AFC Rushden & Diamonds 2-0 Godalming Town

AFC Rushden & Diamonds signed off the regular Southern League Division One Central season with a comfortable 2-0 victory over Godalming, and will now face Royston Town away in the play-off semi-final.  

Diamonds took the lead after ten minutes when Shawn Richards curled a free-kick into the far corner, and the home side’s play for much of the opening period was fluid and bright. Dan Quigley miskicked when in a promising position and Richards was then brought down inside the area for a penalty, though he fired the resultant kick over the bar. Godalming posed a threat though and saw defender Chris Musgrove’s header blocked on the line, with Will Hutton also forcing Matt Finlay into a decent stop.

The second half was relatively quieter in terms of goalscoring opportunities and tempo, and aside from Robbie Parsons and Claudiu Hoban both forcing saves from Godalming goalkeeper Garnes neither stopper was seriously tested. Diamonds were able to seal the victory in the 74th minute though when Garnes dwelt on a backpass and his eventual clearance struck Jack Bowen, with the ball flying into the vacant net behind the keeper. A win for St Ives meant Diamonds finished in 5th position, and a win for Kings Langley coupled with a draw between Royston and Egham confirmed Rushden’s trip to face second-placed Royston Town on Tuesday evening.

Diamonds manager Andy Peaks made three changes to the side that had been defeated at Egham on Tuesday night, with Dan Quigley, Shawn Richards and Robbie Parsons coming in for Liam Dolman, Andy Hall and the injured Jon Stevenson respectively. This meant a slight tactical re-shuffle as Brad Harris partnered Jack Ashton in central defence, Richards and Parsons started as wingers and Hoban slotted into the number 10 position behind striker Jack Bowen in a 4-4-1-1 formation.

On a glorious, sunny day at the Dog & Duck, the pressure was mostly off for the Diamonds with them having been confirmed in the play-off places on the previous Tuesday evening. Godalming came into the fixture unbeaten in twelve away league games and therefore would represent a tough test for Rushden. Before the contest got underway goalkeeper Matt Finlay was announced as the Supporters Player of the Season, a fitting reward for his consistent performances throughout the campaign. 

The game kicked off with a keen interest towards how the slightly experimental home side would apply themselves in the early exchanges, and they were onto the attack almost instantly. In the third minute Parsons was felled out on the right touchline, and Hoban’s inswinging free-kick was glanced just over his own crossbar by Godalming’s Chris Musgrove. The subsequent corner found Ashton at the back post, but his header was straight at goalkeeper Oneal Garnes.

The away side, nicknamed the G’s, had their opening opportunity in the eighth minute as a short free-kick found Will Hutton, and he was able to advance forward before curling a shot into Finlay’s midriff from 30 yards out. 

The opening stages were played at a quick and lively pace, and one example of this led to the Diamonds’ opening goal in the tenth minute. Richards was able to pick up the ball and accelerate away from Charlie Hutton towards the penalty area, but his progress was halted by the Godalming full-back as he was fouled on the edge of the box. There were calls from the home players that the offence had been committed inside the area, but it didn’t matter as Shawn Richards picked himself up to curl the ball around the wall and into the far corner, leaving Garnes rooted to the spot.

Rushden were closing down their opposing numbers efficiently and then were getting the ball forward swiftly to create problems for the visitors. Persistence by Richards allowed him to keep the ball in by the right byline, and Parsons’ resulting cross was charged down for a corner. A short pass found Parsons again, and he was able to centre for Quigley who miskicked in the middle of the penalty box, with the loose ball being cleared to safety.

It was after the twenty minute mark when the G’s managed to gain a foothold in the fixture and begin to trouble the Rushden goal. In the 23rd minute a corner was only partially cleared, and when the ball was hooked back into the penalty box defender Musgrove was in acres of space at the back post. Though it seemed inevitable that he would score, his header was brilliantly blocked on the goal-line and the hosts were able to complete the clearance. 

This represented a let-off for the Diamonds, and their next meaningful attack seven minutes later resulted in a penalty. Parsons and Richards linked up on the left flank, and though it seemed covering away winger Danny Bassett had quashed and covered the danger, Richards nipped in and drove into the left-side of the area. Bassett brought him down in his attempts to retrieve the ball, and referee Simon Brown had no hesitation in pointing to the penalty spot. Richards placed the ball down, measured his run-up and despite sending the goalkeeper the wrong way, sent his kick too high and cleared the crossbar. 

Godalming looked to make Diamonds pay for the miss immediately, and less than a minute later quick feet by Will Hutton allowed him to skip forward and unleash an effort goalwards that Finlay did well to parry down to his left-side side.

The contest was now quite an end-to-end affair, and it was Diamonds who threatened next. Bowen showed good pace and strength to reach a long ball down the right wing, and he effectively held up play before playing the ball back to the supporting Lewis Leslie. Unfortunately for the home side though he scuffed his shot and it drifted well wide of the left post. Visiting striker Iven Kumanda then lost a boot in a fifty-fifty challenge with Dan Quigley, but picked himself up to flash a left-footed strike wide from 30 yards out with the boot still in his hand. 

As the half-time interval approached the pace, tempo and general rhythm of the game didn’t threaten to relent, and a flurry of half-chances were created. Leslie seized possession on the right side, and with no other options ahead of him he attempted a lob in an attempt to catch Garnes off his line, but the ball dropped harmlessly over the bar. Parsons then wriggled into space inside the area, though his eventual shot was slightly rushed and went well off target. 

