A second-half equaliser from Alex Collard gave AFC Rushden & Diamonds a share of the points at Hayden Road on Saturday afternoon.
Manager Peaks made just the solitary change to the starting XI that had been narrowly defeated at fellow fan-owned club Enfield Town in the FA Cup the previous week. Captain Liam Dolman was ruled out with an ankle injury, and so Jack Ashton returned straight to the starting line-up after his recent suspension. There proved to be another change just before kick-off when Nat Gosnal-Tyler hurt his knee in the warm-up, and so Sam Johnson replaced him.
The two teams stepped out on a warm, sunny day at Hayden Road, and intrigue was high ahead of the fourth-placed vs third-placed encounter. Both sides had identical league records having won four and drawn one of their opening six matches, but the visitors had a better goal difference having conceded one goal less. Diamonds had won each of their opening three home games of the season but had only emerged victorious in one of their last four matches in all competitions, whilst Royston had won their last three games. After the pre-match formalities were completed, referee Ruebyn Ricardo blew to start the match.
Rushden were lining up in a 4-4-2 formation, with Johnson and Acquaye as the natural wingers and with Tom Lorraine and Ryan Dove continuing their partnership up front. The action began slowly with both sides taking time to settle into the contest, but it was the hosts who threatened first in the fifth minute. A dangerous cross in by Sam Brown was well cleared away, and his subsequent long-throw launched into the area was headed out for the first corner of the match. The inswinging delivery by Johnson found Ashton, but his downward header was also hacked away.
Moments later, Royston also threatened with a ball in from the left that midfielder Adam Crowther headed over the bar. Diamonds were back on the offensive two minutes afterwards, and they won another corner on the left. The dangerous delivery reached Dove who headed across, and it bounced up for Brown at close-range. However, with a couple of defenders in close attention, the full-back slammed an effort over the bar.
The home side were beginning to have the better of possession and territory, a feature that would be the case for much of the opening half. In the 15th minute an away corner was well cleared and Diamonds broke with pace. Ben Acquaye found the advancing Hicks ahead of the halfway line, and he sped forward into the left side of the area before cutting inside and seeing a shot blocked away.
A brief lull in play then set in, but Diamonds continued to look the more threatening. Halfway through the half Johnson was found in space on the right wing, and he cleverly jinked inside before bobbling a low shot into the side-netting. The away side had briefly threatened on the counter-attack, and they had their first shot on target just before half-hour mark when striker Matt Bateman had a shot from range easily held by Ben Heath. Moments later, tricky winger Claudio Ofosu cleverly turned halfway inside the attacking half before running forward and playing it across to Scott Bridges. He lined up a shot from around 30 yards out, but the effort sailed comfortably over the bar and the Peter de Banke terrace.
It was proving to be a good little spell of pressure from Royston, and they came close when Bateman met a low cross at the near post before neatly turning and seeing a shot deflected behind by a last-ditch sliding challenge. The resulting delivery was cleared out, but the ball was worked back to the wing where it was played back in just out of the reach of a couple of onrushing away players.
Two minutes later, Lorraine did well to win a free-kick on the right. Acquaye lined it up and played it in towards the near post, but it was cleared out for a throw-in on the right. Brown moved across to take it, and he dispatched a delivery into the area that dropped for Collard. His seemingly goalbound effort was blocked, but it fell for Lorraine in space and in the middle of the area. However, the Diamonds all-time top scorer snatched at the opportunity and it flashed over the bar.
The game ticked towards the half-time interval, with Johnson threatening to break the deadlock when he sped down the left before firing a ball towards the near post that away keeper Joe Welch confidently held. It seemed that the half would remain goalless, but there was enough time for the visitors to take the lead. A good move down the right saw full-back Gus Scott-Morriss deliver a threatening cross into the area, and it found Matt Bateman who cleverly guided his header back across Heath and into the far corner of the net.
It was a tough blow to take right before the break and, after Ofosu was booked for Royston, the referee signalled the half-time whistle.
Half time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0-1 Royston Town
The attendance was confirmed as a healthy 463 during the break, and the sun continued to shine high in the Northamptonshire sky as the two teams emerged from the changing rooms. After a swift count of both sets of players, the referee got the match back underway.
Diamonds won a corner within the first minute of the half after Dove had a cross blocked behind, but Acquaye’s inswinging delivery was well caught by Welch. Royston responded and broke well with pace when Ofosu sped down the right. He fired a cross into the middle that reached Brandon Adams, and his first touch almost ran for Bateman only for Hicks to calmly step in to intercept and to clear away.
The Diamonds midfielder was involved again two minutes later up the other end. He was fed a pass after a strong run down the left by Brown, and he in turn played a square pass to Ben Farrell whose driven low shot took a deflection on its way past the post. The subsequent set-piece was whipped in and looked like it may find Collard, but a defensive header just took it away from the home man and out for a throw-in.
However, the defender wasn’t kept waiting much longer for his goal. The following throw-in was pitched into the area but cleared, and the loose ball ended up with Brown again to loop a cross into the six-yard box. Alex Collard jumped high as the keeper slipped down to the ground, and his towering header nestled into the back of the net. It was the centre-back’s third goal of the campaign, and it put the game right back in the balance.
