamonds players unchallenged and hit a fierce shot at goal that Finlay could only tip up in the air. The ball looped up and as the goalkeeper hared back in an attempt to stop the loose ball dropping in the goal, it hit the crossbar and dropped for the Diamonds to safely clear upfield. Rushden responded quickly with Tom Lorraine shooting narrowly wide of the far post, and then they forged ahead in the 61st minute when Evangelinos drilled a free-kick towards the back post for a rising Ashton to power a header into the back of the net. Shortly before this Finlay had made a good save from a long distance Alex Troke shot, and he was called into action again to parry a near-post McMillan effort around the upright. Nabil Shariff saw a break-away and shot saved by Coton with Taylor Orosz just unable to fire home a rebound, and the Diamonds’ narrow lead was almost eroded when Troke met a Lee Torr cross into the area, but his snapshot flew over the crossbar. After another long period of time added-on, one in which the hosts soaked up a lot of pressure that came their way, the full-time whistle was sounded to signal Diamonds’ place in the draw for the next qualifying round on Monday lunchtime.
Diamonds manager Andy Peaks made two changes to the starting XI that had drawn with Basford last Saturday as Jack Ashton made a welcome return to the team at the expense of Jason Lee, and Richard Bunting was also declared fit enough to replace Jake Newman. This meant that Tom Lorraine, who had four goals in his previous three FA Trophy appearances for Diamonds, reverted back to his preferred striking position, and new signing Ben Ford took his place amongst the substitutes on a strong looking home bench.
With Rushden coming into the contest unbeaten in their last eight league games and undefeated in their last nine home games in all competitions, and with their impressive record of knocking out higher-league opposition in recent years, there was a keen sense of optimism as both sides entered the field of play. Coalville had had a difficult start to life in the Northern Premier League Premier Division as they sat fifth-from-bottom at the start of play, but it was perfectly conceivable for them to see this competition as a distraction from the league and they would still prove a big test to the lower-league home side.
Referee Simon Brown got the action underway, and it was the visitors who were the first to threaten. As early as the second minute Nathan Watson picked up a loose ball halfway inside the Diamonds half and stepped forward before drilling a shot comfortably wide of Matt Finlay’s left-hand post. Moments later another second ball in midfield fell to a Ravens midfielder, and he in turn dispatched a quick shot goalwards from 30 yards out that Finlay was able to gather easily.
The early exchanges were characterised by both sides not being able to maintain possession for a long period, and this led to a scrappy opening with very little in the way of goalmouth action. One neat move from Coalville in the 10th minute saw striker Alex Troke cleverly flick the ball around Diamonds full-back Sam Brown for away winger Bradley Munn to advance into the penalty area, though his drilled ball across goal was well blocked away by Liam Dolman.
Whenever either side did show forward threat the attacking moves would more often than not break down on the edge of the box due to a misplaced final pass or some stout defending, and a more direct route towards goal helped fashion the hosts’ opening opportunity. Dolman lashed a lengthy ball downfield and Lorraine did brilliantly to leap and flick the ball across the edge of the penalty area for Taylor Orosz to run onto. The away defence was slightly stretched for a moment, but despite Orosz letting the ball run across his path and having a good chance to strike goalwards, he mishit the attempt which was partially blocked by a defender and then looped into the grateful arms of Ravens goalkeeper Matt Coton.
A minute later, in the 24th minute, arguably the best chance of the half fell to the Diamonds. They earnt their sixth corner of the match up to that point, and as Nic Evangelinos has done often this season he whipped an inviting inswinging delivery into the heart of the area. Jack Ashton timed his run perfectly to meet the cross, and he did seemingly everything right in powering his header towards goal, but Coton had other ideas and superbly tipped the ball over the crossbar.
Though the general pattern of the match was still largely even and very well-contested more chances were now being created as both sides seeked the all-important opening goal. A set-piece, just like for the Diamonds in their previous opportunity, proved to be the source of a chance for Coalville a minute before the half-hour mark. Brown fouled Munn as the wide-man tried to escape down the right flank, and the resultant dead-ball was delivered for a Ravens head to flick it on to a lurking Lee Torr at the back post, but his subsequent volley was inadvertently deflected behind for a goal-kick by one of his teammates.
