AFC Rushden & Diamonds extended their unbeaten run to 18 games with this hard fought 1-1 draw against Stamford at the Dog & Duck on Boxing Day.
Diamonds took the early lead that has eluded them at home this season with Nabil Shariff’s superb strike from the edge of the box on 17 minutes. That lead lasted just 6 minutes though as Chris Salt swept home a loose ball not cleared after a corner. Chances were at a premium in an even first half with Stamford most dangerous from set-pieces and Diamonds neat passing and through balls repeatedly caught offside.
Diamonds upped the tempo early in the second half with Fazel Koriya clever direct running winning corners, feeding Nabil Shariff for close efforts and creating a chance for himself which he put just wide. But the killer chances never came and Stamford continued to threaten particularly from set-pieces. Three home substitutions saw an end to end finish to the game with Nabil Shariff coming close twice in the final moments and Stamford winning free-kicks twice right on the edge of the box after quick breaks that they couldn’t convert.
Brad Harris made his 190th Diamonds appearance on Boxing Day having debuted in the New Years Day fixture of 2013. He returned to the side in place of the unavailable Rory Winters slotting in at centre half alongside Liam Dolman with Sam Brown and Kyal McNulty at full-back. Ben Farrell, Richard Bunting and Lewis Leslie held midfield, with Fazel Koriya joining Jake Newman and Nabil Shariff in a front three. Tom Lorraine returned to the bench after his own unavailability midweek.
On a bright chilly day both sides started with plenty of energy and purpose but denied each other much in the way of early chances. Grant Ryan saw a half-chance deflected wide for the visitors in the first minute and Richard Bunting came close to setting up Nabil Shariff on 3, and then combined with Fazel Koriya to nearly find Shariff again in space in the box on 13.
Stamford pounced on a loose ball in the box after a free-kick on 14 to stab just wide in a rare moment of danger but the opening goal came to the home side on 17. The first piece of really neat build-up play eventually saw Richard Bunting knock the ball into Nabil Shariff just inside the box with back to goal. He controlled superbly, turned, ran along the 18 yard line and struck beautifully into the bottom corner to give Diamonds the lead in a home game for the first time in a while.
That lead was to last just 6 minutes though as Stamford pressed well and generated successive corners at the Peter De Banke end. The second wasn’t cleared and fell invitingly to Chris Salt 12 yards out to sweep home left footed into the roof of the net.
Two goals in 10 minutes wasn’t particularly in keeping with the pattern of the game which reverted back to some midfield sparring and strong edge of area defending by both sides. Both sides were dangerous from set-pieces all afternoon with Lewis Leslie just flicking a near post corner over on 28 and Jake Newman with some impressive defending facing his own goal on 35 to deny Stamford after another corner had not quite been cleared.
Diamonds carried the slightly greater threat in and around the box but weren’t able to get into that part of the field often enough. They were hampered by the offside flag on a number of occasions as Newman and Shariff were brilliantly put through by some great midfield passing but maybe went just a tad early.
Half time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1 Stamford AFC 1
Diamonds noticeably upped the tempo early in the second half with Fazel Koriya on fire running at Stamford to win a series of corners, feeding neat passes through to Nabil Shariff and having his own effort go just wide at the end of a flying run on 49.
Nabil Shariff came close to converting a cross that fell just behind him on 51 with an audacious overhead kick that he didn’t quite connect with. Then on 53 he linked well with Koriya again to get a fierce effort in that the away keeper just blocked despite the offside flag fluttering in the breeze again.
As Diamonds were having their best spell of the game Shariff again created a half-chance for Lewis Leslie with a clever back heel to wrong foot two defenders, the midfielder seeing his effort from 18 yards blocked for a corner. The corner produced probably Diamonds closest effort of the second half as Liam Dolman neatly flicked a near post corner back across goal that seemed to be headed in at the far post but it curled agonisingly wide and just evaded Jake Newman.
The game then settled into a scrappy phase as both side denied the other space in possession and it resulted in little goalmouth action. The introduction of ex Diamond hero Elliot Sandy on 67 saw a resurgence from Stamford who had probably their best spell in the game. Grant Ryan hit a fierce effort from 30 yards just over after a great run, and corners were won and had Diamonds defending at full stretch.
Taylor Orosz was introduced by Diamonds on 71 and then Tom Lorraine and Joe Curtis on 81 as the home side pressed for the winner. The game opened up and became end to end with danger and half-chances at both ends but again not the killer chance.
Ben Farrell was having his best game in a Diamonds shirt and looked stronger as the game drew on setting up Nabil Shariff with some composed midfield play on 74 to run in on goal but see his effort blocked for another corner.
Stamford were breaking quickly back at Diamonds in this phase and John King so nearly got onto the end of a sweeping move on 77 just seeing the ball evade his far post lunge.
Lewis Leslie then set up Shariff on 79 with more neat play only to see his close range effort blocked.
Stamford broke again on 80 with more good running from Jake Duffy working a good shooting chance but the ball flew over the angle of bar and post from 25 yards.
Neither side could add that bit of quality at this stage to generate the killer chance despite two dangerous looking edge of the box free-kicks for Stamford that they couldn’t test Matt Finlay with, and a loose ball falling to Nabil Shariff in behind the Stamford back four in the box for what seemed like a potential tap-in but the ball just evaded him.
The game ended as a well contest 1-1 draw between two good sides who worked hard to deny each other and just weren’t able to break the others defensive resolve after those two early goals. Diamonds unbeaten run now stands at to 18 with a this being a 9th draw in those 18 games, and a 4th on the bounce at home.
Diamonds remain in 5th in the league and will look to keep up their excellent away form with the visits to Chasetown on Thursday 29th and Bedworth on January 2nd.
Man of the Match: Fazel Koriya as chosen by Match Sponsors Harts Family Brewers
Match Report: Paul Judd
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
17. Matt Finlay
2. Kyal McNulty
3. Sam Brown
4. Brad Harris
5. Liam Dolman
6. Ben Farrell
7. Nabil Shariff
8. Fazel Koriya
9. Jake Newman
10. Lewis Leslie
11. Richard Bunting (C)
12. Tom Lorraine (for Newman 81)
13. Ben Heath
14. Joe Curtis (for Leslie 81)
15. Lewis Wilson
16. Taylor Orosz (for Koriya 71)
1. Sam Donkin
2. Curtis Hartley
3. Chris Hollist
4. Chris Salt
5. Kern Miller
6. Delroy Gordon
7. Jamie McGhee
8. Jake Duffy
9. Grant Ryan
10. Jordan Smith (C)
11. John King
12. Olly Luto
14. Josh Noddler
15. Olly Brown-Hill (for Ryan 82)
16. Elliot Sandy (for McGhee 67)
17. Jevani Brown
Goals: Shariff (17)
Goals: Salt (23)
Yellow Cards: Farrell, Dolman
Referee: Tom Reeves
Assistants: Joe Clarke, Scott Tallis