On the stroke of half-time the visitors created one last chance of the opening half, as Kumanda found space in midfield to move forward and slam a powerful left-footed effort just over the top of Matt Finlay’s goal.

Half Time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1-0 Godalming Town

The game between Petersfield Town and Kings Langley was goalless at the half-time break, and with Royston against Egham also being scoreless it was as-you-were as the second half got underway. 

Godalming made an early substitution as Rory Sellick replaced full-back Nick Hutchings, and he was into the action straight away as a loose ball dropped to him on the edge of the box, but his half-volley was weak and it dropped wide of the post.

The intensity and lively pace of the opening period was not matched in the early parts of the second half, with both defences being strong and quelling most forward threats. One neat move was worked by the Diamonds in the 53rd minute and by Bowen and Kennedy in particular, with the full-back’s deep cross finding an unmarked Parsons at the back post. However, his downward volley into the ground looped up ideally for Garnes to pat down and then collect. 

Referee Brown was pulling the play up more frequently and the game was therefore more stop-start as mistakes began to creep into the contest, and one free-kick for the G’s saw a quick ball threaded into Bassett on the edge of the box. He turned Kennedy well and was able to get a shot at goal, but it was a tame effort and Finlay was able to easily make the save. Another free-kick, this time for the hosts after Hoban was fouled, saw Richards drift in a dangerous delivery that found Bowen in space, but he completely missed his kick and the chance was gone. 

Godalming’s Kumanda had threatened the home side with a couple of purposeful, driving runs at the back-four, and he was found in space from a throw-in in the 67th minute, though his curling shot on his weaker right foot drifted wide of the right-hand post. A minute later saw a ball clipped down the Diamonds left-wing, and Hoban was able to run onto it to flash a half-volley goalwards as the ball sat up kindly for him. Garnes though was able to confidently hold the ball. 

In their next attack, however, the Diamonds were able to double their advantage and effectively put the game out of Godalming’s reach. There appeared to be no danger at all when a home attack broke down and the ball was played back to goalkeeper Garnes, but he took a long time on the ball and his eventual clearance cannoned into the chasing Jack Bowen, with the ball ricocheting off the striker and flying into the unguarded goal. 

Just as this goal went in news filtered through that Kings Langley had taken the lead and Royston had levelled their match at 1-1, meaning the Diamonds were on course to face Royston in the play-off semi-final. With the lead being two Peaks was able to make a couple of substitutions, with Tom Manship coming on for Quigley and ex-RDFC man Nabil Shariff making a welcome debut for the club at the expense of the hardworking Bowen. 

Chances were very few and far between in the last fifteen minutes, with Diamonds knowing that their job was almost done as long as they were able to carry on containing Godalming. The versatile Harris and determined Ashton had defended well up to this point, and they continued to do so as the visitors were restricted to Bassett and Hutton efforts that Finlay comfortably held. 

After a couple of minutes stoppage time the full-time whistle was sounded, with Kings Langley holding on to the victory they needed to confirm the title and Royston finishing second, meaning that after days of predicting the Diamonds finally knew their semi-final opponents for Tuesday evening.

Full Time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 2-0 Godalming Town

This represented a near-enough perfect final-day for the Diamonds as they won their 14th home game of the league season and also collected their fourth consecutive clean sheet at the Dog & Duck. That is testament to the back-four who defended assuredly throughout the game, but there was also impressive performances from Quigley and Richards to give Peaks a selection dilemma for the upcoming play-off game. The Diamonds end the regular league season on 77 points and in fifth position, an impressive feat with it being their first season at this level. Their play-off semi-final will be played against Royston Town at the Crows’ home ground Garden Walk this coming Tuesday on the 26th April, with the other semi-final seeing Egham host St Ives for the right to play in the final next Monday (2nd May).

Diamonds Man of the Match chosen by AFC Rushden & Diamonds members: Connor Kennedy

Attendance: 521

Match Report by Ollie Mortimer 

AFC Rushden & Diamonds

Godalming Town

17. Matt Finlay (C)

2. Connor Kennedy

3. Jason Lee

4. Jack Ashton

5. Brad Harris

6. Dan Quigley

7. Robbie Parsons

8. Claudiu Hoban

9. Lewis Leslie

10. Jack Bowen

11. Shawn Richards

 

Substitutes:

12. Nabil Shariff (for Bowen 82)

13. Alex Vitue

14. Tom Manship (for Leslie 78)

15. Andy Hall (for Hoban 86)

16. Liam Dolman

1. Oneal Garnes

2. Charlie Hutton

3. Nick Hutchings

4. Liam Roberts

5. Chris Wales

6. Chris Musgrove

7. Steve Laidler (C)

8. Will Hutton

9. Jake Kempton

10. Iven Kumanda

11. Danny Bassett

 

Substitutes:

12. Pasha Tayo-Walker (for Bassett 86)

14. Rory Sellick (for Hutchings 48)

17. Richard Ossai

 

Goals: Richards (10), Bowen (74)

Goals: None

Yellow Cards: Quigley (82)

Yellow Cards: C. Hutton (9)

Referee: Simon Brown

Assistants: Richard Walker, Daniel Stokes

 

 

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