Diamonds recorded a pivotal victory over fellow play-off hopefuls King’s Lynn on Saturday afternoon.
The visitors started the better of the two sides and looked threatening in the early stages. In the 8th minute defender Ryan Fryatt had a close-range header brilliantly saved by Ben Heath, and moments later Craig Parker broke into the area before seeing his shot deflected into the side-netting. In between that Diamonds threatened as Declan Rogers slammed a long-range free-kick towards goal, but keeper Alex Street parried it up before collecting at the second attempt. The wind and the bobbly pitch were having a big impact on the match, but the hosts grew into the half and came close in the 20th minute. A neat passing exchange saw Zack Reynolds slide a shot towards goal from just outside the area, but the effort went narrowly wide of the far post. Clear-cut opportunities were few and far between but the play was keenly contested and highly competitive as both sides strived for the all-important first goal of the contest. In the 27th minute Rushden won a free-kick just outside the box, and Rogers stepped up to whip an effort goalwards that required Street to get down to his right and parry around the post. It looked like it may remain goalless at the interval as the time ticked away, but the hosts struck in the 39th minute. An away clearance by the corner flag was headed forward by Joe Curtis for the onside Tom Lorraine, and he ran into the area whilst holding off a defender to power an effort past Street for his 20th goal of the campaign. There remained enough time for the visitors to create an opportunity as, on the stroke of half-time, a corner was missed by Heath and fell for Michael Gash. However, the forward somehow shot wide from close-range.
King’s Lynn began the second period on the front foot, but they were unable to fashion many clear openings. A couple of dangerous crosses into the area came to nothing, and Alex Collard made a potentially goal-saving block from an effort on the left of the box. Gash then latched onto a missed clearance but rushed his shot, and it dribbles harmlessly wide of the post. They had the vast majority of the ball and territory in the half, with Diamonds looking to play on the counter-attack, but they were restricted and stopped by a terrific home defensive display. Diamonds worked incredibly hard to close down space for the visitors to play in, and Dolman and Collard in particular made a number of important headers and clearances to keep the clean-sheet intact and to preserve the lead. King’s Lynn made all three substitutes, had a few efforts go off target and they pushed and probed throughout the half, but it was to no avail as Diamonds held on for a massive victory in the battle for the play-offs.
Manager Andy Peaks made two changes to the starting XI that had comprehensively defeated Cogenhoe on Tuesday evening to progress to the NFA Hillier Cup final. Sam Brown was unavailable so Jack Ashton moved across to left-back, and Alex Collard returned to partner captain Liam Dolman in the centre of defence. Nathan Hicks also returned to the side at the expense of Jack Bowen, with Ben Farrell lining up on the right of the front-three alongside Ben Diamond and Tom Lorraine. Bowen was named on a strong substitutes bench alongside Jack Westbrook, Ben Acquaye, Sam Johnson and John Dean.
The match had been subject to a 10:30am pitch inspection after heavy rain the previous day, but excellent work by the ground-staff and volunteers meant the referee called the surface fit to play. It was heavily sanded especially in the midfield areas, but the most important thing was to getting the game on and, thanks to some sterling work, this had been achieved. A stiff wind was in the Northamptonshire air as the two sides took to the pitch, and a big game atmosphere was in the air ahead of the clash between two play-off hopefuls. Diamonds entered the contest 8th in the table only five points off the top-five with a game in hand on some above them, and they were unbeaten in their last five league games and last seven home league games. They had only lost one home league match all season and only one since the end of March 2018. The visitors came into the match in 4th position six points above Rushden but having played a game more. They had only lost one of their last 22 league games, a run that had comprised a 19 game unbeaten streak during it, and had only failed in two of their away league matches so far this season. The reverse fixture between the sides back in October had been an entertaining clash where the Linnets equalised with almost the last kick of the game and, so given all the context, an intriguing clash lay ahead. After the pre-match formalities were completed, referee Richard Eley blew to begin the game.
The visitors started the brighter, and they were immediately on the front foot with some quick attacking build-up play. In the 3rd minute a long ball forward dropped for striker Adam Marriott on the edge of the box, but he slashed an effort comfortably over the bar. Five minutes later they should have taken the lead. A free-kick was won on the right channel around 35 yards out, and Michael Clunan stepped up to whip an inviting delivery in towards the back post. It found defender Ryan Fryatt free around eight yards out, but his header was brilliantly saved by Ben Heath and then collected by the home keeper.
Diamonds then launched an attack from that near-miss, and they won a free-kick of their own just over 35 yards out. Like he had done in the last league game against Banbury, Declan Rogers put his laces through the ball and struck an effort goalwards. It swerved in the air and flew towards Alex Street in the Linnets goal, but the keeper did well to parry the ball up before collecting it as it dropped from the sky. It had been an entertaining opening ten minutes, and the away side then countered to fashion another opening. A neat move saw a pass slipped into the path of the onrushing Craig Parker on the right of the area, and his shot towards the near post took a touch off the diving Heath and went into the side-netting. The resulting corner was controlled by an away man close to goal, but fortunately it fell for the nearby Hicks to clear the danger away.
