Diamonds were held to their third straight draw at home in an entertaining game against Banbury on Saturday afternoon.
The visitors enjoyed the better of the opening twenty minutes as they attacked with threat, pace and purpose, and they created a few opportunities as a result. Giorgio Rasulo shot over from range before Arner Awadh drove through the heart of midfield towards the edge of the area, and his subsequent effort flew inches wide of the far post. Ben Heath then was forced to make a save at his near post, and Liam Dolman and Nathan Hicks blocked away goalbound efforts shortly afterwards. Diamonds fashioned their first chance when Tom Lorraine’s header was easily saved, and Hicks then drilled wide from distance. The play was quick, but Banbury still looked the most likely as Ravin Shamsi saw a potentially dangerous effort deflected away by Dolman, and Lee Henderson had an effort easily collected by Heath. Joe Curtis had a sidefooted attempt from the edge of the area comfortably held by the keeper, and this signalled the start of the hosts beginning to impose themselves on, and get a foothold in, the match. Moments later Zack Reynolds produced an excellent run down the right before his low cross in was well held, and he then made a goal-saving challenge down the other end to stop a shot on the left of the box. In the 35th minute Diamonds came the closest to opening the scoring when they won a free-kick 35 yards out, and Declan Rogers hit a ferocious effort that the keeper parried up and onto the bar before it came down for him to collect. However, the scoreline remained at deadlock going into the half-time interval.
The hosts began the second period on the front foot, though it was the visitors who had the opening chance of the half when Ricky Johnson headed wide under pressure from Collard. Diamonds’ Sam Johnson then had a shot deflected over after good play by Hicks, but he was hurt in the attempt and had to come off shortly afterwards. However, Diamonds took the lead before this. Rogers crossed in from the right and the loose ball dropped for Collard to shoot goalwards, but it was blocked. It ran for the lurking Ben Diamond, and he lashed home into the back of the net for his ninth goal of the season and to give Rushden the advantage. Diamond then threatened again when he got to the left byline before his ball across was well held, and then the visitors came close to equalising. Shamsi was found through on goal by a ball over the home defence, but the ball wouldn’t bounce right for him and his effort was blocked by Heath. Diamonds then threatened twice when firstly Lorraine volleyed just wide of the post, and then he found substitute Ben Farrell who took an excellent first touch before his shot across goal went out for a goal-kick. Banbury began to force Rushden further and further back as they had more possession and territory in their search for a leveller. They found it in the 78th minute when a deep free-kick found Johnson to head across goal for substitute Stephen Diggin to tap in from close range. Jack Bowen was introduced for Rogers, but the final ten minutes passed without much goalmouth action aside from Henderson heading just over for the visitors. The score ended level, a fair result for a largely even game that saw Diamonds extend their unbeaten home league run to seven games.
Manager Andy Peaks named the same starting XI that had defeated Bedworth last time out. This meant Joe Curtis and Sam Johnson, after starting their first matches of the season in that victory, began from the outset again, and that the same 4-3-3 formation was utilised. Jack Westbrook returned from his two game suspension to take a place on the substitutes bench alongside Jack Ashton, Ben Farrell, Ben Acquaye, and Jack Bowen.
The two teams took to the Hayden Road pitch on a cold and blustery January afternoon, but with an intriguing game laying in wait. Diamonds entered the contest in 7th position three points off the play-offs, and they were unbeaten in their last six home league matches whilst only losing one home league game since the end of March 2018. They had only lost two of their last fourteen games, and one of those defeats had come against Banbury on November 20th when the Oxfordshire side emerged 1-0 victors. They came into the match in 10th place only three points off Rushden (but having played a game more) and, despite having won their last five consecutive home league encounters, they hadn’t won in any of their last ten away league games. After the pre-match formalities were completed, referee Mike Ford blew his whistle to get the action underway.
The visitors started the brighter of the two sides as they immediately got at the hosts with their quick and incisive attacks. Their opening chance came in the fourth minute when midfielder Giorgio Rasulo skipped into space around 25 yards out in a central position to flash an effort goalwards, but it was always rising and it flew well over the bar. Moments later they came inches away from taking the lead when Arner Awadh received a pass just ahead of the halfway line, and he turned before driving forwards. He passed a couple of Diamonds players as he powered towards the edge of the area, and he slammed an effort towards the far post. It beat the dive of Ben Heath, but it also beat the post as it flashed narrowly wide of the upright.
A minute later the visitors launched another attack, and Ravin Shamsi got into the left side of the area before striking an effort towards the near post from a very tight angle, Heath was alert to the danger and parried the effort away before it was cleared upfield. The home side hadn’t been able to get a foothold in the game up to this stage as Banbury, nicknamed The Puritans, were seemingly first to every loose ball and were a threat in behind with runners from midfield and a strong, pacey three-pronged attack. In the 10th minute Liam Dolman was forced to block a dangerous goalbound effort towards goal from in the area, and a minute later Nathan Hicks was required to do exactly the same thing as he charged another attempt down.
