Diamonds were held to a draw by Lowestoft at Hayden Road on Saturday afternoon.
The opening exchanges were quite scrappy with neither side able to build consistent possession and pressure. Ben Diamond had an effort from the edge of the box fly wide and Ben Farrell saw a lob land onto the roof of the net inside the first five minutes, but the visitors had the best chance to take the lead when Ben Fowkes was played in on the right before his shot was well blocked away by Ben Heath in the home goal. Albie Hopkins then latched onto a clearance to hit an effort at goal that was straight at the keeper, but the visitors were the ones to forge ahead in the 23rd minute. A mistake in the home defence allowed the ball to be played through to Fowkes, and he ran into the left of the area before calmly slotting his shot across Heath and into the far corner of the net. Lowestoft had only won one away league game so far this season, but they largely belied their status and could have doubled their lead. Striker Shaun Bammant saw a curling effort well tipped behind by Heath before Connor Deeks had a goalbound effort well blocked away. Just when it appeared Diamonds would go into the half-time break a goal down, they levelled with the final kick of the half. Diamond gambled on a bouncing ball in behind the away defence and it paid off as he was brought down in the area. A penalty was awarded, and Ben Farrell stepped up to slot it past the keeper and off the inside of the post into the back of the net.
That goal was a little unfair on the visitors, but it motivated the hosts and gave them a big lift as they began to threaten more in the second half. Tom Lorraine had a header easily saved, and then Diamond reached a long ball in behind only for his flicked effort over the keeper to roll wide of the post. Lorraine went even closer with a header soon after the hour mark when Declan Rogers’ cross from the left found the striker, but his guided header came back off the upright. Diamonds hit the post again moments later when substitute Sam Johnson hit a cross in from the right, and the away keeper parried the ball onto a nearby defender only for it to roll against the post and back into play. Johnson then volleyed over, but Lowestoft enjoyed the better of the final ten minutes and could have won it. Firstly Henry Pollock was unable to latch onto a Bammant pull-back when ideally placed, and then they had strong appeals for a penalty turned down when they claimed Matt Berry-Hargreaves shoved an advancing attacker. However the referee waved these calls away, and both sides were forced to settle for a point.
Manager Andy Peaks made two alterations to the side that had dramatically scored two late goals to win at Hitchin the previous week. Zach Reynolds returned to the side at right-back at the expense of the suspended Jack Westbrook, and this allowed Nathan Hicks to come back into midfield with Matt Berry-Hargreaves filling in at left-back for the unavailable Sam Brown. There was also a welcome return to the side for club captain Liam Dolman, and he lined up alongside Alex Collard in the centre of defence.
The two sides entered onto the Hayden Road playing surface on a chilly day, but with an upcoming contest looking to warm the faithful in attendance. Rushden came into the game seventh in the table only one point off the play-offs, and with home form that had seen them be unbeaten in their last five home league encounters, winning four. They had also only lost one home league match in their last sixteen dating back to March 2018, and they had only lost two of their last twelve league games this campaign. On the other hand Lowestoft were 19th in the table and only outside the relegation zone on goal difference. They had only won one away league game so far this season, and they hadn’t won any of their last ten. However they had kept clean sheets in two of their last four away league matches, and they had come within minutes of beating Diamonds in the reverse fixture back in November only for a stoppage-time Ben Farrell penalty to share the spoils.
Referee Greg Rollason got the contest underway, and Lowestoft initially began on the front foot. They won a throw-in on the left in only the second minute, and the subsequent delivery was well headed away. The ball was worked back out to the left wing and resulted in a dangerous cross being played in towards the near post, but the away striker challenging with Ben Heath was penalised for a foul on the keeper.
Diamonds reacted and fashioned their first opening moments later. A neat dinked ball from the left towards the area was well chested down by Declan Rogers for Ben Diamond in space, but he snatched at his shot and it whistled wide of the post. A minute later a long Berry-Hargreaves throw was headed out to Ben Farrell on for the midfielder to mishit his volley. It turned into a looped ball into the area that was headed away, and it dropped for Farrell again only for his lobbed attempt to land onto the roof of the net.
