Diamonds were held to a frustrating draw by Uxbridge at Hayden Road on Tuesday night.
The early exchanges were pretty quiet and short on action, with the visitors registering the first shot on target when striker Dylan Kearney’s strike was comfortably saved by Ben Heath. The hosts’ first chance fell to Ben Farrell when the midfielder embarked on a driving run before hitting a shot that flew just past the post, and shortly afterwards they should have taken the lead. Luke Fairlamb put a deep cross in from the left, and Liam Dolman headed it across for Tom Lorraine to surely tap home the opener. However, Paul McCarthy in the away goal somehow saved the effort and kept the scoreline level. Apart from these two opportunities though the Diamonds were struggling for cohesion and attacking purpose, and the visitors were the ones who came close to scoring when winger Cole Brown hit a strike that went into the side-netting. This was the final real action of the opening period, with chances ultimately few and far between.
The second half was only minutes old when Uxbridge almost scored the opening goal of the contest. They won a free-kick, and David Thomas struck the set-piece goalwards which required Heath to save. However, the rebound fell for Brown, and his effort hit the post before running away to safety. This undoubtedly represented a let-off for the hosts, and they responded well with a period of pressure that culminated in a goal. Fairlamb crossed from the left and though Lorraine was unable to finish, home debutant Spencer Weir-Daley was there to sweep home his first goal for the club despite strong appeals for offside from the visitors. Diamonds then enjoyed a spell of possession and territory without truly troubling McCarthy in the Uxbridge goal, but the visitors always represented a threat on the counter-attack and so it proved when they found a leveller. Kearney precisely found Brown, and he kept his cool to finish lowly and clinically past Heath. The hosts huffed and puffed in their attempts to find a winner, but in truth it was the visitors who came closest to winning the game when Kearney hit a long-range effort that required Heath to superbly tip over the bar. Moments later the full-time whistle was blown, with Diamonds now winless in three league games but still three points clear at the top and with their destiny still firmly in their own hands.
Manager Andy Peaks made two changes to the side that had been defeated in Hampshire at Hartley Wintney on Saturday. Callum Westwood came into the starting XI to replace Joel Gyasi at right wing-back, and recent signing Spencer Weir-Daley made his first start for the club as he partnered Tom Lorraine up front, with Ryan Robbins joining Gyasi, Joe Curtis, Cameron Gilchrist and Ben Ford on a strong-looking bench. As the two teams took to the field many thoughts pre-game had centred around how Diamonds would respond to their back-to-back league defeats previously, and if they would be able to get a victory to get their promotion charge firmly back on track. Uxbridge came into the contest on the back of three league defeats in their last four outings, but looking to bounce back and avenge their 4-1 defeat at the hands of Diamonds earlier on in the campaign. After the handshakes and coin-toss had been conducted, referee Scott Postin got the game underway.
Less than a minute had elapsed when away midfielder Prince M’Bengui sustained a blood injury which required him to leave the field for treatment, but he was able to return to the field shortly afterwards. Diamonds had an early half-chance in the fifth minute when nice play from Luke Fairlamb saw Ben Farrell pick up possession and hit an effort towards goal, but it went over the crossbar. A couple of crosses, first by Weir-Daley and then by Fairlamb, then looked initially dangerous, but Uxbridge keeper Paul McCarthy ultimately did well to deal with both and to avert any danger.
The first shot on target, and the first proper chance of the game, fell to the visitors in the 13th minute. A long ball forward saw Blaize Punter miss an attempted diving header, and Dylan Kearney ran onto the loose ball before driving into the penalty area. He checked back inside Liam Dolman and onto his right foot, but his resulting shot was tame and easy for Ben Heath to save. Three minutes later Diamonds responded with an attack of their own as Sam Brown drilled in a cross from the left towards the back post, but although Tom Lorraine rose well to win the header, the attempt lacked power and was a comfortable save for McCarthy. Shortly after Lorraine won another header, this time from a Brown long throw from the right, but the end result was the same as McCarthy was able to easily hold.
Diamonds weren’t at their free-flowing best as they struggled to build much pressure and much attacking tempo, but they still created some moments of danger. In the 20th minute Dolman pinged a superbly accurate diagonal out to the advancing Westwood on the right, and he controlled before half-volleying a cross into the area. However, the ball ran just too far out of the reach of Weir-Daley, and the chance was gone. Immediately afterwards though Fairlamb did well to find Farrell in the middle of the park, and the centre midfielder strode forward before hitting a dipping shot from around 25 yards out, It looked like it may dip inside the right-hand post as the ball looped past McCarthy, but unfortunately for the hosts the effort dropped just past the post.
They created an even better opportunity moments later, and one from which they really should have taken the lead. A home corner from the right was only half cleared, and Fairlamb latched onto the loose ball before cutting inside from his marker and curling in a right-footed cross to the back post. Dolman was there to knock it back across goal, and Lorraine was literally metres out from goal with the whole net gaping and McCarthy out of position. However, the resulting effort from the striker flew straight into the keeper’s midriff, and the visitors had had a massive escape. They launched an attack of their own in response, and Luke Maguire was slipped in on the right before hitting a shot from a tight angle that Heath did well to parry away from danger.
The game then went into a scrappy period, with neither side really able to find much fluency and attacking cohesion. Fairlamb delivered a couple of dangerous set-pieces that were well defended by Uxbridge, and the visitors saw Kearney find room to hit a shot that initially had Heath concerned, but that ultimately drifted wide of the post. They then received a couple of yellow cards, one for James Burgess and one for captain Kevin Warner, for two poor challenges, but this was the last real action of note in the opening period as referee Postin blew for the half-time interval.