A quiet period then ensued as both sides continued to try and deal with the windy conditions and he bobbly pitch. Rushden won their first corner in the 16th minute after a good run forward down the left, but the delivery was well cleared away by the King’s Lynn defence. Moments later the visitors threatened again when Parker found space to move into and shoot from the edge of the area, but it was a weak effort and it rolled well wide of the post. A minute later Diamonds had their best opening of the game as a fast break saw Zack Reynolds get in behind the away backline to slide an effort towards goal from just outside the area. It rolled past Street and towards the far post, but it went agonisingly just past the upright and out for a goal-kick.
Every long ball forward by Diamonds was being carried forward by the wind, and every Linnets long ball, especially goal-kicks, were being held up by it. The conditions weren’t conducive of a free-flowing, pure game of football and, after a strong start by the visitors, Diamonds were now getting more of a foothold in the game and getting more used to the conditions. Clear-cut chances were at a premium, though Marriott soon threatened for King’s Lynn. In the 25th minute he cut inside from the right before clipping a delicate and dangerous ball across the face of the area, but it ran past everyone and behind for a goal-kick. Shortly afterwards he displayed quick feet to get away from Reynolds before getting into a shooting position, but his left-footed shot bobbled harmlessly wide of the far post.
The hosts immediately broke down the other end, and they won a free-kick when Rogers was felled just outside the area. Away defender Joe Robinson was booked as a result of the foul, and Rogers, Dolman and Diamond all lined up around the set-piece. The former took responsibility for the kick, and he curled a low effort around the wall that Street did well to get down to his right and parry behind for a corner. The resulting delivery saw Collard and a Linnets defender battle and then go down, but nothing was give either way by the referee and the ball was cleared upfield.
The time ticked past the half-hour mark and, aside from a Reynolds through-ball that almost released Lorraine through on goal only for Street to run out and clear, the action was still slightly limited and largely even between the two sides. Another few minutes of midfield skirmishes and nullified attacks occurred, but in the next piece of action Diamonds took the lead. A King’s Lynn defender cleared the ball away down by the corner flag in their left-back area, but it went straight to Joe Curtis who cleverly headed it forward into the path of Tom Lorraine. There were some appeals for offside against the striker, but he had shown awareness to get himself onside with the defender who initially cleared the ball. He controlled the ball, ran into the area whilst strongly holding off a covering away man and confidently slotted a left-footed shot past Street into the back of the net. It was the striker’s 20th goal of the season in all competitions, 15 of which have been at Hayden Road, and his fourth goal in less than one and a half games after his hat-trick on Tuesday night.
The first goal in any game is always important, but especially in matches such as these. It appeared that that would be enough for the hosts to take the lead into the half-time interval, but King’s Lynn created a chance to level just before. They won a corner on the right, and full-back Frazer Blake-Tracy came across to curl an inswinging delivery in towards the area. Heath came out to punch away but missed the ball, and it dropped invitingly for ex-RDFC man Michael Gash at the back post. He was no more than eight yards out from goal, but he somehow slammed his effort into the side-netting. It was a big let-off for the Diamonds, and was the slice of luck that you need in such high-profile games.
Shortly afterwards referee Eley signalled the end of the half, one which has been highly competitive and keenly-contested with King’s Lynn probably shading proceedings, but Rushden had been clinical to take the all-important lead into the second half.
Half Time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1-0 King’s Lynn Town
Much of the half-time talk focused on how Diamonds would approach the second half, and how King’s Lynn would respond to being a goal behind. The wind dropped slightly during the interval, but picked up again just as firstly the visitors and then the hosts made their way back from the changing rooms. During the break, the attendance was confirmed as 614 and, after a swift count of the 22 players, Eley got the game back underway.
The pattern of the half was set almost immediately as the Linnets assumed control of possession and territory, and with Diamonds setting up two solid banks of four for the visitors to try and break down. Four minutes into the half a good ball in from the right found Gash at the back post to head down, but Heath was able to collect despite it initially appearing a dangerous knock-down. Moments later another threatening cross in, this time from the left, was lofted across the Diamonds six-yard box, but the hosts somehow smuggled it behind for a corner. The resulting delivery, as many away set-piece deliveries were in the second half, was overhit and drifted behind for a goal-kick.
A short while later Marriott ran into space before shooting goalwards from around 25 yards out, but the effort flashed well wide of the upright. Before the goal-kick could be taken Diamonds made their first substitution of the afternoon as Westbrook came on to replace the busy Curtis. A minute after the change, the Linnets had arguably their best chance of the half. A quick passing exchange saw Parker get into the left side of the area and hit a goalbound shot that looked like it may go in, but Collard slid in superbly to block the ball behind in what was a goal-saving intervention. The resulting corner was again overhit, and easy for the Diamonds to clear away.