The visitors then created another opening as a cross in from the right towards captain Ricky Johnson saw the striker catch a stretching volley brilliantly, but thankfully for the Diamonds it ran across the area and was easily cleared away in the end. The hosts managed to break away a minute later and build a small period of possession, and this led to their first chance of the contest. Curtis received a pass in the final third, and his clipped pass forwards was deflected up before a defender headed it further back. It looped up for Tom Lorraine float a header goalwards from inside the area, but away keeper Jack Harding was able to read the flight of the ball and simply catch the effort. Moments later Ben Diamond broke down the left before cutting inside and playing a pass across for Hicks, but the midfielder’s low effort went harmlessly wide of the right-hand post.
The early exchanges were being played at a very quick pace, and Banbury were still the more likely. Shortly after the couple of Diamonds openings, Shamsi got onto a ball in behind the home defence before skipping into the area on the right, but his shot towards the near post was deflected behind by the covering Dolman. From the resulting set-piece defender Lee Henderson had an effort at goal, but Heath was able to make a comfortable save.
The hosts, from this moment, began to get more of a hold on the game as they started to get more of the ball and more territory as a result. In the 22nd minute Diamond received a pass from Lorraine down the left just outside the area, and he fed a pass back to the arriving Curtis around 30 yards from goal. The midfielder hit a side-footed effort towards the target and, though it took a slight deflection on its way through, Harding was able to dive to his right to easily hold onto the ball. A few minutes later Zack Reynolds was fed a pass by Declan Rogers, and the full-back did excellently to get away from both Awadh and Matthew Taylor to get into the right of the area. He flashed a low ball across the face of the six-yard box, but Harding did well to get down and hold onto the cross. Sam Johnson had gone in with the keeper looking for a loose ball, and a couple of Banbury defenders took exception to the winger’s challenge on the keeper. However, the referee calmed things down and play was able to get back underway.
Reynolds was involved again moments later, this time down the other end. A Dolman clearance was blocked by Johnson, and it ran for Gregory Kaziboni to collect possession. He quickly fed a pass inside to Awadh, and he in turn played it across to the free Shamsi on the left of the box and with only Heath to beat. However, as he shaped up to shoot, Reynolds sped back and put in a superbly-timed slide challenge to stop any effort at goal and to put it out for a corner. It was a potentially goal-saving intervention, and from the resulting corner Lorraine won a crucial header to stop an away header at the far post. The ball was recycled and played back into the middle, and it led to Henderson having an effort that Heath was able to hold onto.
Moments later Diamonds came the closest to breaking the deadlock. Lorraine was fouled around 35 yards out in a central position, and Rogers placed the ball down. The referee sounded his whistle, and the midfielder stepped forward before unleashing a fierce effort towards the middle of goal. Harding got his hands to the ball but, due to the power of the effort, was only able to parry it up in the air. It looped up and came back off the crossbar, and Lorraine was just unable to latch onto the rebound as Harding collected the ball.
Despite the hosts coming more and more into the contest, the visitors still represented a real threat on the attack. In the 39th minute Sam Brown was required to importantly head away at the far post as a cross from the left threatened to find Johnson at the back post, another crucial interception to add to Reynolds’ only a few minutes previously. This ultimately proved to be the final action of the half as the referee signalled the end of a half that had been keenly contested and entertaining, but one that remained goalless and still very much in the balance.
Half Time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0-0 Banbury United
Both sets of players soon returned from their respective changing rooms, with much of the half-time talk focusing on who would be able to score the all-important first goal of the contest. After a swift count of the 22 players, the referee got the contest back underway.
The hosts began the half on the front foot, and within a minute of the resumption they won their first corner of the game. It was played into the middle, but the delivery was easily cleared away in the end. Moments later Kaziboni did brilliantly to get away down the right byline, and he flicked the ball up before volleying a cross towards the far post. Johnson leapt the highest above Collard, but the defender did brilliantly to challenge with the taller striker and he did enough to force the header to go wide under his pressure.
Play swung down the other end and, shortly afterwards, Diamonds came close. The ball broke for Rogers on the right, and his curling cross in was powerfully headed away by Henderson. However, Hicks did excellently to read the flight of the loose ball and to latch onto it. His precise first touch took him away from a defender and into space on the right of the area, and his low cut-back to Johnson saw the winger’s strike deflected over the bar by Henderson. He went down as a result of the challenge from the defender, and he required treatment from the physio before going off to the side of the pitch.
