AFC Rushden & Diamonds started 2014 with a 1-0 victory over Boston Town at the Dog & Duck. It took a goal from Fazel Koriya to break the deadlock after 71 minutes as he flicked home a Joe Henderson header from close range. With the Poachers looking far more confident than they had in the game at Tattershall Road in December, both sides had their share of possession in the first hour, but as the visitors faded the Diamonds got their goal and had several good chances to increase their lead in the last quarter of the game.
The game went ahead against the odds after sterling efforts by a team of volunteers to get the pitch playable after the continual recent rainfall. Although heavily sanded, the pitch played remarkably well under the circumstances.
After the fortnight break Diamonds manager Mark Starmer was without Arron Parkinson and Russ Dunkley, so Joe Henderson moved to centre-back alongside Jamal Clarke, and Fazel Koriya and Alfie Taylor formed a strike partnership. Richard Bunting was fit to take a place on the bench, alongside Aaron King who had recovered from a recent illness. Sam Brown took over the captain’s armband in the absence of Parkinson and Dunkley.
The Diamonds made good use of the better conditions on the flanks in the early stages, with an excellent early move involving Merrill and Gearing on the right saw a cross from Gearing met on the volley by Fazel Koriya which forced an excellent save from keeper Drury who tipped the effort over the bar. Koriya had an even better chance after 17 minutes when Joe Henderson started another move down the right and Gearing and Merrill again combined to find Fazel Koriya in space in the area. Although his first touch was good he then dwelt rather too long and the opportunity was lost.
In the game at Tattershall Road the Poachers had only created a single chance in the first period, whereas they showed far more attacking intent in this game, winning a series of free kicks in the sort of position they had scored from in the earlier game. Rather than trying to repeat the success of the ball pumped into the box they saw Daryl Clare waste two of the chances trying a short ball routine which were easily dealt with, and then Kennedy fired another high over the bar.
Another Diamonds chance fell to Matt Gearing as a Ling cross was headed into the air by a defender, but Gearing’s header was easily gathered by Drury. Gearing then set up Koriya with another chance which he could only head over the bar.
The closest the visitors came in the first half was when a move down the left saw a low cross deflect off Matt Gearing, looping up in the air over Tom Cross before striking the post.
The half ended in some confusion, as Brad Harris and Matt Kennedy tangled near the dugouts after the ball had gone, and so referee Gregory had to take advice from his linesman on what had occurred. It initially appeared he might be about to book Jamal Clarke, who had acted as “peacemaker”, but the two “culprits” were correctly identified and shown yellow cards.
Half-Time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0 Boston Town 0
Alfie Taylor had a quiet first half by his standards, but was far more involved in the second period, starting with a pass that found Koriya who beat the offside trap easily but after turning past his man he didn’t quite get the correct contact on the ball. Greg Ling was also far more involved in the second half, and he was set up with a chance by Taylor, but his effort was blocked. Séan McBride was at the centre of much of the action in midfield, not letting the difficult conditions affect his contribution to the game.
At the other end a ball from Daryl Clare found Josh Ford in a good shooting position but the Poachers’ striker failed to take advantage. Both Taylor and Koriya had further chances to the left of goal, but could only find the side netting.
The visitors substitute Paul Jones had a great chance to put them ahead as he hit a curling shot that forced Tom Cross to make his best save of the game. As the visitors threatened on the break Jamal Clarke was forced into a challenge that resulted in his tenth yellow card of the season – meaning he will miss two games starting in a fortnight’s time.
AFC Rushden & Diamonds fans have yet to witness a goalless draw, but as the game wore on it began to look like this might be the first game the club had played without a goal.
Koriya and Taylor linked once again and this time it was Koriya that produced a good save from Drury as he tipped the shot for a corner. The resultant corner was one of many well delivered efforts from Matt Gearing, and it was headed powerfully down towards goal by Joe Henderson. As it headed towards the goal line it was flicked home by Fazel Koriya with 71 minutes on the clock.
The goal seemed to take the Diamonds into another gear, helped by the introduction of Richard Bunting for a cameo appearance in the last 20 minutes. A long ball was controlled “on a sixpence” by Fazel Koriya and then laid into the path of Alfie Taylor in the right channel, but the Diamonds striker dragged his shot across the face of goal. Greg Ling then made a good run into the box, and tried to keep his feet after being tripped which meant referee Gregory waved away the penalty claims. Matt Gearing then made another good run which produced a cross that would have been a simple chance for Alfie Taylor had the fingertips of Drury not intervened, with the ball lobbing to Greg Ling who blazed over.
Gearing then produced another good save from a well-hit free kick before delivering a corner onto the head of Jamal Clarke whose goalbound header was cleared off the line. Taylor then dragged a similar effort from the right across the goal before being replaced by Deven Ellwood. Late chances fell to Ellwood on the break and to Greg Ling whose second half contribution perhaps deserved better than the finishing he produced.
The Diamonds victory was sealed after five minutes of added time, and although they may reflect that they had a greater share of possession in the game at Tattershall Road, the three points gained from this game will keep them in second place in the UCL Premier Table.
Full-Time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1 Boston Town 0
The Diamonds can now focus on the FA Vase again, as they host St Andrews FC on Saturday as one of only two UCL representatives in the last 32 of the competition.
Diamonds Man of the Match chosen by Match Sponsor Jane Dexter from Dale’s Bar: Séan McBride
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
17. Tom Cross
2. Joe Merrill
3. Sam Brown (c)
4. Séan McBride
5. Joe Henderson
6. Jamal Clarke
7. Matt Gearing
8. Brad Harris
9. Fazel Koriya
10. Alfie Taylor
11. Greg Ling
12. Richard Bunting (for Harris 73)
13. Connor Brown
14. Alex Deakin
15. Deven Ellwood (for Taylor 89)
16. Aaron King
1. Ricky Drury
2. Lawrence Lambley
3. Nick Jackson
4. Jordan Nuttell
5. Michael Wood (c)
6. Ollie Pinner
7. Lori Borbely
8. Paul Goodhand
9. Josh Ford
10. Daryl Clare
11. Matt Kennedy
12. Tom Hobson (for Goodhand 76)
13. Paul Jones (for Jackson 63)
14. Matty Kingston (for Wood 56)
15. Dan Woods
Goal: Koriya (71)
Yellow Cards: Harris, Clarke
Yellow Cards: Kennedy, Pinner
Referee: Paul Gregory
Assistants: Gary Gurney, Kevin Davis