Apart from that opening, the hosts were being extremely disciplined in their shape and closing down space for King’s Lynn to operate and threaten in. Diamonds weren’t having much of the ball at all and were only to break sporadically, and one such moment saw them win a free-kick just inside the Linnets half. Rogers drove the ball towards the edge of the area, and Diamond won a good flick-on that almost set Lorraine through on goal only for Street to collect. Shortly before this the visitors had introduced Chris Henderson and Ryan Hawkins into the action, and in the 66th minute the latter had a chance to shoot at goal from the edge of the area after patient build-up play. However, the effort sailed well over the crossbar.
Rushden were really limiting their opponents in terms of clear-cut opportunities and, though the Linnets were wholly dominating possession and territory, they couldn’t find a way through the defiant and stoic home defence. They had a chance in the 69th minute when Collard made his only mistake of the game when he missed his clearance, and this allowed Gash to latch onto the loose ball in behind. He had time to control and run into the area, but he snatched at a first-time shot and it rolled comfortably wide of the far upright.
The minutes ticked down and into the final 15 minutes of normal time, with the away side still pushing and probing but without any end product. They built a move down the right that resulted in a cross towards the middle of the area, and it led to Westbrook slashing a clearance straight up into the air only for it bounce off Gash and through to Heath to collect. King’s Lynn had had over 75% possession in the half, but Heath hadn’t been required into a save of note since the eighth minute. They briefly threatened in the 84th minute when Clunan lined up a shot but his attempt, like so many before it, flew well over the top of Heath’s goal and the Peter de Banke terrace also. This was indicative of the sterling Diamonds defensive efforts in forcing the visitors to shoot from range, and closing off any angles or space for through-balls to be played into.
Lorraine had been the lone striker for the entirety of the second period, a furrow that he had ploughed with his usual hard-work, graft, endeavour and willingness to do anything for the cause. He had done excellently to hold up the ball on the few occasions that it had come up to him in the half, and he had also won a couple of free-kicks to relieve the pressure on his fellow players. After winning one in the 85th minute and being announced as the man of the match, he was replaced by Jack Bowen to a standing ovation from the home faithful.
The time continued to ebb away, and the almost expected late charge and concerted pressure from the visitors never really materialised. Four minutes of added-on time were indicated, and in the first of these Diamond showed tremendous game management to run the ball down into the corner before winning firstly a corner and then a throw-in to kill some minutes. King’s Lynn eventually won possession back and quickly swept down the other end to create a crossing opportunity from the right, but Henderson’s delivery sailed over everyone and out for a goal-kick. This was, in many ways, the Linnets’ second half summed up in one attack.
The goal-kick was dispatched long by Heath, and as it was in the air Eley blew his whistle to call time on proceedings. It was a huge win for the Diamonds, and one that had been earnt by a tactical and defensive masterclass in the second period.
Full Time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1-0 King’s Lynn Town
In the race for the play-offs, a battle that is currently so close and involves many challenging teams, this could prove to be a season-defining victory for Rushden. They rode early King’s Lynn pressure before creating some opportunities of their own, and then taking the lead at a crucial time just before the half-time interval. They then defended brilliantly in the second period to limit the visitors to very little in the way of chances, and to become only the third team to stop the Linnets scoring in an away league game so far this season. It’s testament to Diamonds that they were the ones to inflict only a second league defeat in 23 on their opponents, and this really was a team effort. Led by the superb Lorraine, backed up by the back-tracking and hard-working Diamond and Farrell, supported by the disciplined midfield three, and led by the stoic defence, this victory was earnt by everybody in white. Collard and Dolman in particular were rocks at the back and, despite the inevitable tension in the air during the second half, it never truly felt like the visitors would summon up a leveller. Peaks and Diamonds got their tactics absolutely spot on, and claimed a hard-fought victory in tough conditions and on a difficult pitch. They move up a place to seventh in the table and, with the majority of the teams in and around them still having to come to Hayden Road, their future is still very much in their own hands. The next match is another home one, this time against Lesiton, next Saturday (February 16th, 3:00pm kick-off).
Diamonds Man of the Match: Tom Lorraine
Match Report by Ollie Mortimer
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
King’s Lynn Town
13. Ben Heath
2. Zack Reynolds
3. Jack Ashton
4. Alex Collard
5. Liam Dolman (C)
6. Declan Rogers
7. Joe Curtis
8. Ben Farrell
9. Tom Lorraine
10. Ben Diamond
11. Nathan Hicks
12. John Dean
14. Jack Bowen (for Lorraine 84)
15. Jack Westbrook (for Curtis 57)
16. Ben Acquaye
17. Sam Johnson
1. Alex Street
2. Joe Robinson
3. Frazer Blake-Tracey
4. Jordan Richards
5. Ryan Fryatt
6. Rory McAuley
7. Michael Clunan (C)
8. Craig Parker
9. Michael Gash
10. Adam Marriott
11. Will Mellors-Blair
12. Ryan Jarvis (for Robinson 81)
13. Paul Bastock
15. Chris Henderson (for Parker 60)
16. Ryan Hawkins (for Mellors-Blair 60)
17. Jake Kerins
Goals: Lorraine (39)
Yellow cards: None
Yellow cards: Robinson (27)
Referee: Richard Eley
Assistants: Dominic Chambers, Darren Billings
Updated player profiles with appearance and goalscoring details are now available.