Half Time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0-0 Uxbridge
Both sets of players emerged from the changing rooms after the break, with many thoughts focusing on how the game would pan out in the second half and who would be able to make the first breakthrough. After a swift count of both players, the referee sounded his whistle to begin the second half.
Only three minutes had elapsed when Uxbridge won a free-kick in a dangerous position around 25 yards from goal slightly right of centre. David Thomas stepped up to curl the kick around the wall and towards goal, but Heath did well to dive to his left to parry the ball away. However M’Bengui was first to the loose ball, and he drove the rebound through Heath’s legs only for Punter to crucially block the effort on the line and away for a corner-kick. The subsequent set-piece came to nothing, and Diamonds had truly survived a dangerous moment.
Fairlamb was the chief source of home danger throughout the match with his trademark pacey and direct runs forward, and he delivered two crosses in as many minutes that looked threatening but that ultimately did not find their ultimate targets. Shortly afterwards Westwood received a yellow card for a foul that took both man and ball, but a minute later this was forgotten as Diamonds forged into the lead. A cross from the right saw Lorraine win a flick-on, but it ran across the face of the area and out to Fairlamb on the right. He faced up his marker before stepping back onto his right foot and whipping a cross into the middle. It drifted over an Uxbridge defender’s head and seemingly caught Lorraine by surprise as it hit his chest, but the loose ball kindly fell for Spencer Weir-Daley to stab a close-range effort past McCarthy and inside the near post. There were strong appeals by most of the away players for offside, but the assistant referee was not interested and the hosts had the lead.
This began a decent spell of pressure for the hosts as the game passed the hour mark, with Fairlamb again at the heart of much of the attacking play. It was the winger who again sped neatly down the left wing before slipping a pass into Weir-Daley, but the striker just ran out of room as it dribbled out of play for a goal-kick. Joel Gyasi was then introduced at the expense of Westwood in a like-for-like substitution, and moments later Lorraine, Fairlamb and Brown combined beautifully before the latter was just prevented from shooting goalwards. A minute later Diamonds again broke quickly as this time Farrell swept a pinpoint pass out to Fairlamb on the left, and the winger sped forward before jinking back inside on his right and seeing a shot blocked away for a corner.
The hosts were looking threatening, but whilst the advantage only remained at one goal, then the visitors were always in the game. Peaks made a second change by introducing Robbins for Lorraine, but only minutes after this alteration Uxbridge found a leveller. M’Benguie laid the ball off to substitute Yahya El-Khabouche in the middle of the park, and he quickly and accurately swept a pass forward to Kearney. He controlled well before slipping a pass through for the free Cole Brown running through on his left, and the winger remained composed to slot a neat finish under Heath and into the back of the net.
A Diamonds response, and concerted pressure on the away goal, was expected, but despite more huffing and puffing they were unable to fashion much in the way of clear-cut opportunities in their search for a winner. The closest the game came to a winner was from the visitors shortly after their equaliser when Kearney was allowed to turn on the left, and he fired a whistling long-range effort towards goal that Heath did brilliantly to leap and tip over the bar.
The hosts continued to battle without building much momentum and without testing McCarthy, and after a few minutes of added-on time referee Postin signalled the end of the match, one in which a draw was a fair result, and one in which Diamonds were unable to move further clear at the top of the table.
Full Time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1-1 Uxbridge
Although not a defeat, this undoubtedly represented another disappointing result for the Diamonds. They were not at their free-flowing best throughout the contest, and despite threatening now and again and taking the lead through Weir-Daley’s first goal for the club, they could have little arguments over Uxbridge’s deserved leveller and their merited point. Credit must go to the visitors for their application and for their performance throughout the match in arresting their recent bad run, and for Diamonds it’s now three games without a win. Hartley Wintney’s 4-1 success over Thame means there are now three teams perched right on their shoulder waiting for further slip-ups, but Rushden ultimately still remain three points clear at the top of the table and with their promotion chances well within their own hands. Their next game is a critical one as they make the trip to Beaconsfield, who sit three points behind Diamonds with a game in hand, on Saturday March 31st, 3pm kick-off.
Diamonds Man of the Match: Spencer Weir-Daley
Match Report by Ollie Mortimer
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
13. Ben Heath
2. Blaize Punter
3. Sam Brown
4. Jack Westbrook
5. Liam Dolman (C)
6. Ross Oulton
7. Callum Westwood
8. Ben Farrell
9. Tom Lorraine
10. Spencer Weir-Daley
11. Luke Fairlamb
12. Ben Ford
14. Joe Curtis
15. Cameron Gilchrist
16. Ryan Robbins
19. Joel Gyasi
1. Paul McCarthy
2. Ben Peden
3. Justin Thompson
4. Corey Watson
5. David Thomas
6. Kevin Warner (C)
7. Luke Maguire
8. Prince M’Bengui
9. Dylan Kearney
10. James Burgess
11. Cole Brown
12. Harry Tucker
14. Yahya El-Khabouche
15. Rhys Rabess
Goals: Weir-Daley (59)
Goals: Brown (79)
Yellow Cards: Westwood (54), Brown (87)
Yellow Cards: Burgess (38), Warner (44), Thompson (73)
Referee: Scott Postin
Assistants: Harley McKittrick, Alan Cox