Diamonds notched two second half goals to win the this feisty FA Cup tie and reach the 2nd Qualifying Round for the 3rd time in 4 entries into the competition.
A competitive first half ended goalless despite the away side hitting the post through a Purcell deflected free-kick and seeing Abs Thompson fire across goal when well placed, and Diamonds come close through a Nabil Sharif header and a Nick Evangelinos half volley that was blocked on the line. There were plenty of midfield challenges penalised by referee Alistair Wilson, not least on quick running Robbie Parsons but the game finished goalless at the break.
It took just two minutes to change that status though as a Hornchurch attack broke down and Ross Oulton put Taylor Orosz away from the half-way line. He coolly rounded keeper Sam Mott and fired home to the delight of the ecstatic home crowd. Hornchurch pushed forward solidly for 15 minutes with a number of corners and free-kicks repelled by the excellent Brad Harris and Liam Dolman at the heart of the Diamonds defence. Diamonds were increasingly dangerous on the break and finally clinched the game right on 90 minutes as Nabil Shariff cut inside and fired home and left footed from the edge of the box.
Diamonds manager Andy Peaks, for the second consecutive game, kept faith with the same starting XI as they seeked to make it four wins on the bounce, and the only alteration came amongst the substitutes as striker Jon Stevenson made a welcome return to the bench after his time away in America.
As the players stepped out onto the Dog & Duck pitch the sky was still overcast and there remained some rain in the air, though it had slowed significantly shortly before the game was due to kick off. With AFC Hornchurch being in 9th position in the Isthmian League Division One North (step four of the Non-league pyramid) and having narrowly missed out on promotion last season after boasting the league’s tightest defence, Rushden knew it was a big and difficult test that lay ahead of them.
After Diamonds’ excellent display in defeating Bedworth United on Bank Holiday Monday, confidence still appeared to be high as the hosts went on the attack immediately from referee Alistair Wilson signalling the start of proceedings. Robbie Parsons was fouled down the right flank after an energetic burst forward and his resulting free-kick was well parried away by Hornchurch goalkeeper Sam Mott and the subsequent clearance was made.
Both sides were swift and quick to close down their opposing numbers especially in the midfield area in the early exchanges, though one example unfortunately led to Jack Ashton and Kyal McNulty clashing into one another as they both attempted to win a header just past the halfway line. After a couple of minutes of treatment Ashton was able to continue, albeit after requiring a change of shirt, but McNulty had to leave the field despite initially attempting to play on as he was replaced by Aidan Bradshaw. This added to the stilted and slightly disjointed feel to the match which had already been established with both defences being on top and any push, pull or niggly challenge being pulled up by the referee.
A case of this came in the 17th minute when a long ball forward by the visitors’ goalkeeper saw Ashton penalised for what seemed like a rather innocuous push on a Hornchurch striker, and so The Urchins had a free-kick in a dangerous position on the edge of the area. Ex-Ebbsfleet United striker George Purcell stepped up to take the kick, and the strike clipped the bottom of the four-man Diamonds wall on its way to hitting the base of Matt Finlay’s left-hand post with the Diamonds goalkeeper rooted to the spot. It span out for a throw-in on the Hornchurch right, and after the long throw was dealt with a resultant cross in was only cleared as far as James Morrish to thrash an attempted volley well over the crossbar.
Hornchurch began to have a spell of pressure and possession as they looked to find the all-important first goal in the tie, though aside from a dangerous cross from the left that Purcell almost got on the end of before fouling Ashton in the process, Rushden defended stoutly. The time ticked past the 25th minute mark with the game still being very much dominated by good defensive work and protection rather than penetration, but that was all to change as the game began to open up more up until the half-time break. Firstly in the 26th minute Parsons was fouled again on the right wing, and his delivery was inadvertently flicked across goal by previous round match-winner Abs Thompson but fortunately for the away side it ran out for a throw-in. Sam Brown launched it into the area, and it was headed straight back out into his path for him to stand up a cross into the heart of the box for Nabil Shariff to head goalwards, but he was stretching back as he leaped and so the header represented a comfortable save for Mott.
The visitors then immediately swept down the other end and earnt a throw-in themselves, this time on the right side. Full-back Dave Collis pitched the throw into the area that was well headed away by a Diamonds man, but it fell invitingly for an unmarked Morrish on the edge of the area to drive a left-footed shot goalwards that was luckily for the hosts straight at Finlay. Moments later Thompson then used his pace to get in behind Sam Brown to reach a through ball and he flashed a cross-come-shot right across the face of goal, though no Hornchurch player was able to reach it and it ran out for a goal-kick.
