Diamonds lost only their second home game of the season as second-placed Stourbridge came from behind to win on Saturday afternoon.
The opening fifteen minutes were very quiet with little goalmouth action, apart from Aaron Forde whose strike from the edge of the area was just about turned round the post by Ben Heath. Diamonds took the lead with their real opportunity of the match when Nathan Hicks was found by Tom Lorraine, and he powered away from a defender before cleverly flicking an effort past the keeper and into the corner of the net with the outside of his right foot. The visitors stepped up their efforts from here with a number of incisive attacks and quick link-up play and, after striker Kaiman Anderson shot narrowly over, they equalised in the 35th minute. Anderson fed Robert Thompson-Brown around 30 yards from goal, and he slammed a low effort past Heath and into the back of the net.
The second half picked up where the first period had left off, with Stourbridge trying to force the issue and holding more possession but Rushden looking threatening on the counter-attack. The away side should have taken the lead when a deep free-kick found defender Aaron Hayden completely free, but he headed over from 8 yards out. Down the other end Hicks was found just inside the area, and he skipped inside from the left before flashing a shot towards the far corner that required the keeper to dive and superbly palm it away. Alex Collard then made a terrific goal-saving block to deny Anderson, and Sam Brown also did excellently to get back and stop winger Callum Powell getting an effort in on goal. The visitors introduced Luke Benbow, and within a couple of minutes of coming on he gave Stourbridge the lead. The ball looped up in the area before dropping to the substitute at point-blank range, and he slammed the loose ball home despite Jack Westbrook’s best efforts on the line. Diamonds tried to get back into the game, but it was the visitors who came the nearest to scoring any more goals especially when Benbow curled just wide of the far post. Rushden brought on Jack Bowen, John Dean and Ben Farrell but, aside from Farrell having a long-range strike held by the keeper, they weren’t able to get back into the game as they were consigned to defeat.
Manager Peaks made four changes to the side that had been held to a goalless draw at St Ives the previous Saturday. Jack Westbrook, Ben Acquaye, Joe Curtis and Ben Diamond came into the starting line-up at the expense of Jack Ashton, Ben Farrell, Declan Rogers and Jack Bowen, with all these latter four being named amongst the substitutes alongside John Dean.
The two sides entered onto the Hayden Road pitch in the upper echelons of the league table. Diamonds entered the contest seventh, six points off the final play-off position, and though they hadn’t won any of their last four league matches, they were unbeaten in their last 13 home league games and had only lost one of their last 24 at home in the league dating back to March 2018. Stourbridge came into the match second in the table, but they only had the tenth best away record in the league. They hadn’t won any of their last three games, and they hadn’t emerged victorious in any of their last five away league matches having only won one of them in 2019. After the pre-match formalities were completed, referee Robbie Dadley blew to begin the contest.
The opening stages were relatively quiet, with both teams feeling their way into the contest and looking to settle in. The first glimpse of an opportunity came in the eighth minute when Diamonds won a corner, and it was whipped in towards the back post where Diamond headed it down looking for Liam Dolman only for it to be cleared away. The visitors responded by building a move down the other end, and Aaron Forde was able to latch onto a loose ball on the edge of the area. However, his resulting effort went well wide of the target.
The midfielder went much closer only a few minutes later. He received possession in space around 23 yards from goal in a central position, and he turned before whipping a shot towards the far corner of the net. Ben Heath got across to his left, and he awkwardly shovelled the effort round the post for a corner. The resulting set-piece was well dealt with by the home defence, and it remained deadlocked.
However, that didn’t last much longer as Diamonds soon forged into the lead. Tom Lorraine neatly laid a long ball into the path of Nathan Hicks just ahead of the halfway line, and the advanced midfielder had time and space to run forward. He used the outside runs of Lorraine and Acquaye to isolate himself against Paul McCone, and he then sped round the outside of the away captain to move into the left side of the area. He then clipped an impudent effort with the outside of his right foot past the advancing James Wren in the Stourbridge goal, and into the far corner of the net. It was Rushden’s first goal in over 415 minutes of football, and only Hicks’ second goal of the campaign with both coming with the outside of his right foot and against the division’s top two sides.
The visitors did not let that setback affect them though, and they began to increase their pressure on the Rushden goal. Moments after Hicks’ strike away man Kaiman Anderson found space just inside the area, and his effort flashed narrowly over the bar. Heath was also forced to tip over an attempt from 12 yards out on the half-hour mark, but Diamonds also showed their own threat when Diamond did well to win a corner. The inviting delivery found Dolman, but the defender’s header went wide of the upright.
Stourbridge then summoned an equaliser ten minutes before the interval. A neat move saw Robert Thompson-Brown feed the ball towards Anderson, and the number nine fed it back to Thompson-Brown who took a touch and stepped into a shooting position around 30 yards out. He hit a low effort towards goal, and it flashed past Heath’s dive to nestle into the back of the net.
The tide of the game had seemingly changed since the opening goal, with Diamonds having the better of it before but Stourbridge reacting afterwards to control possession and territory. Thompson-Brown had a further chance from outside the area, this time just under 25 yards out, after another precise passing exchange, but this time the subsequent effort rolled harmlessly wide of the far post.
This was the final action of the half as Dadley soon signalled for the half-time break. It had been a half where Diamonds had started brightly and deservedly taken the lead, but the visitors reacted and found a leveller to set up a second half delicately poised.
