Diamonds were defeated in the 2018 Dale Roberts Memorial Cup friendly encounter against Enfield Town at Hayden Road on Saturday afternoon.
In a first half that the visitors had the better of Enfield arced into a two-goal lead inside the first 40 minutes. Firstly a pinpoint cross by Lewis Taake was met by a strong header from Brendan Adams that found the back of the net, and this came after Sam Chaney had wasted two presentable opportunities to initially open the scoring. Then, after Chaney missed a further chance, the away side doubled their advantage when Sam Youngs looped a header over Ben Heath. Diamonds, who had struggled to create much in the half, did pull one back on the stroke of half-time when Jack Ashton met a cross from Ross Oulton to halve the deficit heading into the interval.
Rushden were much improved after the break and, following a number of substitutions, fashioned some opportunities to level the game. Firstly James Hall just missed making a telling connection to a Ben Ford free-kick, and then Zac Reynolds delivered a superb cross that Jack Bowen put narrowly wide. Afterwards Ben Farrell caught a volley sweetly only for the effort to fly just over the crossbar, and late on in the match Ford fired just wide from 20 yards out. Despite the pressure and opportunities, however, Diamonds were unable to find an equaliser that would have forced penalties, and Enfield ultimately emerged victorious.
Manager Andy Peaks made three changes to the starting XI that had narrowly been defeated by National League North side Brackley Town in their previous pre-season friendly. Cameron Gilchrist replaced Blaize Punter in defence, Ross Oulton was given a starting berth and Tom Lorraine began at the expense of Jack Bowen. The two sides entered the field of action, with the occasion sure to be a special and memorable one due to it being the designated annual Dale Roberts Memorial Cup match and due to it giving Diamonds the opportunity to play against the first supporter-owned club in the country, with Enfield being formed in 2001. After a quick count of both sets of players and the coin-toss, referee Wayne Chalmers got the game underway.
Only three minutes had elapsed when the visitors had their first opportunity. Sam Chaney was played in on goal by a telling pass but, despite it representing a good chance at goal, he wasted the opportunity and the score remained goalless. Although the opening exchanges were fairly quiet and were heavily affected by the strong wind that was swirling across Hayden Road, Enfield had undoubtedly started the brighter of the two sides as they looked comfortable in possession and threatening whenever they attacked.
Diamonds created their first chance in the 19th minute when a neat interchange between Sam Brown and Ben Diamond saw the former weigh up a cross into the area, but the seemingly dangerous delivery was deflected kindly for the away goalkeeper to collect. Shortly afterwards play swung up the other end and the visitors could and potentially should have taken the lead. Chaney was again found in space with a proper sight at goal, but he fired his attempt over the bar.
Moments later though, Enfield did take the lead. Sam Youngs played a pass out to Lewis Taake, and he supplied a dangerous cross that reached Brendan Adams to flash a header past Ben Heath and into the back of the net. Two minutes later they came close to extending their lead when Chaney had a further shot at goal, this time from around 15 yards out, but again the effort went off target as it flew wide.
Diamonds were struggling to build much in the way of possession and chances at goal as the visitors dominated much of the ball and controlled the majority of the tempo and rhythm of the opening half. In the 40th minute they doubled their lead when another inviting cross into the area was met this time by Sam Youngs, but the result was the same as the subsequent header beat the outstretched dive of Heath and nestled into the back of the net.
Just as it appeared that the hosts would head into the half-time interval two goals behind, they pulled one back with their first real effort on goal. Ross Oulton measured a cross that was met by Jack Ashton who guided his attempt past the keeper into the net to register his second goal of pre-season, and to bring Rushden back into the contest moments before the half-time whistle was sounded.
Half Time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1-2 Enfield Town
During the interval the attendance was announced as 277, and moments later both teams re-emerged for the second period. The referee blew his whistle to begin the half, but the early exchanges were fairly quiet on goalmouth action as neither team were able to create a meaningful chance in front of goal.
Just after the hour mark Diamonds made their first change with trialist Dan Clifton replacing Jack Westbrook in midfield, and this immediately sparked the hosts into further action as they began to look sharper and brighter in their attacking play. This was followed by a raft of substitutions shortly afterwards as Zack Reynolds, Ben Ford, Nathan Hicks, Jack Bowen, Ben Farrell, John Dean and Blaize Punter all entered the fray, and whilst such a number of changes can sometimes impede a team’s momentum, it had the opposite effect as Diamonds began to look more and more dangerous and threatening.
In the 70th minute they won a free-kick, and Ford whipped in an inviting delivery that just missed the head of James Hall and was gratefully collected by the relieved Enfield keeper. Minutes later Reynolds escaped down the flank and delivered a pinpoint cross that Bowen steered narrowly wide of the far post, and these two chances signalled how Diamonds were beginning to dominate and out the visitors under more pressure than they had done previously.
Farrell was the next to come close to a leveller as a loose ball dropped for him to volley 20 yards out, but the effort flew just over the bar. The time ticked into the final ten minutes and, though the hosts were still pushing and asking questions of the Enfield defence, they were beginning to run out of time. Five minutes of normal time remained when Ford had a chance to strike at goal, but his shot flashed wide of the post and out for a goal-kick.
This ultimately proved to be the final opportunity of the contest as the visitors saw out the remaining minutes to seal the victory, and to win the Dale Roberts Memorial Cup for 2018.
Full Time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1-2 Enfield Town
This proved to be a very useful match for the Diamonds, and one that positives can be taken from but also lessons learnt and areas to work on cited ahead of the new season. Enfield were dominant and thoroughly deserved their lead in the first half, but the substitutions that Peaks made in the second half reinvigorated the hosts and they could easily have snatched an equaliser on another day. However, the contest helped the vast majority of the squad to gain more important minutes and time on the pitch, and helped Peaks to tinker with different systems and combinations to see what works and what needs some improvement moving forward. Their next pre-season workout sees them travel to Hillgrounds to take on UCL Premier side Kempston Rovers on Tuesday night (July 31st, 19:45pm kick-off).
Match Report by Ollie Mortimer
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
13. Ben Heath
2. Cameron Gilchrist
3. Sam Brown
4. Jack Ashton
5. Liam Dolman (C)
6. Jack Westbrook
7. Ross Oulton
8. Callum Westwood
9. Tom Lorraine
10. James Hall
11. Ben Diamond
12. Zack Reynolds (for Oulton 65)
14. Ben Ford (for Brown 65)
15. Ben Farrell (for Gilchrist 65)
16. Jack Bowen (for Lorraine 65)
17. Tom Cockings
18. Blaize Punter (for Ashton 65)
19. Nathan Hicks (for Westwood 65)
20. John Dean (for Diamond 65)
21. Dan Clifton (for Westbrook 61)
1. Joe Wright
2. Sam Hatton
3. Remi Sutton
4. Tadfiq Olomowewe
5. Rian McLean
6. Matt Johnson (C)
7. Sam Youngs
8. Sam Chaney
9. Brendan Adams
10. Lewis Taake
11. Bilal Sayoud
12. Ryan Blackman (for Johnson 60)
14. Mason Tunbridge (for Chaney 72)
15. Junior Mbayi (for Youngs 72)
16. Jack Hockney (for Sayoud 72)
17. Dan Rumens (for Sutton 60)
18. Liam Hope (for Adams 60)
Goals: Ashton (45)
Goals: Adams (26), Youngs (40)
Referee: Wayne Chalmers
Assistants: Rob Evans, Sam Anderson