Visiting full-back Kyle Bryant was lively and adventurous for the majority of the opening period with some strong runs forward from right-back, but it was Diamonds’ right-back Kyal McNulty who almost helped to create a goal in the 35th minute. He advanced down the right and curled a cross into the middle of the area that a backward-stretching Lorraine narrowly missed, and shortly after fellow full-back Brown won a free-kick on the left wing. Evangelinos delivered another pinpoint cross to find Ashton at the back post, but this time the Diamonds man could not force his header goalwards and it ended up sailing harmlessly off target.
There was then a worrying moment as Coalville player Munn went down to the ground holding his knee seconds after Diamond had been awarded a free-kick close to the touchline on the right flank. After several minutes of treatment a stretcher was called for, and the visitors’ number 11 was carried from the field to warm applause from the entirety of the ground, with Karl Demidh replacing him in a like-for-like alteration.
As the game neared the half-time break still neither side were allowing their opposing numbers much time or space to create clear goalscoring opportunities, though substitute Demidh immediately began to pose problems for the home backline. One minute before the end of the regulation 45 minutes a left-wing free-kick for The Ravens was flicked into the path of Troke, and with several Diamonds players at his back he did well almost to play Demidh in on goal but Brown crucially intercepted the attempted through pass. Coalville maintained possession though, and a dinked ball into the middle of the box saw Ashton and Demidh challenging before the away sub went down under the defensive pressure. Referee Brown waved away the limited penalty appeals however, and Finlay was able to collect.
Eight minutes of additional time was added-on due to Munn’s injury, and in the first of these Coton was forced into making his second important save of the half. A long ball forward reached Evangelinos in behind Bryant, and the Rushden winger fantastically and instantly controlled the high ball before running clear on the left channel. He decided to hit his shot early across goal, and Coalville’s keeper was forced to scamper across to his left post before parrying the effort around the post.
The final opportunity of the opening period fell to the visitors as a home corner was cleared to allow a quick counter-attack against the limited numbers left back in defence. Demidh launched the initial move forward, and after a quick pass the ball ran back into his path for him to quickly run down the left flank. He dangerously crossed in towards the back post, but Dolman was cleverly positioned and able to head the danger away from goal.
Half Time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0-0 Coalville Town
Both teams re-emerged from their respective dressing rooms to the immaculate Dog & Duck playing surface, and with the opening half having been wholly even the game was very much in the balance as Brown blew his whistle to signal the beginning of the second period.
The pattern of the half, that of the game being played at a quicker tempo and more frenetic pace, was set from the get-go as both sides came close to scoring in the first few minutes. Firstly Lorraine turned swiftly on the halfway line and fed Nabil Shariff who sprinted away down the left wing before reaching the penalty area and skipping on the outside of a defender. He then played the ball across goal looking for his strike-partner, but unfortunately for the hosts the pass fell behind Lorraine and the ball was cleared away upfield. Coalville then launched a foray forward of their own as Notts County loanee Jack McMillan picked up possession in midfield, and with no white-shirted Rushden man closing him down he stepped forward to the edge of the box before unleashing a fierce left-footed shot goalwards. Finlay was only able to palm the effort up into the air, and as it looped behind him it appeared that it may drop into the unguarded net. However, it span and hit the cross bar instead before first Brown and then McNulty completed the clearance. The Diamonds goalkeeper stayed down on his goal-line after the drama, and a quick-thinking fan along with physio Kelly Freeman was able to mend his dislocated finger before play was resumed.
With Lorraine being Diamonds’ top goalscorer in the FA Trophy and with him playing up front again after his recent spell of matches in midfield it was inevitable he would prove a threat to Coalville’s defence, and he almost proved so in the 53rd minute. The ball broke to him just inside the penalty area, and he in turn was able to traverse the box before hitting a shot across goal that rolled narrowly wide with Coton beaten. It was almost a case of ‘You have a go and then we will’ as the visitors again reacted by carving out a decent opportunity from alost nothing. Four minutes after Lorraine’s attempt The Ravens’ number 9 Troke received a pass in the middle of the pitch, and he quickly span into space to thrash an effort towards the Diamonds net. Finlay was equal to the powerful shot however and sprang away to his right to tip the ball around the post.
And in the next attack Diamonds were able to forge into the lead. Evangelinos tricked and weaved into space on the left wing before being brought down just in from the touchline. The winger picked himself up to curl a teasing delivery to the back post where Coton attempted to come and collect, but instead he ended up on the floor as Jack Ashton leapt highest to power a header into the corner of the net for his second goal of the season.
