AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1-1 Market Drayton Town

Diamonds stumbled to a draw, but still managed to maintain their unbeaten league run, at home to lowly Market Drayton on Saturday afternoon at the Dog & Duck.

For most of the opening period both sides struggled to maintain possession for long spells and consequently there was a lack of real goalmouth action. Nabil Shariff saw a shot well blocked away after latching onto a flick-on, and in return Shaquille Whittingham ran through after being fed by Andre James, but his eventual shot was easily saved. Moments later Rory Winters was forced into a superb and last-ditch clearance just in front of his own goal after a dangerous cross, and the match appeared to be meandering to a half-time stalemate until Taylor Orosz was shoved over in the box to earn the hosts a penalty. Shariff calmly stepped up and slotted it past the Drayton goalkeeper to give the Diamonds a lead heading into the interval.

The visitors, nicknamed The Gingerbread Men, were quick out the blocks at the start of the second period and dominated the early exchanges. James ran onto a long ball through and was only denied by a timely sliding block by Dolman, and then James O’Neill saw a flashing free-kick well parried away by Finlay before Ben Ford slid in to stop a certain tap-in on the rebound. However, Drayton were to equalise in the 61st minute when they won a free-kick in an identical position to the chance before, but this time O’Neill smashed it past the wall and past Finlay into the back of the net. Diamonds livened up after introducing Jake Newman and Lewis Leslie, with the former latching onto a Shariff flick-on to round the keeper but as he did he pushed it slightly too far and his resuiting pull-back was cleared away. Shariff then saw a low shot well saved to the keeper’s left, and the away side wasted a couple of promising breaks forward with a heavy touch or a loose pass as the match became frenetic and very open towards the end. McNulty won a crucial challenge in his own box to stop another Drayton attack, and substitute Lewis Wilson saw a last-gasp effort kicked away by the away goalkeeper, but there were to be no more goals and the match ended in a fair result. 

Diamonds manager Andy Peaks made just the solitary change that had comfortably defeated Loughborough Dynamo last time out, with fit-again Liam Dolman making a welcome return to the starting XI at the expense of Jason Lee who was named amongst the substitutes. Captain Richard Bunting and Brad Harris continued in the middle of midfield, and Nabil Shariff and Tom Lorraine were again named as the strike partnership as the hosts looked to extend their twelve game unbeaten run in the league.

Before the game commenced there was an impeccably observed minute’s silence to commemorate the passing of Diamonds fan Mat Hollis and United Counties League press officer Jeremy Biggs, who had been involved with the league for a number of years. Referee Kevin Saunby was then ready to start the contest at what was a chilly, autumnal afternoon in Wellingborough, and the sounding of the whistle kicked off the start of play.

The early exchanges were characterised by both sides struggling to keep possession and build any momentum or tempo to threaten their opposing numbers. In the 5th minute the visitors, who had begun the afternoon fifth-from-bottom in the league, threatened when the pacey Andre James advanced down the right wing and delivered a dangerous cross into the middle, but Diamonds full-back Kyal McNulty was aware and able to clear away the danger. The home side then produced a dangerous cross of their own in the 10th minute when Lorraine was fouled and winger Ben Ford whipped in the resultant inswinging free-kick. However, despite it leading to a short period of pressure where the ball was around the Drayton area, an away defender eventually cleared it upfield.

Ford was involved again three minutes later when a pass was worked out to him on the left side, and he did well to cut inside before seeing his weak shot easily collected by visiting goalkeeper Ashley Rawlins. Moments later Lorraine ran onto a through ball and comfortably slotted the ball into the back of the net, though the offside flag had been already long been raised to curtail the attacking move. The contest was still very scrappy and characterised by midfield skirmishes, but this was a good period for the Diamonds as they created another opportunity in the 16th minute. Sam Brown trotted across to take a long-throw from the right, and his lengthy dispatch was flicked on by Dolman for Shariff to collect, but his shot-on-the-turn was well blocked away inside the penalty area.