From the subsequent set-piece, Diamonds took the lead. Rogers’ inswinging delivery from the right was initially headed away by Charlie Wise, and it fell for George Nash only for his attempted clearance to be charged down by Hicks. It ran back out to Rogers, and his cross towards the far post saw Collard, Henderson and Ricky Johnson challenge for the header. The loose ball dropped for the Diamonds defender to hit an effort towards goal, but it was blocked away. It fell for the lurking Ben Diamond around 12 yards out, and he wasted no time in slamming the loose ball past the despairing dive of Harding and into the back of the net. It was the striker’s ninth goal of the campaign, and his first at Hayden Road since the middle of November.
Rushden were evidently buoyed by the strike, and the goalscorer threatened again only moments later just after the hour mark. He got away down the left before sprinting away from the full-back to the byline, but his attempted cross into the area was well caught by Harding. Seconds later Johnson, who had originally come back onto the pitch after the goal, went down again and this time was unable to continue. Ben Farrell came on in his place.
A minute later Banbury came close to a leveller. A lofted ball over the top of the home backline found Shamsi through on goal just inside the area, but the bouncing ball wouldn’t sit down ideally for him and so his resulting effort was weak. It was blocked by Heath, and the keeper was then able to dive and hold onto the loose ball. Shortly afterwards the hosts were on the attack, and a Reynolds cross in from the right towards Farrell was headed up and across the box by Wise. It fell for Lorraine who caught a volley flush and perfectly, but the thundering effort flashed wide of the far post and out for a goal-kick.
Play ticked into the final twenty minutes, and in the 71st minute Rushden had a good chance to double their advantage. Farrell did excellently to feed a pass in behind the away defence for Lorraine to run onto, and the striker did well to turn away from a covering defender just outside the area before playing it across to Farrell who had continued his run. The substitute took a great first touch to take it past Henderson and into the right side of the area, but his effort towards the far post as he ran away from goal rolled wide of the upright.
Whether consciously or not, the hosts then began to drop a little deep and began playing more on the counter-attack. This led to Banbury building a sustained period of possession and territory as they probed for an equaliser, and one attack led to Collard making a good block from Rasulo. The attack was kept up, and Brown also made a crucial block from Shamsi before the loose ball ran for Nash whose effort flashed comfortably over the bar.
However, in their next attack, the visitors did level. Collard was penalised for a push on substitute Stephen Diggin just ahead of the halfway line, and Shamsi lined up the resultant set-piece before drilling it towards the far side of the area. Johnson rose the highest to head it back across goal, and there was Diggin to tap home from two yards out into an empty net to send the Banbury fans behind the goal in the Peter de Banke terrace jubilant. He had scored the only goal of the game in the reverse fixture between the two sides earlier in the season, and he had struck again here to get the visitors back on level terms.
A minute after the equaliser, Peaks decided to introduce Bowen at the expense of the busy Rogers. An intriguing final ten minutes of normal time was set up as the game lay open for either side to push for a winner but, though the play continued to be competitive, only one final opportunity remained. In the 87th minute another deep Banbury free-kick, this time from the right, was played towards the back post, and there was an overload in the visitors’ favour. However, though Henderson won the header, his effort floated over the top of the goal and out for a goal-kick.
Three minutes of additional time were signalled, and in the very last of these Diamonds looked like they may threaten. Hicks found space on the left to dig out a cross with the outside of his right foot, and Lorraine controlled it well before laying it out to Reynolds on the right. His cross was cleared away, and it was fed to Brown ready for him to drill a diagonal ball into the box. However, the referee blew the full-time whistle just before the full-back was about to cross, and the game ended honours even.
Full Time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1-1 Banbury United
It was a fair result in the end, with both sides contributing to an entertaining and competitive game that had plenty of action. Banbury had much the better of the opening 20-25 minutes as they put Diamonds under real pressure and threatened with a series of quick and sharp attacks, but the hosts came back into it and were millimetres away from taking the lead into the half-time interval when Rogers’ effort was tipped onto the bar. Rushden then forged ahead and it seemed that that may be enough for the victory, but the visitors forced them deeper and deeper as they applied more and more pressure. This was rewarded by Diggin’s equaliser, and they did not look like a side who had only won two away league games all season. Diamonds will be slightly disappointed with that late setback, but they earnt the point and are now unbeaten in their last four games whilst only losing one of their last twelve games. They still remain three points off the play-off places, and they are undoubtedly still firmly in the hunt for a top-five finish. Their next match sees them travel to Walsall to take on Rushall Olympic, the only side to defeat Diamonds at Hayden Road this campaign, next Saturday (2 February, 3:00pm kick-off).
Diamonds Man of the Match: Zack Reynolds
Match Report by Ollie Mortimer