The match was quite physical in the opening half, with both sides keen to stop their opposing numbers settling into any sort of rhythm or tempo. Parsons, who often had two or three players for company when he received possession, was fouled by Morrish as he attempted to drive forward into space, and Liam Dolman stepped up to curl the dead-ball at goal that Mott comfortably saved at his near post. To highlight the end-to-end nature that was beginning to take place the away side immediately launched a foray forward of their own, and they won a free-kick after a shove by Dolman. The kick was laid short to Purcell around 30 yards from goal and he whipped a shot left-footed that bounced once before reaching Finlay who gathered rather easily.
The Diamonds then began a period of concerted pressure as the contest moved closer to half-time. They earnt a corner on the left which Parsons delivered into the area, and Brad Harris was able to work the ball back out to the winger. He jinked into a bit of space and flashed a shot towards the near post that may have been going wide, but Mott took no chances and parried the ball behind for another corner. The second set-piece was initially cleared, but Rushden cleverly worked the ball via Ross Oulton to Shariff who drove into the right side of the area and drove an attempted cross towards goal that the Hornchurch keeper was again forced to tip behind. Parsons again whipped the ball into the box, and it fortuitously bounced through to the lurking and free Nic Evangelinos around 12 yards from goal, and it seemed for all the world that he would open the scoring. However, a combination of a diving Nathan Cooper and Morrish managed to charge the attempt down and the ball ran out for another corner. This final corner came to nothing though, and Hornchurch were allowed a moment of respite and recovery.
The hosts were quickly back on the attack though as they sensed a potential opening goal before the end of the first period, and Shariff was able to turn well on the right side of the area and dink a left-footed cross towards the middle of the box that was just taken off the advancing Harris’ head by a Hornchurch defender. The lively Parsons then threaded a through-ball looking for the run of Taylor Orosz but the ball skipped off the wet surface and allowed Mott to rush out and clear the ball upfield, and Parsons was involved further as he curled a free-kick in from the right flank that Shariff could only contrive to glance over the bar as he tried to generate power into the header.
Moments later the half-time whistle was blown by referee Wilson to mark the end of a keenly-contested and largely even half of FA Cup football.
Half Time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0-0 AFC Hornchurch
Both teams re-emerged for the second half with the tie still very much in the balance and having the potential to go either way at this stage. The rain had abated slightly, though there was a strong wind that had blown across the surface as the first-half ended and was still present in the air as the second-half got underway. Hornchurch were the first side to generate an opportunity in this second period as a loose ball fell for striker David Knight in a potentially dangerous position, but his shot from the edge of the box was straight at Finlay.
And two minutes later, in the 49th minute, Diamonds were to take the lead. Hornchurch were on the offensive when a loose pass allowed the ball to be cleared upfield, and this appeared to catch the visiting defence off-guard as Taylor Orosz was able to run from his own half and reach the ball with only the goalkeeper ahead of him. Despite appeals for offside which were correctly waved away the Rushden number 9 ran into the gargantuan amount of space ahead of him and as he reached the edge of the penalty area he pushed the ball to the goalkeeper’s right. Mott had already committed himself by going to ground and so Orosz was able to round the stopper to slot the ball into the unguarded net. The strong celebrations which involved every single Diamonds player showed how much it meant to them, though there was a still a lot of time to go in the game for things to change.
There was an immediate setback moments later as Ashton, holding his hamstring, was forced to leave the action which resulted in a re-shuffle in the Diamonds defence and midfield. Richard Bunting took the place of the injured defender, and this meant the versatile Harris stepped back to partner Dolman in the centre of defence. Hornchurch, looking for a quick response and leveller, tested the new-look defence straight away when Kenzer Lee picked up a weak clearance, and he managed to hit a left-footed shot towards the far post that for a moment had Finlay worried, but the ball rolled beyond the post and out for a goal-kick in the end.
Rushden had a further close escape in the 55th minute when set-piece taker Collis moved across to take a corner from the right side, and his pinpoint delivery almost found Cooper who had stolen a march on his marker. The ball just flashed over him, but then ricocheted off a Diamonds man and fell back into the path of the tall centre-half, but with a host of home bodies being between him and the goal his attempted effort was blocked and eventually, rather desperately, smuggled behind for another corner.
For the next fifteen minutes a quiet period occurred, with Hornchurch not able to create any clear-cut opportunities due to Diamonds’ excellent closing-down in midfield and their calmness and strength in defence. Harris in particular, as he has shown throughout his time at the club, was imperious as he adapted to the centre-back role with assuredness, and Dolman alongside him also made a number of clearances and interceptions to stop any visiting threat on Finlay’s goal. Two changes took place, with firstly George Woodward replacing Alex Bentley for the visitors and then Tom Lorraine entering the fray at the expense of Evangelinos. The hosts kept their 4-4-2 shape, with Orosz moving out to the right wing and Parsons going across to operate from the left flank.
