A 4th successive league game between these sides finished 2-1, this time at the Dog & Duck on Tuesday evening with Spalding running out winners for the second time in Wellingborough while Diamonds have won twice in Spalding by the same score.
A high quality game saw plenty of enterprise from both sides in a goalless first half but there were a limited number of chances. Both sides hit the woodwork – Lorraine for Diamonds with a header against the bar and Stainfield for Spalding with an acrobatic volley clipping the left hand post – and both sides saw flashing efforts just go wide.
The second half started with a bang for Diamonds though as Liam Dolman smashed a 20 yard free-kick through the wall to give the home side the lead. They then had the ball in the net just 4 minutes later as Lewis Leslie converted Tom Lorraine’s mishit shot but he was just ruled offside. And just a minute later Neal Spafford was sent-off for a second yellow card to reduce the away side to 10 men.
Spalding stayed positive with 10 men as Diamonds at done in Spalding earlier in the season but looked to be starting to run out of steam as they were awarded a 65th minute penalty. It was a soft decision as Paul Walker went down as he was running away from goal but it was coolly converted by Cenk Acar. Then on 72 after Diamonds lost possession in midfield Leon Mettam got in behind Brad Harris went down and was awarded an edge of the box free-kick. He struck it superbly into the top corner to complete what had seemed an unlikely turnaround.
Diamonds pressed for an equaliser with second half substitute Ollie Brown-Hill running purposefully at the Spalding back four and being brought down a number of times. He might have earned a penalty on 90 minutes as he was tripped as he surged between defenders into the box but was harshly penalised for simulation.
Spalding ran out winners thanks to some committed defending and a real positive enterprise shown when they went down to 10 men just as Diamonds had done in Spalding early in the year. There is every chance these two sides could meet in the play-offs later in the season but neither will want a home tie!!
This was a good quality game from the off with two evenly matched sides probing each other well but coming up against aggressive confident defending.
Spalding forced home keeper Matt Finlay into an early punch clear of a dangerous right wing cross and Nabil Shariff chased down a loose ball to turn and fire a low effort in front of the Peter De Banke that was well held by away keeper Michael Duggan.
Bradley Wells has always impressed against Diamonds and his run on 8 minutes deep into the box was squared for Leon Mettam to side foot just wide of the left post when he was really well placed.
Diamonds upped the attacking tempo around the 15 minute mark and fired a number of balls into the box from free-kicks and corners that Tom Lorraine came close to converting. He got a swinging foot on a low Richard Bunting effort that went just over and then came closer still as he rose to head a right wing corner firmly off the angle of post and bar.
Spalding responded again with their own close headed effort from a deep free-kick that was fairly easily collected by Matt Finlay, and then they beat the home keeper on 24 with an acrobatic volley by Nathan Whitehead that he could only watch clip the outside of the left hand post.
Sam Brown is the promotion talisman for Diamonds he came close to one of his rare but dramatic goals on 33 as he picked the ball in the centre of the field worked himself to the left in space and let fly seeing his stinging effort just clear the bar.
Games between these sides have always been feisty and after Wells was a tad fortunate not to see at least yellow for another poor challenge on Richard Bunting, a late challenge on Tom Lorraine saw both Neal Spafford and Lorraine pick up yellow cards, the latter for his reaction.
Spalding finished the half strongly with Matt Finlay forced into tipping a close range header just over the bar, and then forced to close down a dangerous break into the box on 42 minutes as Lemon was played in with an excellently timed ball in behind Liam Dolman .
Half time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0 Spalding United 0
The second half started with a bang for Diamonds as Tom Lorraine surged free from midfield just 30 second in and was felled right on the edge of the box. The free-kick was just left of centre and Liam Dolman lined it up for a possible curler but stepped up and smashed hard a low through the wall and through the keeper to give Diamonds the lead.
They then had the ball in the net on 49 minutes for what would have been a vital second goal but Lewis Leslie’s tap home of a mishit Tom Lorraine shot was ruled out for offside. The drama continued just a minute later as Ben Farrell was pulled down in full flow by Neal Spafford, the Spalding centre-half receiving a second yellow and exit from the field.
