AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1-3 Stratford Town FC

Diamonds’ good run of form was brought to an end by a clinical Stratford on a rainy Saturday afternoon at Hayden Road.

The first half lacked goalmouth action, though Diamonds did threaten when Ravi Shamsi had an early shot blocked and Nathan Tshikuna almost caught the keeper out from distance only to be denied. The visitors threatened with a number of set-pieces and long-throws, with one particular chance falling to Ashley Sammon whose volley flew just wide of the post. Rushden took the lead four minutes before the break when AJ George was fouled, and Tshikuna stepped up to curl the free-kick over the wall and into the back of the net from 25 yards out.

However, Stratford controlled proceedings in the second half as they dominated possession and territory. They levelled in the 56th minute when midfielder Jack Storer hit a screamer from range that flew into the top corner and, after centre-back Jordan Williams headed over when unmarked, they completed the turnaround when Storer coolly side-footed home into the roof of the net. Diamonds tried to find a way back into the match but never truly threatened, and it was the visitors who sealed the success three minutes from time when Sammons curled home a sumptuous strike following a good save from Dean Snedker.

First half

Manager Peaks made two enforced changes from the team that had emerged victorious at Hitchin in their last fixture. Ryan Hughes and Connor Furlong both came off in that match, and so Sam Warburton and AJ George replaced them in like-for-like alterations.

The home side were full of confidence ahead of the game after winning their last three and five of their last six in the league, whilst Stratford had lost seven of their last nine in all competitions. They had won two of their last three though, including a good win at Tamworth in their last away game.

Diamonds were the first to threaten inside two minutes when George embarked on a strong run down the left before his low ball in was controlled by Ty Deacon. He in turn laid it off to Ravi Shamsi but he was quickly closed down and so his attempt was blocked. The visitors responded as captain Will Grocott found space to curl a strike goalwards, but it was comfortable for Dean Snedker to hold.

Heavy rain fell for much of the contest, and it meant that conditions weren’t conducive for a free-flowing game of football. It was the visitors who appeared to adjust better to the elements as they were able to build pressure with a series of long-throws and corners, though they weren’t able to work Snedker too often.

They came close when Ashley Sammons latched onto a headed clearance before fizzing a volley goalwards that flew inches wide of the far post. Soon afterwards Grocott had a shot blocked, ex-Rushden man Lewis Wilson had a weak header easily saved and William Dawes also saw two efforts well blocked.

In response the hosts almost saw George played through on goal only for away keeper Murphy Mahoney to come out and collect. The Stratford man was called into action again when he mishit a kick forward, and Nathan Tshikuna was quickly to latch onto it. With the keeper out of his goal he attempted to lob him from over 40 yards out on the right, but Mahoney was able to get back and hold the effort.

He was powerless in the 41st minute though as Rushden took the lead. A good period of pressure led to George being fouled in a central position, and Nathan Tshikuna curled a sumptuous strike past the wall and into the bottom corner in front of the Peter de Banke terrace. It was the creative midfielder’s third consecutive goal in home league matches after his strikes against Redditch and Lowestoft, and gave Rushden an important lead heading into the half-time interval.

Half time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1-0 Stratford Town

Second half

The visitors emerged from the changing rooms a minute before Diamonds, and they started the half on the front foot as Diamonds struggled to keep possession or regularly get into the attacking half. After Stratford had an effort blocked, they found a leveller just before the hour mark when Jack Storer unleashed a terrific strike from distance that left Snedker with no chance.

Their forward momentum continued, and they should have taken the lead moments later when Jordan Williams headed over from a corner. They didn’t have to wait much longer though as, in the 69th minute, Jack Storer scored again as he steered home from just inside the area following a galloping run forward from full-back Kynan Isaac.

Peaks reacted by bringing on Will Jones for George, and the substitute was involved straight away as he superbly controlled Warburton’s ball forward before spinning into space behind. His low ball in from the left of the area was cleared behind, and Alex Collard met the resulting corner only for his header to drift wide.

The hosts continued to huff and puff, though they struggled to make any inroads or build any sustained pressure. Deacon ran through after another Warburton ball forward and hit a low effort that bounced off the post, but the assistant referee’s flag had already been raised for offside against the striker.

Instead, it was the away side who scored next and so confirmed the three points would be heading back to Warwickshire. A low ball in from the left led to a strike that Snedker saved well with his feet, but it ran out for Ashley Sammons who whipped a pinpoint effort into the top corner.

Four minutes of additional time were signalled, but these passed without any action as Diamonds slumped to defeat.

Full time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1-3 Stratford Town

This was a bad day at the office for the hosts as they never really got going, struggled to create and tended to be overrun in midfield. They held the lead at half-time and it looked like they may be able to grind out a result, but Stratford took their second-half chances with aplomb and deserved their win.

Diamonds remain in the top eight, and they have a chance to bounce back quickly when they travel to take on Tamworth on Tuesday (14 December) in a 7.45pm kick-off.

Attendance: 322

Diamonds Man of the Match: Ben Diamond

Match report by Ollie Mortimer

Diamonds: Snedker, Casey, Warburton, Bell-Toxtle, Dolman, Collard (C), Tshikuna, Diamond, Deacon, Shamsi, George (Jones 73) (subs not used: Slinn, Garwood, Akubuine, Nixon)

Diamonds goals: Tshikuna (41)

Diamonds yellows: Casey (38)

Stratford: Murphy Mahoney, Daniel Vann, Kynan Isaac (Michael O’Regan 90+1), Joseph Magunda, Jordan Williams, Jack Storer (Daniel Lafferty 81), Harry Wakefield (Michael Taylor 80), Will Grocott (C), Ashley Sammons, Lewis Wilson, William Dawes (subs not used: Owen James, Ahmed Obeng)

Stratford goals: Storer (56, 69), Sammons (87)

Stratford yellows: Wilson (11)