Diamonds won the 2019 Dale Roberts Memorial Cup 5-4 on penalties following a 1-1 draw against Histon at Hayden Road.
With a number of trialists starting for Rushden, the game began pretty quietly with a Jack Ashton header that flew just wide of the post following a corner being the only real action of note in the opening stages. One trialist, number 7, showed a number of good touches combined with sharp skill and direct running, and one such moment saw him cross for a fellow trialist, number 9, whose header was saved. The hosts were the ones having most of the ball and looking the most dangerous, with Declan Rogers sending a strike over the bar before the number 11, a trialist, skipped around the keeper before seeing his effort blocked behind. Rogers came closer five minutes before half-time when he curled a free-kick that looked destined for the top corner, but Histon keeper Dylan Pierce dived to his left to claw the effort behind. The resulting corner was cleared, and the visitors countered with pace for Dan Brown to be played in behind. He ran through and calmly slotted a low finish past Ben Heath to give The Stutes a half-time lead.
Histon could and should have doubled their lead two minutes into the second half when Ed Rolph found himself in space in the area, but he sent his effort wide of the post. Rushden were trying to press for an equaliser, but Histon’s defence was well-marshalled and stood firm. Joe Curtis saw a long-range strike easily caught by Pierce before the number 9 ran through on goal only to send his shot over the bar. Two substitutes, Jack Bowen and Ryan Dove, almost combined for the equaliser when the former flicked onto the latter, but his strike flashed just wide of the far post. Time was beginning to run out as Diamonds applied more and more pressure – the number 11 had a goalbound cross tipped behind, and the number 9’s header from the resulting corner was blocked close to the line. A free-kick from the right found Sam Brown at the back post, and his flashing shot across the box just missed a crucial touch on its way out for a goal-kick. Ashton then sent a header over the bar, and that appeared to be it. However, an equaliser was found three minutes into stoppage-time when a corner was only half cleared, and the ball back in from substitute Jesse Akubuine was flicked home by the number 9 trialist. Histon barely had time to restart play when the referee blew his whistle to signal a draw, and a penalty shoot-out to decide the game.
Diamonds went first in the shoot-out, and Dove crashed his effort off the post to hand the visitors an early advantage. They scored their first three penalties, and Diamonds scored through the equalising trialist, Bowen and Liam Dolman. Matt Green then sent Histon’s fourth penalty over the bar, and so it was 3-3 after four penalties each. The home number 11 just squeezed his penalty in, and James Chivers responded with a confident penalty, to send it into sudden-death. Ashton placed his effort down the middle to give Diamonds the lead for the first time in the shoot-out, and then a trialist keeper, who had replaced Heath towards the end of the match, saved Simon Swinton’s effort low to his right to seal the win for Rushden.
Manager Peaks named four trialists in his starting XI as part of a 4-3-3 formation, with three of them making up the front three. Ben Farrell lined up at right-back alongside Sam Brown, Jack Ashton and Liam Dolman, and Joe Curtis and Declan Rogers began in midfield.
The two sides stepped out onto a wet and slick Hayden Road pitch ready for a poignant occasion and for the chance to celebrate and commemorate the life of Dale Roberts. Histon had been promoted as champions of the Eastern Counties League Premier Division last season, and so were preparing for life at Step 4 of non-league football this coming campaign. Managed by ex-RDFC goalkeeping coach Lance Key and captained by ex-RDFC player Max York (who were both at the club when Dale was), they were fitting opponents for the memorial game. The pre-match formalities were quickly completed, and the referee Joe Woolmer got the match underway.
The away side, nicknamed The Stutes, had the first half-chance of the game in the fourth minute when Danny Gould found space around 30 yards out to strike at goal. However, Ben Heath was able to make a comfortable save. Diamonds responded and won the first corner of the game only moments later. The delivery from the left found the rising Ashton, but the defender’s header flashed just wide of the post.
Aside from those couple of opportunities, the opening exchanges were pretty quiet with both sides feeling their way into the contest. In the 12th minute the number 7 for Diamonds, a trialist, superbly controlled a cross from the left and lifted a delivery back into the area. It reached the number 9, another trialist, but his header dropped for the keeper to easily collect. Two minutes the number 7 again showed precise close control and skill to skip past a challenge on the right and to get to the byline to whip in a cross. It was cleared out to Rogers, but his strike was always rising and sailed over the crossbar.