It might have been a signal for Diamonds to go on and dominate the game but if anything it galvanised Spalding and they showed real attacking intent to push Diamonds back despite being with 10 men. A corner swung in under the bar was just cleared and the return ball punched clear again by Matt Finlay.
Substitutions by both side didn’t really impact the flow of the game but Ollie Brown-Hill introduced for Fazel Koriya did run at Spalding from both central and wide areas attracting number of robust challenges. On 60 minutes he earned a corner with a great run and it could possibly have earned a penalty as a goal bound volley from Ben Farrell was cleared with what appeared to be a hand but nothing was given.
Just 5 minutes later as it seemed the impressive Spalding resurgence was starting to run out of steam they earned a penalty for a challenge by Liam Dolman just outside the 6 yard box. It seemed a soft decision given the player was moving away from goal and could easily have gone the other way but referee Tom Reeves pointed straight for the spot. Cenk Acar stepped up and coolly slotted home to bring the scored level.
After Ollie Brown-Hill had been felled again finally earning Nathan Whitehead a yellow card Spalding profited from a Diamonds midfield error to earn a vital edge of the box free-kick. The ball had broken to Leon Mettam behind Brad Harris in the Diamonds back-four and he went down with the minimum of contact earning the Diamonds midfielder a yellow card. It was another decision that could have gone either way but Leon Mettam took full advantage with a quite brilliant strike into the top left-hand corner to give Spalding the leave.
It was harsh on Diamonds but reward for the enterprise and energy Spalding had shown after going down to 10 men. They went on to deny a faltering Diamonds side a way back into the game despite the introduction of recent talisman Taylor Orosz.
A flying Ollie Brown-Hill was felled yet again by Jordan Lemon this time who picked up a yellow card, and Taylor Orosz had a double effort at goal from 15 yards blocked by away keeper Duggan but they failed to mount the kind of pressure you would expect playing against 10 men.
Spalding managed the game well to deny an exciting climax but there was one final dramatic incident on 90 minutes as Diamonds where denied a penalty on that man Ollie Brown-Hill. Tricking his way through midfield and surging between defenders he went down under challenge inside the box but instead of a penalty he was cautioned for simulation. It was the sort of decision that could have gone either way as earlier in the game but again sadly went against Diamonds.
Final Score: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1 Spalding United 2
This was a game Diamonds had under control against an excellent side at 1-0 early in the second half with their opposition down to 10 men. Strangely though it seemed to usher in a withdrawal by Diamonds from the urgent attacking and defending play that had earned them the advantage and combined with a confident forward surge by an impressive Spalding side cost them the game.
They key decisions on penalties and free-kicks were all ones that could have gone either way but Diamonds came out on the wrong end of them which happens in football.
Spalding deserved their win for the way they responded to adversity and it is intriguing to think these two sides could meet again in the play-offs…what a contest that could be.
Next up for Diamonds back to back away trips to another play-off contender Basford United next Saturday and to Chasetown next Tuesday night.
Man of the Match: Liam Dolman
Match Report by Paul Judd
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
17. Matt Finlay
2. Ben Ford
3. Sam Brown
4. Brad Harris
5. Liam Dolman
6. Ben Farrell
7. Nabil Shariff
8. Fazel Koriya
9. Tom Lorraine
10. Richard Bunting
11. Lewis Leslie
12. Lewis Wilson
13. Ben Heath
14. Robbie Parsons (for Ford 85)
15. Ollie Brown-Hill (for Koriya 56)
16. Taylor Orosz (for Shariff 75)
1. Michael Duggan
2. Paul Walker
3. Adam Jackson
4. Sam Downey
5. Nathan Stainfield
6. Neal Spafford
7. Lee Beeson
8. Nathan Whitehead
9. Bradley Wells
10. Leon Mettam
11. Jordan Lemon
12. Cenk Acar (for Beeson 53)
14. Jonny Lockie (for Butland 90)
15. Connor Higginson (for Downey 61)
16. Levi Butland
Goals: Dolman 46
Goals: Acar (66 Pen), Mettam 73
Yellow Card: Lorraine, Harris, Brown-Hill
Yellow Cards: Spafford (2), Whitehead, Lemon
Red Cards: Spafford
Referee: Tom Reeves
Assistants: Harry Wager, Robert Cairns