Diamonds’ confidence was now up, and they sensed another goal immediately. Dove almost slotted a pass through for Johnson that would have left the winger running through on goal, and then Brown broke away down the left before whipping in an inviting low delivery that was just cleared away. The visitors still represented a threat though, and they halted a home attack before launching a long ball over the top that found Bateman in behind. However, he was forced wide by the covering Ashton and his following effort sailed over the bar.
The hour mark passed, and the visitors made the first substitution of the game by bringing on defender Ben Martin for striker Adams. This meant a re-shuffle that saw Adam Murray, who had started in defence, go up front to partner Bateman. Ofosu threatened on a couple of occasions following the alteration – firstly he found space over 30 yards out to shoot, but Heath was able to comfortably hold the effort. Then he got away down the left before cutting inside and hitting a low effort that the home keeper was again able to hold.
Shortly afterwards, Diamonds had a great chance to take the lead. Hicks did excellently to intercept and feed Johnson through the middle, and the winger accelerated forward into space before hitting a low shot that was deflected through to Lorraine. The striker only faced the keeper between him and the goal, but Welch flew out to make a vital block and to deflect the shot away from danger. Two minutes later, the front-man won a free-kick on the left, and Johnson’s delivery curled past a few bodies and out for a goal-kick.
The game was now pretty open with both teams sensing a winner, and it was set up for an entertaining final twenty minutes. Farrell went down following a midfield challenge and required treatment, and Peaks introduced Matthew Slinn in place of the hardworking midfielder. Royston won a free-kick just short of 30 yards out after Murray was pushed, and Bridges stepped forward to whip the effort up and over the wall. It looked destined for the top corner, but Heath leapt to fingertip the ball over the bar. The resultant corner was initially cleared, but it was played back in before looping up for a header on goal that was the Diamonds keeper commandingly caught.
The end-to-end nature of the play that was beginning to characterise the closing exchanges was exemplified with just over ten minutes to go. Ofosu stormed down the left for Royston from deep and whipped in a dangerous cross towards the back post. It reached Bateman, but he couldn’t get much contact on the effort and it was cleared away downfield. A minute later, Johnson got away down the right before his cross found Jack Bowen who had moments before come on for Lorraine. He neatly laid the ball off to the lurking Dove on the edge of the area, and he slammed a venomous half-volley towards goal. Welch was rooted to the spot, but the effort cannoned off the upright and back into play.
Ofosu had been the main danger for the visitors in the second period and, in the 84th minute, he created another opportunity for himself. He was falling down as he shot though, and so his attempt dribbled through for Heath to collect. They had gone a little more direct as a result of Murray going up front earlier in the half, and one bouncing ball into the area caused danger until Ashton stepped in to clear away and win a free-kick in the process.
Two minutes of normal time remained, and Rushden won a throw-in on the left in Sam Brown territory. The full-back ran forward to sling in the delivery, and Collard won the flick-on only for an away man to head away. As the match ticked into stoppage-time and towards a draw, there remained one final moment of drama. A move down the right for Royston saw a cross towards the far post from just inside the area, and it appeared to strike Ashton on the hand from close-range. There were loud calls from the away players and fans alike for a penalty, but the referee comprehensively dismissed the appeals and waved play on.
After four minutes of additional time that brought no real action of note, referee Ricardo signalled the end of the match.
Full time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1-1 Royston Town
Diamonds maintained their unbeaten home record so far this season but, after controlling much of the first half and creating the better opportunities, they will feel like they could have won the game. They fought back well after the sucker-punch on the stroke of half-time, and they came centimetres away from a winning goal when Dove’s strike hit the post. Royston were well-drilled defensively and regularly threatened with pace and direct running on the counter-attack, and it made for an entertaining draw overall. Rushden don’t have much recovery time as they are back in action on Monday evening (September 16, 7.45pm kick-off) as they travel to face Hitchin Town.
Diamonds Man of the Match: Jack Ashton
Match report by Ollie Mortimer
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
13. Ben Heath
2. Zack Reynolds
3. Sam Brown (C)
4. Jack Ashton
5. Alex Collard
7. Ben Acquaye
8. Ben Farrell
9. Tom Lorraine
10. Ryan Dove
11. Nathan Hicks
12. Sam Johnson
6. Nat Gosnal-Tyler
14. Matthew Slinn (for Farrell 73)
15. Jesse Akubuine (for Johnson 85)
16. Massiah McDonald
18. Jack Bowen (for Lorraine 77)
1. Joe Welch
2. Gus Scott-Morriss
3. Spyros Mentis
4. Scott Bridges
5. Adam Murray
6. Daniel Brathwaite (C)
7. Adam Crowther
8. Ed Asafu-Adjaye
9. Brandon Adams
10. Matthew Bateman
11. Claudio Ofosu
12. Ben Martin (for Adams 63)
14. Luke Knight (for Mentis 73)
15. Harold Joseph
16. Jack Dickerson
17. Harry Smart
Goals: Collard (54)
Goals: Bateman (45)
Yellow cards: None
Yellow cards: Ofosu (45+1), Asafu-Adjaye (76)
Referee: Ruebyn Ricardo
Assistants: Alec Simpson, Minesh Gupta