The game had begun at a decent pace with both sides looking to set the tempo and stamp their authority on the game. In the tenth minute the visitors, nicknamed the Trawlerboys, created a good chance. Loose play in the Diamonds defence saw Lowestoft pick up possession and play a neat ball in behind for Ben Fowkes to run in on goal. He looked to shoot across Heath, but the keeper stayed big and blocked away the effort before the loose ball was cleared to safety.
The hosts looked to make the most of this lay-off, and began a little period of pressure that led to a few near moments. Firstly a cross from the right found Lorraine at the back post, but he was stretching and his header ran well wide of the post. Then shortly afterwards Albie Hopkins did brilliantly to skip past a couple of opposing challenges on the halfway line and drive at the away backline. He had Lorraine to his left and Rogers to his right, and he chose to play it to the former. However an excellently-timed sliding challenge won the ball and averted the danger, despite a couple of appeals for a penalty. Lorraine then got away down the right with Hopkins free at the back post, but the cross was slightly overhit and ran out to the left wing. Diamonds then won a free-kick, and Collard was found by the ensuing delivery only for his header to drift wide.
Berry-Hargreaves had won the man of the match award against Hitchin the previous Saturday and had set up the winning goal following a superb run forward, and another run almost created the first goal of this contest. He galloped down the left before playing a low ball into the area that was initially cleared, but only as far as Hopkins. He controlled the clearance and swiftly sorted his feet out before shooting goalwards from just outside the area, but the effort went straight at away keeper William Johnson.
The visitors threatened with a couple of attacking moves down the flanks themselves. In the 21st minute right-winger Armani Schaar escaped past Berry-Hargreaves down the right before reaching the byline and crossing into the area,, but Dolman importantly flicked it away with his head. A minute later Schaar threatened again as he crossed in low from the right, and Dolman was there again to clear away.
Lowestoft didn’t have to wait much longer to take the lead though. In the 23rd minute a mix-up in the Diamonds defence saw them lose the ball, and the tackle to win the ball by Henry Pollock ran through for Ben Fowkes to sprint into the left of the area. He composed himself and confidently slotted the ball through Heath’s legs and into the far corner of the net.
Diamonds looked a little rattled, and the Trawlerboys stepped up their pressure as they continued to threaten and to force the hosts into mistakes. Five minutes after Fowkes’ strike tall striker Shaun Bammant received a pass with his back to goal outside the area, nd he quickly turned before curling a left-footed effort at goal. Heath got down quickly to his right to parry the attempt behind, and the resulting corner was headed away. Rushden briefly threatened when Hopkins again did well, this time down the right, as he tricked past the full-back and drove into the area close to the byline. His attempted cutback was blocked, and he was forced away as he looked to stretch for the loose ball leading to some penalty appeals from the Peter de Banke terrace behind the goal. However, these were dismissed by the referee.
Lowestoft were defying their lowly status in the league table as they intricately built attacks with quick, sharp passing, and they were winning most second balls and weren’t allowing Diamonds much time to settle on the ball. Just past the half-hour mark a neat move down the right saw the ball played into the area for the arriving Connor Deeks, and he controlled before firing a goalbound effort towards the near post that was well blocked behind by Dolman.
The next passage of play was pretty quiet as both sides gave the ball away frequently, and play was regularly turned over. Two minutes before half-time the visitors won another throw-in opportunity down the left, and the pitch into the area was commandingly headed away by Collard. A cross came back in, and for a moment it appeared that Heath and Berry-Hargreaves had suffered from a lack of communication as they looked like they would collide with each other. However, the keeper was able to collect.
The match entered stoppage-time at the end of the half, and it appeared that Lowestoft would hold a merited lead heading into the second period. However, that wasn’t to be the case. A bouncing ball in behind the away defence was latched onto by Diamond in the area, and he was fouled as he looked to race in on goal. The referee showed no hesitation in pointing to the penalty spot, and regular taker Ben Farrell stepped up. He hit an effort to the keeper’s right and, despite Johnson going the correct way, the effort beat him as it flicked off the post and into the back of the net. It was the midfielder’s 11th goal of the season, and followed up his two successful penalties in the last home game against Biggleswade.