The opposite winger number 11, who was a fellow trialist, was also trying to make an impression, and he came close to doing so just before the half-hour mark. He latched onto a long ball over the top and, with the Histon keeper Dylan Pierce advancing out of his goal, he skipped around the keeper and was seemingly faced with an open goal from just over 20 yards out. However, a covering Stutes defender got back to make a crucial block to deflect the ball out for a corner. The subsequent set-piece was cleared away, and Histon sprung on the counter-attack down the left only for Ashton to get across to make an important interception.
The Diamonds centre-back was in the action again a few minutes later when the visitors launched in a long-throw from the left, and it was dangerously flicked on towards the six-yard box. Ashton was there though to head away, and the danger was fully cleared.
The half-time break was looming, but neither keeper had been truly tested despite attacks of promise from both sides. That changed in the 40th minute when Rogers was felled slightly right of centre 25 yards out, and the midfielder picked himself up to stand over the free-kick. He stepped up and curled an effort over the wall towards the top corner, but Pierce athletically flung himself to his left to tip it behind for a corner.
No sooner had Diamonds come close to taking the lead at one end, Histon forged ahead down the other. The following corner was eventually cleared away, and the visitors broke with pace. A neat through-ball from their own half pierced the Diamonds defence and found striker Dan Brown who ran forward into the area before coolly dispatching a low strike past Heath and into the bottom corner of the net.
That proved to be the final action of the half as, soon afterwards, Woolmer blew his whistle to signal the half-time interval.
Half time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0-1 Histon FC
The Stutes brought all of their five substitutes on ready for the start of the second half, but Diamonds remained unchanged as the referee began the second 45 minutes.
Only two minutes had elapsed when Histon should have doubled their lead. A neat through-ball was slipped in behind the home defence for Ed Rolph to latch onto, but his effort went wide of the near post. They launched another attack a few minutes later which resulted in a flashing cross from the left that forced Heath to palm away, and the ball was then cleared further away.
The number 11 trialist for Rushden, who had shown flashes of promise in the first half, threatened in the second half with his direct running and his willingness to take on his marker at every opportunity. In the 52nd minute he put in two threatening crosses from the right, but both of these were well headed away by the Histon defence. Moments later the danger came from the other side as Brown launched in a long-throw from the left, and it reached the number 9 trialist whose flicked effort dribbled narrowly wide of the far post.
The hosts were continuing to have the better of possession and pressure, but they still were unable to find a way through the Stutes’ defence. Just before the hour mark Curtis lined up a shot from 30 yards out, but Pierce was able to hold onto the strike. In an attempt to find an equaliser, Peaks made four changes. Ryan Dove, Jesse Akubuine and Patrick Casey, who had all signed for the club before the game, were introduced alongside a trialist goalkeeper. Dove almost made a quick impression when a curled cross from Rogers looked like it would find the ex-Cogenhoe striker, but it was nicked away from him by a defensive header.
Shortly afterwards, Diamonds had a good opening to level. The number 9 trialist latched onto a loose ball in behind the defence and bore down on goal, but the ball was bouncing up awkwardly and so his subsequent effort flashed over the bar. Jack Bowen, who had scored three goals in pre-season up to now, and a trialist were then introduced for Rogers and Curtis, and the former was into the action straight away. He neatly flicked a header into the path of the advancing Dove who had timed his run into the box to perfection, but his attempt across goal went wide of the upright.
Play ticked into the final five minutes of normal time, and Diamonds were cranking up the pressure in an effort to force penalties. The number 11 trialist jinked down the right and flashed in a cross that looked like it might go in, but Pierce leaped to tip it over the bar. The number 9 trialist met the resultant corner from the left with a powerful header, but it was blocked away close to the line. The ball was recycled out to the number 11 on the right, and his thunderous strike was blocked away.
