Diamonds struck a dramatic 90th minute winner to defeat Hitchin in a largely even affair on Saturday afternoon.
Chances were few and far between in the opening period, as Ravi Shamsi had an effort held at one end and Dean Snedker made an important save down the other to deny Henry Snee. Will Jones had a shot saved, but he then gave away a penalty a few minutes later as he was adjudged to have handled in the area. Hitchin full-back Alex Brown stepped up to dispatch the ball into the net to put the visitors ahead, a lead that could have been cut when Jones met a delicious cross in from Sam Warburton only for the striker’s header to go straight at the keeper.
The hosts improved in the second half as they played with more purpose and applied more pressure. Hitchin should have doubled their advantage though when a low cross in from the left led to Snee hitting the post when it looked easier to score, and they were made to pay for that miss soon afterwards. Shamsi drove inside from the right before striking a low effort that flicked off the post before nestling in the net, the recent signing’s first goal for Rushden on his home debut. He then had another long-range effort well tipped away, but it appeared the match would end in a draw until the late twist. Shamsi’s deep free-kick found the towering Alex Collard, and he floated a header over the keeper and into the far corner to spark jubilant scenes amongst fans and players alike.
Manager Peaks named only two of the team that had started Wednesday’s 3-0 win at ON Chenecks in the NFA Hillier Cup in the starting XI for this league encounter. Garwood and Casey remained as part of the back four as Diamonds reverted to the side that began the last league fixture, a 2-2 draw at Needham Market, apart from Jay Williams returning to the side.
Diamonds came into the match on the back of a three game unbeaten run in all competitions, and were back at Hayden Road for the first time since they lost to Peterborough Sports on August Bank Holiday Monday. They sat one point and two places above their opponents Hitchin in the league table, with the visitors having lost all three of their away league matches so far this campaign. They had lost their main marksman Callum Stead to South Shields during the week, but were looking to get a positive result to move up the table.
The home side started on the front foot as they created a few half-chances. Claudio Dias’ deep free-kick found Paddy Casey at the back post, but the defender was unable to steer his effort on target. Will Jones was then found running in behind by a superb Nathan Tshikuna through ball, though his eventual effort was blocked away for a corner. The resulting set-piece ended up with Ravi Shamsi on the edge of the area, and he moved into space before drilling a 25-yard effort that Hitchin keeper Charles Horlock collected at the second attempt.
The visitors, nicknames The Canaries, came back into it with a few dangerous crosses that were well dealt with by the Rushden defence. In the 23rd minute they fashioned a good opportunity when a low ball in from the right found Henry Snee, and he showed quick feet to generate some space for a shot. It looked set for the far corner but Dean Snedker stretched out his right foot to divert the attempt away.
Down the other end, Jones showed good strength to spin away from his marker and stride towards the area before hitting a left-footed strike that Horlock collected. Moments later Jones was involved defensively when he blocked a header following a corner, but referee Ruebyn Ricardo adjudged that the Rushden striker had blocked it with his hand and signalled a penalty. Left-back Alex Brown coolly converted to Snedker’s left to give the visitors the lead just before the half-hour mark.
Diamonds looked to respond as Jesse Akubuine had an effort blocked before Hitchin countered through Rio Dasilva. The striker cut in from the left before curling a shot that just cleared the crossbar. Two minutes later, the hosts should have levelled when a neat one-two down the left released Sam Warburton galloping forward. His pinpoint cross found Jones with a free header, but it went straight to Horlock.
Shamsi then hit a shot wide from range, but the half-time whistle was soon blown afterwards with lots of work to do for Diamonds.
Half time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0-1 Hitchin Town
Diamonds began the second half on the front foot as they started to build more possession, look more threatening and start to force Hitchin back more. A deep free-kick found Alex Collard who headed it across to Jones, but the striker’s attempted acrobatic effort was easily held. Williams then latched onto a loose ball on the edge of the box, and it sat up nicely for the midfielder to loop a half-volley towards goal. However, Horlock was able to hold onto that effort as well.
Despite the home pressure, it was the Canaries who should have stretched their lead. A low ball in from the left saw Collard stretching to try and intercept, but it looped off his foot and ran towards the far post where Snee was unmarked. Though the angle was tight, it seemed easier to score than miss, but his poked effort hit the outside of the post and ran out for a goal-kick.
Diamonds were boosted by that let-off, and they responded in the most perfect way by finding an equaliser. Ravi Shamsi seized possession, drove in from the right onto his favoured left foot and then arrowed a low strike from the edge of the box past the rooted Horlock and into the net via the left post.
Boosted by the goal on his home debut, Shamsi was looking more and more dangerous as the match wore on. In the 69th minute he again skipped in from the right before hitting a strike towards the far post that bounced just in front of Horlock, but the keeper did well to tip round the post. Tom Lorraine was then introduced a minute later as the striker was looking for his 100th goal in Rushden colours.
Although Diamonds continued to probe and look to find a winner, the next twenty minutes passed without much action of note aside from a Luke Brown strike for Hitchin that was blocked, and Joel Gyasi and Fernando Bell-Toxtle being introduced for the hosts.
However, as the match ticked into the 90th minute, there was to be late drama. Diamonds won a free-kick just ahead of the halfway line, and Shamsi drilled the ball in towards the far post. Alex Collard rose emphatically, but he still had a lot of work to do. He did it though as his powerful header flew over the sprawling Horlock and landed into the far corner of the net to spark jubilant scenes amongst fans, players and coaching staff alike. It was the defender’s second late strike in as many league matches, and proved to be the defining moment.
Three minutes of additional time was signalled, but Diamonds saw these out to secure an important victory.
Full time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 2-1 Hitchin Town
Like in the last league match, Diamonds showed great character and spirit in responding to being behind and securing a positive result. Here they struggled to get going in the first half, though it was a tight 45 minutes without too many chances for either side. They improved in the second half as they got the dangerous Shamsi on the ball more and built up pressure that ultimately paid dividends at the death.
Rushden are back in league action at Hayden Road on Tuesday (28 September) as they take on Royston, 7.45PM kick-off.
Diamonds Man of the Match: Ravi Shamsi
Match report by Ollie Mortimer
Diamonds: Snedker, Garwood, Warburton, Williams, Casey, Collard (C), Akubuine (Lorraine 70), Dias (Gyasi 86), Jones, Shamsi, Tshikuna (Bell-Toxtle 86) (subs not used: Dolman, Furlong)
Diamonds goals: Shamsi (62), Collard (90)
Hitchin: Charles Horlock, Daniel Akubuine, Alex Brown, Ryan Smith, Daniel Webb (C), Ciaren Jones, Lawrie Marsh, Joshua Coldicott-Stevens, Rio Dasilva, Luke Brown (Kye Tearle 77), Henry Snee (subs not used: Malaki Black, Delsin Ackom, Lewis Barker, Stephen Cawley)
Hitchin goals: A. Brown (pen 29)
Hitchin yellows: Coldicott-Stevens (42), A. Brown (62)
Images courtesy of Hawkins Images ©2021