The away side then responded by moving up the other end on the offensive, and a neat move on the edge of the box saw a ball played in behind the Rushden defence which initially seemed threatening, but Rory Winters timed his interception perfectly to cut out the danger. Arguably the best opportunity of the opening twenty minutes came shortly afterwards in the 19th minute when away striker William Whieldon latched onto a loose ball and flicked it over Winters before running into the box to collect the lob. He was almost able to do this, but via a combination of strong defending and a slightly weak finish the ball rolled into the grateful arms of home goalkeeper Matt Finlay.

Although the match was still relatively quiet and very short on clear goalscoring chances, it was starting to liven up a little. McNulty produced the best skill of the first period by pirouetting beautifully in the middle of the pitch before feeding Taylor Orosz wide on the right. He sprinted to the byline and crossed the ball in, but it was ultimately too long and it flew out harmlessly for a goal-kick. Two minutes later Bunting attempted to force the issue by striding onto a loose ball in midfield and unleashing a shot from distance, but again Rawlins wasn’t troubled as it flashed wide of the target. As has been witnessed often by Diamonds fans over the last couple of seasons a Brown long-throw caused danger just before the match ticked onto the half-hour mark, but after both Winters and Shariff challenged for the delivery the ball dropped comfortably wide of the post via the latter’s head.

Rushden were slightly edging the game in terms of chances, but the general play was still very even as both teams seeked the advantage. The hosts created another opportunity when a Bunting corner from the left was initially cleared away, but only as far as Ford who was lurking on the edge of the box. The ball sat up ideally for him to strike goalwards, but his resulting effort looped up and eventually down onto the roof of the net. Winters then conceded a free-kick on the Drayton right-hand side, and wide-man Glynn Coney whipped in a quick delivery that somehow passed every away red-shirt in the middle and ran out for a goal-kick.

The visitors created the clearest opportunity of the game to that point in the 36th minute when Bunting was robbed of possession close to his own penalty area, and James quickly fed the ball through into the left channel for Shaquille Whittingham to run onto. He only had Finlay to beat despite a couple of Diamonds players rushing back in an attempt to cover, but the winger took his shot very early and it drew a simple save from Finlay. Seconds later Whieldon was found on the right flank, and he drilled a ball across the six-yard box only for Winters to crucially and heroically win a last-ditch challenge to stop a certain goal.

Winters then found himself involved in a Diamonds attack, with a loose ball in midfield dropping for the defender fully 35 yards away from goal. He stepped forward and unleashed a shot nonetheless, though it never troubled Rawlins and disappeared behind for a goal-kick. The game ticked closer towards the half-time break as the two teams still were struggling to play free-flowing football but still creating some opportunities, and this was exemplified three minutes before the end of the half when Lorraine robbed a Drayton defender of possession. He ran forward towards the edge of the box before trying to run round the right-side of a covering player, but he couldn’t beat his man and the ball was slid out for a corner. Bunting swung it in with pace, and both Shariff at the near post and Lorraine dashing in at the back post narrowly missed it as it ran past every player.

However, as the game ticked into additional time, Diamonds were to be awarded a penalty. Orosz latched onto possession on the edge of the box after a flick by Shariff, and he bundled his way past a challenge before running into the left-side of the area. Another ball was on the pitch close to the play at the time, and Orosz slowed before sprinting after his original touch only for defender Tyrell Payton to shove the winger in the back. Saunby pointed for a spot-kick, and despite protests from the away side at the fact two balls had been on the pitch, Payton was shown a yellow card and the decision stood. Nabil Shariff calmly stepped up before confidently placing the ball to Rawlins’ left, with the keeper diving the other way as the ball hit the back of the net.

There was one last incident to occur in the half as Lorraine looked to be about to run through on goal to meet a ball forward, but James O’Neill pulled his shirt to stop the run. No free-kick was given though, and moments later the half-time whistle was blown to signal the end of a largely quiet 45 minutes with Diamonds holding the slight advantage.

Half Time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1-0 Market Drayton Town

Both sides returned to the field of play after the interval, with the sky having darkened during the fifteen minute break meaning the floodlights now beamed onto the Dog & Duck surface. The referee signalled the beginning of the half, and Drayton showed their intent to get back into the contest immediately. Less than two minutes into the half a ball from the back-four ran through for James to dash onto on the right side, and as he ran into the area Finlay dashed from his goal to meet the attacker. However, he wasn’t required to save as Dolman tracked the move all the way and slid in to block the chipped attempt.

