AFC Rushden & Diamonds 2-1 Bromsgrove Sporting FC

Diamonds held on for a vital victory in the play-off race on a glorious afternoon at Hayden Road.

The first half was tense and edgy, with neither side able to create many clear-cut opportunities. Nathan Tshikuna almost scored inside the opening minute when his low effort was dropped but the away defence scrambled it away, whilst Bromsgrove threatened with a few set-piece deliveries. Tshikuna curled a free-kick narrowly wide, and the midfielder then set up the opening goal just before half-time as his pinpoint cross from the left was powerfully headed home by Will Jones.

Bromsgrove came close to levelling twice early in the second period as striker Callum Ebanks headed over and was then denied by Dean Snedker when through on goal. After Jesse Akubuine had a fizzing effort held and Lewis Johnson almost forced an own-goal down the other end, Rushden did double their lead when substitute Connor Furlong jinked in from the right and curled a sumptuous strike into the far corner. The visitors made it nervy when sub Jamie Molyneux squirmed a shot under Snedker but, despite three minutes of stoppage time, Diamonds claimed the win as they remain three points clear of Alvechurch and move only one point behind fourth-placed Rushall.

First half

Andy Burgess had been confirmed as the club’s permanent manager following an interim spell in charge, and he made three changes to the starting line-up that had been edged out by Peterborough Sports in the NFA Hillier Senior Cup Final on Tuesday evening. Nathan Tshikuna and Jordan Graham returned to the side, and Will Jones was handed a start alongside Graham in attack.

Diamonds went into the contest three points clear in fifth place having been unbeaten in their last five (W1 D4) and losing only one of their last nine (W4 D4 L1), though they had failed to beat Bromsgrove in their previous four clashes. The visitors were 15th in the table and were still not mathematically safe from relegation, but they had won two of their last three and had only been beaten in one of their previous five matches. However, they had only won two away games all season.

The hosts came close to the perfect start when, inside the first minute, Tshikuna curled in an effort from the left that keeper Oliver Taylor fumbled, but he was fortunate as the rebound ran to an away defender and was hacked away. Graham then latched onto a flick round the corner only for his shot to sail harmlessly off-target.

Bromsgrove soon threatened for the first time themselves as, after Liam Dolman and Dean Snedker almost had a mix-up, a corner from the right led to a vicious volley that was well headed away. Another corner, this time on the left, was very threatening but cleared before Snedker was fouled from the resulting ball back in.

Both teams were struggling to maintain much pressure or to keep the ball for a sustained period of time, and halfway through the half Jesse Akubuine was shoved over around 35 yards out only for Tshikuna’s subsequent kick to fly well over. Captain Fernando Bell-Toxtle slammed one over from range, and a terrific driven cross towards the back post by Graham found strike-partner Jones but his header across couldn’t find a fellow white shirt.

Matthew Barnes-Homer flashed a strike wide for Bromsgrove in a rare attempt at goal, and Diamonds continued to be the ones forcing the issue. Just after the half-hour mark Bell-Toxtle was brought down in a promising position 25 yards out, and Tshikuna’s free-kick looked to eb curling in until it bent just past the upright.

Soon afterwards though, Rushden did have the lead. Tshikuna found space on the left before whipping in a terrific cross to the far post, and Will Jones met it to thunder a header past Taylor in front of the Peter de Banke terrace. It was the striker’s first home league goal, and helped to relieve some of the tension that had been evident.

Diamonds still had to be wary though, and Lewis Johnson did well to get back to block a thunderous effort from full-back Josh Quaynor. Tshikuna had a lofted effort caught and Graham’s mistimed header was easily held, but the scoreline remained 1-0 at the interval.

Half time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1-0 Bromsgrove Sporting FC

Second half

The away side began the second half well, and they could have levelled after only three minutes. Barnes-Homer was played in down the right before his volleyed cross found Callum Ebank, but his header looped off-target.

Aside from that though, it took until the hour mark for the half to ignite into action. Firstly Akubuine had a strong driven effort that Taylor held well, and a quick break saw Jones feed Johnson. His low ball in was almost inadvertently turned home by a recovering defender, and Jones was just unable to smuggle the rebound in.

Bromsgrove had their best chance of the half moments later as a corner was initially cleared, but a volley back in saw Ebank time his run perfectly to beat the offside trap. He was thorough on goal, but his first touch was heavy and so his effort was smothered by the sprawling Snedker.

Burgess responded by introducing Connor Furlong at the expense of Johnson and, less than ten minutes later, he doubled Diamonds’ advantage. He latched onto a loose ball before cutting in from the right and bending a superb strike past Taylor and into the far corner of the net. It was only his third league goal of the campaign, and his first at Hayden Road.

The visitors threatened briefly when Quaynor’s free-kick was straight at Snedker and substitute Jamie Molyneux hit a low shot wide of the near post, but Diamonds seemed largely comfortable. Home sub Lauric Diakiesse almost latched onto a fortunate ricochet before then rounding the keeper in a separate attack but scuffing his effort, and Akubuine almost got through too only for Taylor to kick clear.

On the stroke of full-time, just before three minutes of additional time were signalled, Bromsgrove pulled one back. Jamie Molyneux hit a low effort from the left that went under Snedker, and the visitors sensed a dramatic equaliser. They had a chance when a low ball in from the right was missed by sub Jonathan Letford, and it ran for Quaynor who thrashed an effort well over.

Snedker saved a bobbling effort from range, and referee Matthew Jackson soon blew his whistle to confirm Rushden’s success.

Full time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 2-1 Bromsgrove Sporting FC

Though it wasn’t a vintage game, two moments of quality settled the contest as Diamonds deservedly emerged with the three points. With Alvechurch beating bottom-side Lowestoft 2-0, this was a crucial win to remain in control of fifth place, and Rushall suffered another defeat which means Rushden now only sit one point off fourth with two games remaining.

They are quickly back in action for their final away match of the regular league season as they head to Cambridgeshire to take on St Ives Town (Monday 18 April, 3pm kick-off).

Diamonds Man of the Match: Will Jones

Attendance: 478

Match report by Ollie Mortimer

Diamonds: Snedker, Casey, Warburton, Bell-Toxtle (C), Dolman, Casey, Johnson (Furlong 64), Akubuine, Graham (George 78), Jones (Diakiesse 81), Tshikuna (subs not used: Snelus, Nixon)

Diamonds goals: Jones (39), Furlong (73)

Diamonds yellows: Akubuine (61)

Bromsgrove Sporting FC: Oliver Taylor, Joshua Dugmore, Joshua Quaynor, Nathan Hayward, Toby Raison (Jamie Molyneux 56), Joel Kettle (C), Joseph Willis, Michael Mcgrath, Matthew Barnes-Homer, Callum Ebanks (Jonathan Letford 69), Mitchel Candlin (Jordan Goddard 56) (subs not used: Adam Marusiak, Dominic Perkins)

Bromsgrove Sporting FC goals: Molyneux (90)

Bromsgrove Sporting FC yellows: Kettle (31)