All the action was now taking place in the Rushden attacking half and, on 90 minutes, the number 11 drew a foul on the right touchline. The free-kick was drifted in towards the back post, and it ran through for Brown to chest down and fire across the face of goal. All it needed was a touch to surely divert it goalwards, but it raced past a host of nearby white shirts and ran out for a goal-kick. They then won a corner a minute later, and Ashton met the delivery with a strong header only for it to flash over the bar.
That appeared to be the final chance for Diamonds to get back into it, but one final opportunity remained. In the third minute of stoppage time they won another corner, this time on the left, and it was cleared away. However, the number 11 measured another cross into the box that was cleared as far as Akubuine. He delicately chipped a delivery into the middle of the area, and the number 9 trialist met it with a neat flicked header that found the bottom corner of the net.
There was barely time for Histon to restart the game when the referee signalled the end of the game, and to confirm the game would go to a penalty shoot-out to decide the victors.
Full time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1-1 Histon FC
The penalties were to be taken down the other end from the Peter de Banke terrace, and Diamonds were to take first. Dove stepped forward, but his low fizzing effort clattered back off the post and back into play. Buster Harradine was the first taker for Histon, and he fired an effort into the corner of the net to put the visitors 1-0 up.
The number 9 trialist was next for the hosts, and he dispatched a confident kick into the top corner of the net leaving Pierce no chance. York was next up for The Stutes, and he clinically swept his kick into the bottom corner. Bowen strode forward for Rushden, and he easily slotted home to level the score at 2-2. However, that parity didn’t last long as Dan Brown placed his effort just beyond the dive of the trialist Diamonds keeper to put Histon ahead again.
Dolman was next, and he powerfully struck a low effort into the bottom corner. Matt Green was the fourth taker for the visitors, but he crashed his kick well over the bar to keep the scores level at 3-3 with one penalty each left to take. The number 11 trialist was then up for Diamonds, and his effort just evaded Pierce who got a strong hand to it on its way into the net. James Chivers stepped up as the last of the regular takers, and he slotted his effort home calmly to send the shoot-out into sudden-death.
Ashton was the next man to take for Rushden, and he powered his effort down the middle to give the hosts the advantage. Simon Swinton knew he had to score to keep the shoot-out alive, but his low effort was well kept out by the trialist home keeper diving to his right and Diamonds had won the game.
Full time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1-1 Histon FC (Diamonds win 5-4 on penalties)
This was an entertaining game, with both sides contributing to the spectacle and getting some further valuable fitness ahead of the new season that begins in two weeks. However, the most important reason for the game was to celebrate a wonderful, kind-hearted and inspirational person. After the Dale Roberts Memorial Cup was awarded to Diamonds as part of the presentation, Dale’s mother Isobel gave an impassioned and heartfelt speech about how much this occasion means to his family and friends, and how much it would have meant to him as well. Even though this is an annual occasion, the remembrance, commemoration and celebration of Dale Roberts will always happen every single day – his spirit will always live on.
Diamonds’ next pre-season match is again Northampton Town on Tuesday night (30 July, 7.45pm kick-off) at Hayden Road in the NFA Maunsell Cup.
Match Report by Ollie Mortimer
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
13. Ben Heath
2. Ben Farrell
3. Sam Brown
4. Jack Ashton
5. Liam Dolman (C)
8. Joe Curtis
10. Declan Rogers
12. Trialist (for Curtis 78)
14. Patrick Casey (for Farrell 66)
16. Jack Bowen (for Rogers 78)
17. Trialist (for Heath 66)
19. Ryan Dove (for number 6 trialist 66)
20. Jesse Akubuine (for number 7 trialist 66)
21. Tom Lorraine
1. Dylan Pierce
2. Andy Ballaster
3. Rob Ruddy
4. Lee Smith
5. Max York (C)
6. James Chivers
7. Ed Rolph
8. Matt Green
9. Dan Brown
10. Evan Key
11. Danny Gould
12. Simon Swinton (for Chivers HT)
14. Buster Harradine (for Brown HT)
15. Sheldon Weinman (for Key HT)
16. Cory Marshall (for Gould HT)
17. Alfie Lawrence (for Ruddy HT)
Goals: Number 9 trialist (90+3)
Goals: Dan Brown (41)
Referee: Joe Woolmer