This was a sign of things to come in the first twenty minutes of the period though as the visitors played at a quick tempo and created several opportunities. One pacey and dangerous attacking move by Drayton saw Winters appear to win a well-timed challenge on the edge of the area, but referee Saunby saw otherwise and awarded a free-kick. Finlay took a minute or so to arrange his wall precisely, and after he had done so O’Neill thrashed the set-piece past the wall and at goal, but Finlay tipped the ball away. It ran to his left though, and a red-shirt looked odds-on to hit the rebound home before Ford slid in superbly to clear the ball away.

The away pressure continued, with midfielder Daniel Beddons curling in a cross from the left wing that at first seemed like it may threaten the home defence, but actually Finlay was able to catch the ball confidently. Shortly afterwards full-back Linden Campbell launched a long-throw into the box and it almost dropped for a lurking Drayton man, but Brown was quick on his feet to nip in and hit the ball upfield. Diamonds fashioned their first chance of the half in the 58th minute as Shariff received a pass with his back to goal, but he did well to squirm away from the close attentions of his marker and squeeze a pass out to Orosz on the right. The winger had time to set his sights and pick his spot, but his eventual shot was straight at the goalkeeper.

And moments later, the visitors had their equaliser. A cross in from the right ran for Whieldon who chested the ball on the edge of the area just as Dolman stepped out in an attempt to intercept, and the resultant collision saw the Drayton number 10 go down and a free-kick be given. The kick was in an almost identical position to the one that had threatened shortly before, and again James O’Neill struck it at goal. The kick again beat the wall, but this time it beat Finlay also as the ball rocketed past the helpless keeper.

The leveller was no less than the away side deserved for their enterprising and dominating start to the half, and the game was now open for either side to try and win. Rushden responded with Bunting collecting the ball around 25 yards from goal after a defensive clearance, but his shot was rushed and it flew wide of the far post. After a Ford corner from the right shortly after narrowly missed everyone and flew across the box, Peaks sent on Jake Newman and Lewis Leslie in place of Ford and Orosz, meaning the Diamonds reverted to a 4-3-3 formation.

Moments after Bunting received a yellow card for dissent, Newman got involved in the game for the first time. He latched onto the ball in the left channel before going past an incoming challenge and running into the box, though Rawlins parried away his flashed shot as it shot towards the far post. Rushden then won a free-kick on the left touchline, and Bunting delivered the kick to the far post for Lorraine to bundle a header into the side-netting, although the referee’s whistle already had been blown for the striker pushing his marker to get onto the ball. The home pressure continued as they tried to regain the advantage as soon as possible, and Newman again was at the forefront of the move as he hooked the ball to Shariff. The striker ran into the box on the left and pulled it back, but no fellow white shirt was there to collect and Drayton were able to clear it away from goal.

The momentum of the second half, which had been enforced by Drayton originally, was now being made by the Diamonds, with Shariff and Newman in particular putting constant pressure on the away defence and looking dangerous with runs in behind. In the 72nd minute the former did brilliantly to battle his way onto a long ball despite defenders surrounding him, and he ran towards the box before dispatching his shot wide of the far post. The two strikers then combined again to create what initially seemed the hosts’ best opportunity of the second period, as Shariff flicked the ball on for Newman to run through on the keeper. The substitute nicked the ball past the onrushing Rawlins, but his touch took him quite wide of goal and facing a very difficult angle for an effort at goal. Consequently, he pulled the ball back looking for Shariff, but it didn’t run for a home player and the danger was again cleared away.

Shariff was becoming more and more influential as the game continued to be played at a frenetic pace, and in the 77th minute he turned excellently on the halfway line and fed a ball through for Lorraine. With the Drayton defence being high up the pitch, Lorraine only had green grass and Rawlins ahead of him, but his touch to run onto the pass was too heavy and though he strained every sinew to try and recover it, he couldn’t and the away goalkeeper collected the ball.