The loud celebrations signalled that Diamonds players and fans alike sensed another upset in a cup competition, but they knew plenty of time still remained for their step three opponents to get back into the contest. This was shown three minutes after the opening goal when McMillan again darted past the Rushden midfield into space, and though it looked like his resulting shot may have gone wide Finlay took no chances and dived to his right to parry the ball out for a corner. The midfield man shortly afterwards purposefully drove forward for the third time, but this time his shot was off-target as it flashed over the crossbar.
The visitors then made a positive change as Sam Thorpe took to the field to replace Steve Towers, but it had no immediate effect as Diamonds still restricted their opponents to possession with little penetration. Instead it was the Diamonds who went closest to the next goal of the match and to doubling their advantage: in the 71st minute Shariff ran forward in a two-on-two situation and drove past a covering defender into the left side of the box before seeing his poked shot well saved by Coton. The loose ball fell agonisingly behind Lorraine, but the defensive clearance only fell to Orosz who hit a shot from the edge of the box. Evangelinos collected it just short of the six-yard box, and as it looped up for players to challenge for it Orosz attempted a hook at goal but it drifted wide of the post.
This proved to be the final action for the hardworking Orosz as he was replaced by debutant Ben Ford. The ex-RDFC youth player went to the left side of midfield, with Evangelinos switching across to the right side. Though he was forced into some defensive work as Bryant continued to probe down the right wing on a regular basis, Coalville’s pressure was still limited to a minimum as Diamonds worked incredibly hard to stop the visitors finding any space for build-up, and any ball into the home penalty area was largely dealt with calmness and assurance. Jake Newman was sent on by Peaks to replace Lorraine, and moments after this switch The Ravens had their best opportunity of a leveller. Torr collected a 40-yard diagonal ball across field on the left wing and managed to loop the ball over McNulty, cut inside and then hit a low ball into the area. Troke found himself in a pocket of space, but with both Dolman and Ashton flying out to meet him, the striker had to rush his shot and he ended up thrashing it over the bar.
Two minutes of normal time remained when Diamonds earnt a throw-in on the left wing, and Brown dispatched a typical deep pitch into the area that was flicked on by a Coalville head to Evangelinos at the back post, but his effort was scuffed and it dribbled wide of the post. Stoppage time then began as the visitors upped the ante and pressure on the home goal with a series of long balls into the Diamonds half, but they were all met by a white shirt and cleared away. Rory Winters came on to replace Bunting as the defender went to right-back and McNulty moved into central midfield, but he was barely required as the hosts saw out the seven additional minutes and were confirmed victors by the three sounds of Brown’s whistle to signal the end of the match.
This represented a ground-out victory for the Diamonds in a game of limited clear-cut opportunities, especially in the first half, and the way in which they were able to contain and restrain their higher-league opponents for much of the contest is testament to the entire team as they secured their first clean-sheet since September 27th. They edged the match as a whole and perhaps could have added to their single-goal win in the second period, but the solitary Jack Ashton header was enough to add Coalville to teams such as Cambridge City, Ashton United and Concord Rangers who have plied their trade at a higher level but who have been defeated by the Diamonds. They now progress to the Second Qualifying Round where they will face Lincoln United at the Dog & Duck on Saturday November 12th, but before then they face three away league fixtures, the first of which will see a visit to Lincolnshire and second-placed Spalding United on Tuesday night (19:45pm kick-off).
Diamonds Man of the Match: Jack Ashton
Match Report by Ollie Mortimer
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
17. Matt Finlay
2. Kyal McNulty
3. Sam Brown
4. Jack Ashton
5. Liam Dolman
6. Brad Harris
7. Nabil Shariff
8. Nic Evangelinos
9. Taylor Orosz
10. Tom Lorraine
11. Richard Bunting (C)
14. Robbie Parsons
15. Jake Newman (for Lorraine 80)
16. Ben Ford (for Orosz 73)
18. Rory Winters (for Bunting 90+1)
19. Jason Lee
1. Matt Coton
2. Kyle Bryant
3. Lee Torr
4. Dean Freeman
5. Jamie McAteer
6. Jack McMillan
7. Callum Woodward
8. Steve Towers (C)
9. Alex Troke
10. Nathan Watson
11. Bradley Munn
12. Karl Demidh (for Munn 41)
14. Danny Jenno
15. Sam Thorpe (for Towers 67)
16. Reece Fyfield
17. Sean Bowles
Goals: Ashton (61)
Yellow Cards: Dolman (44)
Yellow Cards: Watson (68)
Referee: Simon Brown
Assistants: Peter Crowe, Alex Harris
Updated player profiles with appearance and goalscoring details are now available.
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