As soon as the ball hit the back of the net the referee blew for half-time, and it appeared that the complexion of the upcoming second half may have changed with that late home equaliser.
Half Time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1-1 Lowestoft Town
Both sets of players returned from the changing rooms for the second period, and neither manager had decided to make a change to their personnel. The referee blew to signal the start of the half, and Diamonds got the play back underway.
The play was only under five minutes old when the first opportunity of the half was created, and it was for the hosts. Berry-Hargreaves did well to bring the ball forward out of defence, and he played an accurate ball into the left channel for Lorraine to run onto. He was in behind the away backline with only one recovering defender but, as he entered the area and tried to cut back inside onto his favoured right foot, the ball was nicked off his toes and cleared away. Play swept up the other end, and the Trawlerboys also built a move down the left. The ball was worked into the area where an away attacker went down looking for a penalty, but the appeals were half-hearted and the referee was not interested.
Two minutes later Diamonds won a throw-in on the left in line with the edge of the penalty area. Berry-Hargreaves trotted forward to pitch the ball into the area, and Collard rose highest to flick the ball on. It found Lorraine, but the striker was forced to attempt to generate some pace on the header and it represented a comfortable save for Johnson.
Shortly afterwards Lorraine won a good flick-on from a Berry-Hargreaves ball forward, and it found Hopkins on the left. He played a tantalising and threatening low ball across the face of the area looking for the arriving Rogers at the far post, but Johnson did well to dive across to grab the ball and hold onto it. Lowestoft sprang onto the attack and, after a loose pass in the Diamonds defence, Fowkes latched onto the ball and drove forward. He had room to line up a shot from around 25 yards out, and the effort took a deflection off both Dolman and Collard. It could have caused danger for Heath who had begun to move to his left, but the pace had been taken out of the shot and the Diamonds keeper was able to readjust to collect.
Rushden were looking more dangerous and more likely to score in the early stages of the second half, and in the 56th minute they almost took the lead. Berry-Hargreaves lofted a long ball forward from his own half, and it ran through for the alert Diamond who anticipated where the ball was going to go. He also was aware of the keeper coming out to meet him, and so he attempted to lob the ball past him. It looped past Johnson and raced towards the far post, but the covering Jack Wilkinson was confident that it was going wide and it ended up doing so. Only a minute later Diamond was almost released on goal again down the right, but the pass was slightly overhit and Johnson raced out to collect.
This was a good spell for Diamonds as their opponents struggled to get hold of the ball and were being put under pressure. Shortly before the hour mark Diamond flicked a ball onto Lorraine who did excellently to chest the ball round the corner of a defender and sprint onto it. He got into the area on the right and zipped a low ball towards the far post for Hopkins who was arriving to tap home the inviting delivery. However, a covering defender did superbly to slide in and poke the ball away from the winger and to stop a certain goal.
The home side continued to press, and in the 62nd minute they came within centimetres of going ahead. Rogers ran down the left flank before looking up and whipping an excellent curling cross into the area. It found Lorraine in between the two central defenders, and he cushioned a header towards the corner of the goal. Johnson was rooted to the spot as it sped towards goal, but it cannoned off the post and bounced back into play. A few minutes later the striker was fouled just ahead of the halfway line, and Rogers floated the free-kick into the area. It was headed out but only as far as Farrell, and his goalbound effort was deflected behind for a corner. The resulting set-piece found Collard rising, but his header drifted well wide of the goal.
For one of the first times in the half Lowestoft were able to break away and build an attack of their own, and they were able to win a corner on the left. The curling delivery dropped to an away man at the back post, and his cross back into the area was well punched away by Heath. They then won a throw-in on the right, and the long throw was flicked on at the near post which required a Diamonds defender to head it out. However, the resultant corner raced past everyone and out for a goal-kick.