The visitors, having withstood this lengthy period of home pressure, were then able to spring on the counter-attack as Whieldon played the ball past the onrushing Winters and strode into his team’s attacking half. He faced a two-on-one situation ahead of him with Dolman being the only covering home player, so it was fortunate for the hosts that the striker shanked his pass across and the ball looped comfortably into the grateful grasp of Finlay. This signalled the beginning of an end-to-end close to the match, with Diamonds the next to threaten to take the lead. Bunting ran forward and slipped it through to Shariff, and the striker in turn span and hit a quick shot at goal that Rawlins had to dive to his right to tip away.  

Play quickly swung back up the other end, and a Drayton midfielder easily skipped away from Dolman on the right to run down the wing. With a couple of supporting options in the middle a cross was played into the box, and McNulty found himself as the sole covering defender with two red-shirts nearby looking to latch onto the ball. One of them did, but the Diamonds full-back stretched to win a hugely important challenge and to avert the danger. Moments later the hosts made their final change as Lewis Wilson replaced the tireless Lorraine.

The away side, despite losing two-thirds of their away league games so far this season before the game, still sensed a winner, and four minutes from the end of normal time a long-range shot was driven towards Finlay’s goal, but the goalkeeper collected it well and held it to his chest. A small period of toing and froing then occurred as the game ticked into four minutes of stoppage time, and Whieldon was able to run onto a loose ball in the first of these before slamming a shot over the crossbar. Diamonds then won a throw-in in Sam Brown territory on the left, and the full-back pitched it into the box before it was cleared back out to him. His cross was headed away and then played back in by Harris onto the head of Leslie, and he headed it across goal for Newman to almost latch onto before Rawlins gratefully dropped onto the ball.

The attack versus defence nature of most of the second period continued, and Shariff burst into the box before pulling it across goal. However, and not for the first time, no home player could latch onto the dangerous pull-back and it was cleared away by the Drayton defence. Down the other end Whieldon almost collected a ball in from the right wing in a threatening position, but his first-touch was heavy and McNulty was given the opportunity to clear it upfield.

One last chance of the game remained, and it fell for the hosts. Leslie did really well to win the ball back halfway inside the Rushden attacking half and feed Newman to run down the left channel. The attacker fed it across to Shariff, but it was slightly behind him and it ran for Wilson running in behind. He controlled it, bundled past a nearby challenge and hit a left-footed shot towards goal from just inside the area, but Rawlins superbly kicked the ball away.

Seconds later the final whistle was blown, with the result being a fair one despite the late, concerted pressure from the Diamonds.

Full Time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1-1 Market Drayton Town

This contest was perfectly befitting of the old football adage of ‘a game of two halves’: in the first, the game was very quiet and lacked much action, but the second was much more entertaining and ultimately could have seen either side win it in a frantic finish. A winning goal would have been unfair though, and Market Drayton can take great credit and heart from their performance and eventual point. Though it ultimately felt like a disappointing draw for the Diamonds, their fifth stalemate in eight home league games, they can draw positives from the amount of chances and pressure they created in the latter stages, and from the fact that their unbeaten domestic run now stretches to thirteen games. They are next in league action on Saturday (December 3rd) when they travel to Derbyshire to play Gresley FC.

Diamonds Man of the Match: Rory Winters

Attendance: 404

Match Report by Ollie Mortimer

AFC Rushden & Diamonds

Market Drayton Town

17. Matt Finlay

2. Kyal McNulty

3. Sam Brown

4. Rory Winters

5. Liam Dolman

6. Brad Harris

7. Nabil Shariff

8. Taylor Orosz

9. Richard Bunting (C)

10. Tom Lorraine

11. Ben Ford



12. Lewis Wilson

13. Ben Heath

14. Lewis Leslie

15. Jake Newman

16. Jason Lee

1. Ashley Rawlins

2. Linden Campbell

3. Kevin Burton

4. Jud Ellis

5. Tyrell Payton

6. James O’Neill

7. Shaquille Whittingham

8. Daniel Beddons

9. Andre James

10. William Whieldon (C)

11. Glynn Coney



12. Joe Cuff

14. Scott Ryan

15. Benjamin Osei

16. Tom Edge

17. Martyn Davies

Goals: Shariff (pen 45+1)

Goals: O’Neill (61)

Yellow Cards: Bunting (67)

Yellow Cards: Payton (45)

Referee: Kevin Saunby

Assistants: Jerzy Banasik, Duncan Robertson



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