Half time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1-1 Stourbridge FC
An attendance of 519 was announced during the interval, and that lent itself to a decent atmosphere from both sides’ supporters throughout the encounter. The players soon returned to the field of play and, after a quick count of both sets of players, the referee got the game back underway.
Anderson almost found himself through on goal only two minutes into the half, but fortunately for the hosts the offside flag was raised to curtail the attack. Diamonds responded with Hicks, who was getting himself into some promising positions and who was looking the most likely, picking up a pass after a positive run from Zack Reynolds. It came to him on his weaker left-foot though, and so his resulting effort was sliced wide of the target.
Both sides knew how important the next goal would be in helping to decide the contest, and Stourbridge were the next to go close. Firstly winger Greg Mills flashed a shot well over the bar after finding space, and then defender Aaron Hayden met a deep free-kick only eight yards out only for his header to go over the bar. It was a golden chance, and it represented a huge let-off for Rushden.
The hour mark passed, and the game was beginning to get a little more open and end-to-end. In the 62nd minute a long ball over the away defence found Lorraine running in behind, and he got onto the ball on the left of the area before holding it up and playing it back to the supporting Hicks. He jinked inside the covering Thompson-Brown and curled a shot towards the far corner of the net where Wren did excellently to dive and parry the effort away.
The next few minutes then went into a lull and so, in an attempt to inject some further energy, both sides made a change. Luke Benbow came on for Callum Powell for the away side, and Jack Bowen replaced Lorraine for Diamonds in a like-for-like swap. Less than a minute after these substitutions, Stourbridge took the lead. A long-throw from the right pitched in towards the near post was cleared up in the air by Alex Collard, and it dropped out of the air to bounce off Dolman and a nearby away man. The loose ball then rolled ideally for the waiting Luke Benbow, and he thundered home a close-range effort despite the best attempts of Jack Westbrook on the line.
The visitors had completed the turnaround, and Diamonds now faced the prospect of a fifth straight game without a victory. They still looked dangerous from time-to-time though as they looked to get back into the game, and Acquaye came close to achieving this when he jinked away from a couple of challenges before seeing his effort go narrowly wide of the post. This was the winger’s final action of the game as John Dean came on to replace him, and Ben Farrell was also introduced at the expense of Curtis. Stourbridge also made another change as Bradley Birch came on for Forde.
Collard was announced as the Man of the Match, and Rushden still continued to search for an equaliser without being able to hurt the away defence too much or without testing Wren too often. They held the majority of possession, but the strong and stoic McCone and Aris Christoporou at the heart of the Stourbridge back-line were limiting any threat. The visitors came close to putting the result beyond any doubt when Benbow found space in the middle of the box, but his shot went straight at Heath and Diamonds still held a glimmer of hope.
The match entered stoppage-time, and the home side fashioned one final opportunity to snatch a draw. They won a long throw-in on the right, and Brown galloped across to take it. He launched it into the near post, though it was well headed by an away defender. Both Mills and Thompson-Brown failed to help it further away, and it ran for Farrell around 35 yards out. It bounced up ideally for the substitute, and he slammed a half-volley back towards goal that bounced just in front of Wren. However, the keeper remained calm and was able to pat it down before collecting at the second attempt.
This proved to be the final chance of the game as, moments later, Dadley blew for the end of the game. It had been an entertaining match with both sides creating opportunities and looking dangerous at different spells, but Stourbridge just had the clinical edge and claimed the three points.
Full time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1-2 Stourbridge FC
Diamonds can be proud of their determined, spirited and hardworking display which saw them match one of the best sides in the division for large spells in the contest. They took a well-earned lead at the time through a well-worked and tidy goal, but Stourbridge then came into the game and turned it on its head to equalise and then take the lead late in the second period. The hosts never gave up though, and could have snatched an equaliser on a couple of occasions. It wasn’t to be though and, despite their play-off hopes now being all but effectively over, it has been a terrific and memorable season – one that everybody associated with the club can be mightily proud of. It is particular testament that today’s defeat was only their second home defeat of the entire season, and only their second home defeat since March of last year. They still have three league games left to play before the season is over, and the first one of these sees them travel to Leicestershire to take on Coalville Town next Saturday 20th April, 3pm kick-off.
Diamonds Man of the Match (chosen by match sponsor Phoenix Configuration Management Ltd.): Alex Collard
Match Report by Ollie Mortimer
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
13. Ben Heath
2. Zack Reynolds
3. Sam Brown
4. Jack Westbrook
5. Liam Dolman (C)
6. Alex Collard
7. Ben Acquaye
8. Joe Curtis
9. Tom Lorraine
10. Ben Diamond
11. Nathan Hicks
12. John Dean (for Acquaye 80)
14. Ben Farrell (for Curtis 80)
16. Jack Bowen (for Lorraine 71)
17. Declan Rogers
18. Jack Ashton
1. James Wren
2. Aaron Hayden
3. Jordan Brown
4. Paul McCone (C)
5. Aris Christoporou
6. Aaron Forde
7. Callum powell
8. Leon Broadhurst
9. Kaiman Anderson
10. Robert Thompson-Brown
11. Greg Mills
12. Stuart Pierpoint
14. Zak Lilly
15. Bradley Birch (for Forde 83)
16. George Forsyth
17. Luke Benbow (for Powell 70)
Goals: Hicks (18)
Goals: Thompson-Brown (35), Benbow (71)
Yellow cards: None
Yellow cards: Mills (81)
Referee: Robbie Dadley
Assistants: William Doyle, Richard Cutts