Peaks then made his first substitution in the 71st minute as he introduced the match-winner from last time out Sam Johnson in place of Farrell. The substitute went straight out to the right, with Diamond dropping back into midfield, and the winger was involved immediately. He was released down the right flank and, despite it initially appearing that he had taken a heavy touch, he sped forward and kept the ball in play to clip a low cross into the area. It looked like it would be easy for either the keeper to collect or defender Adam Tann to deal with, but a breakdown in communication saw the keeper parry the ball against the defender. The ball ricocheted back towards the unguarded goal, but it hit the upright and bounced out for it to be cleared away.
Diamonds then won a free-kick as Lorraine was fouled, and Rogers’ ensuing delivery almost fell for Dolman before it was cleared. A further cross came in for Collard to head across, and it was cleared out only as far as Johnson who attempted a volley goalwards, but it flew well over the bar. The hosts then brought on Jack Bowen, another effective substitute last week, for Lorraine and, as the 80 minute mark passed, Ben Acquaye was summoned for his debut to replace Diamond.
The Trawlerboys had seemingly ridden out the persistent pressure from Diamonds, and they went on to have the better of the final ten minutes as they pushed for a winner. In the 84th minute they threatened when they broke forward, and Bammant was released down the right-hand side. He did well to turn away from his marker in the area and lay a pass across to the arriving Pollock, but the midfielder mistimed his slide and the ball ran away from him to be cleared upfield.
Moments later a loose ball dropped for Hopkins just outside the area, and he generated room to get the ball onto his left foot before curling an effort goalwards. However, the shot was always rising and flashed just over the bar. Liam Dolman was then announced as the man of the match, and the time ticked onto the 90th minute.
Any goal now would have been a winning one, and Lowestoft came close to grabbing it. A long ball over the top of the home defence looked like it had released Fowkes on goal, and Berry-Hargreaves in his attempts to get back applied pressure on the striker. There were appeals for a penalty for a push, and Heath raced out also to try and claim the ball. It could have bounced anywhere, but fortunately for Rushden it bounced off the away forward and ran out for a goal-kick.
This was the final action of the contest as, moments later, the referee signalled full-time.
Full Time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1-1 Lowestoft Town
This represented a game and a result where Diamonds will feel slightly disappointed. Lowestoft enjoyed the better of proceedings in the first half as they attacked with pace and danger, and forced Diamonds into a number of mistakes and misplaced passes. They took the lead and could have doubled their lead before Rushden equalised right on half-time, slightly against the run of play. However Diamonds looked a lot better and more lively in the second period, and they were incredibly unfortunate that neither effort that hit the post didn’t end up in the back of the net.
They looked the most likely winners until the final ten minutes where the visitors had two good chances to win it, but a draw was a fair result in the end. All credit to the Trawlerboys who did not look like a side close to the relegation zone and on the back of only one away league win all season, but Diamonds will feel despite the below-par performance that they could have won the contest with their second half chances. They still move up to fifth place and back into the play-off places, and their next game sees them travel to Leicestershire to take on bottom team Bedworth United next Saturday 19 January, 3:00pm kick-off.
Diamonds Man of the Match (chosen by match sponsors Fuelsell): Liam Dolman
Match Report by Ollie Mortimer
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
13. Ben Heath
2. Zack Reynolds
3. Matt Berry-Hargreaves
4. Alex Collard
5. Liam Dolman (C)
6. Declan Rogers
7. Albie Hopkins
8. Ben Farrell
9. Tom Lorraine
10. Ben Diamond
11. Nathan Hicks
12. Jack Bowen (for Lorraine 78)
14. Joe Curtis
15. Blaize Punter
16. Ben Acquaye (for Diamond 82)
17. Sam Johnson (for Farrell 71)
1. William Johnson
2. Joshua Curry
3. Jack Wilkinson
4. Adam Smith (C)
5. Adam Tann
6. Connor Deeks
7. Armani Schaar
8. Henry Pollock
9. Shaun Bammant
10. Ben Fowkes
11. Marcus Wilkinson
12. Fletcher Hedge
13. Elvijs Putnins
14. Daniel Pinheiro (for M. Wilkinson 76)
15. Cion Wren
16. Kieran Higgs
Goals: Farrell (pen 45+2)
Goals: Fowkes (23)
Yellow cards: None
Yellow cards: None
Referee: Greg Rollason
Assistants: Carl Clinton, Richard Booth