In the 70th minute The Urchins won another corner on the right, and Collis delivered a tempting cross into a melee of players that saw a Hornchurch header blocked by a Diamonds player out for another set-piece, though this resulting kick caused no problems for the home defence. Another quiet period of 10 minutes ensued as the visitors continued to search for an equaliser but they were being repelled comfortably by a Diamonds team who were still confidently keeping possession and looking resolute and commanding in defence. Moments after the away side introduced a striker at the expense of Collis, Lorraine won a flick-on that dropped for Orosz to run down the right wing, reach the byline and swivel to float a left-footed cross into the box. Lorraine leaped for the header, though a Hornchurch defender also challenged with him and so the ball looped up for Mott to comfortably collect.
The minutes continued to tick down as the Diamonds soaked up the surprisingly limited pressure that was coming their way, though this was the case not due to a lack of application from the visitors, but rather intelligent work from the hosts to maintain possession and deal with any balls forward efficiently and with high composure. Hornchurch made their third and final change when winger Ayrton Coley replaced fellow winger Thompson, but it was still Diamonds in the ascendency as the game was about to move into the 90th minute.
And Rushden were able to seal the victory by extending their lead. Oulton did well to win the ball in a midfield challenge, and he in turn lofted a ball over the top of the away defence for Nabil Shariff to run onto. He moved into the penalty area, committed Cooper into attempting a challenge before swiftly cutting inside him and curling an effort beyond the despairing dive of Mott and into the back of the net at the near post. Shariff could have scored his second of the match and his fifth of the season shortly afterwards when Lorraine knocked the ball into the path of Orosz, and he sprinted forward to find himself in a four-on-two situation in the home side’s favour. He reached the box before pulling the ball back for Shariff, who showed a close first touch to move away from a defender and flash an effort at the near post that Mott did brilliantly to parry behind.
This proved to be the final action of note as Alistair Wilson called time on the contest after five minutes of extra-time, with Diamonds carrying on their excellent FA Cup home form that has now seen them win six out of eight ties played at the Dog & Duck so far in their short history.
This marked Diamonds’ fourth consecutive victory in all competitions and second straight clean-sheet at home, which marks a nice change after seeing the side concede six goals in two home matches back in the middle of August. Special credit has to be given to Aidan Bradshaw and Brad Harris in particular who stepped into defence during the contest and defended with assurance, though this is to take nothing away from the rest of the side who played with a confidence and diligent nature that has naturally come with the recent run of good results. The game was very much on the proverbial knife-edge at the half-time interval, but Rushden took the game away from The Urchins in the second period with clinical finishing at crucial stages in the game and strong defending when it was required. They progress in to the Emirates FA Cup Second Qualifying Round that will be played over the weekend of September 17th and 18th with Diamonds set to find out who their opponents will be when the draw is made on Monday lunchtime. Before then though, they have a league fixture, again at the Dog & Duck, versus Gresley FC on Saturday September 10th.
Diamonds Man of the Match: Brad Harris
Match Report by Ollie Mortimer (initial match summary by Paul Judd)
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
17. Matt Finlay
2. Kyal McNulty
3. Sam Brown
4. Jack Ashton
5. Liam Dolman (C)
6. Brad Harris
7. Ross Oulton
8. Robbie Parsons
9. Taylor Orosz
10. Nabil Shariff
11. Nic Evangelinos
12. Aidan Bradshaw (for McNulty 13)
13. Joseph Haynes
14. Jon Stevenson
15. Richard Bunting (for Ashton 51)
16. Tom Lorraine (for Evangelinos 69)
1. Sam Mott
2. Dave Collis
3. Jed Chouman
4. Elliot Styles (C)
5. Nathan Cooper
6. James Morrish
7. Alex Bentley
8. Kenzer Lee
9. David Knight
10. George Purcell
11. Abs Thompson
12. George Woodward (for Bentley 57)
14. Ricky Freeman (for Collis 80)
15. Jandir Da Cruz
16. Ayrton Coley (for Thompson 84)
17. Harry Agombar
18. Jamie Hursie
Goals: Orosz (49), Shariff (90)
Yellow Cards: Oulton (45+3), Dolman (60), Bradshaw (65)
Yellow Cards: Styles (82), Morrish (86)
Referee: Alistair Wilson
Assistants: Mark Chalkley, Simon Peech
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