Diamonds scored a 95th minute equaliser to grab a deserved draw against Tamworth on Friday night at Hayden Road.
The game was played at a terrifically quick and often frenetic pace throughout, and this led to a hugely entertaining spectacle. Diamonds started well and went close through Tom Lorraine and Ben Farrell, but Tamworth’s first chance of the game resulted in a goal. A corner was whipped in from the right and it was flicked on at the near post for Akwasi Asante to convert from close range. Rushden responded and almost equalised when Liam Dolman just couldn’t convert at the back post from a Lorraine flick-on but they did level soon after. Farrell won a key interception in midfield before the ball broke for Lorraine to fire a low and accurate shot across the keeper and into the far corner of the net. However, the visitors quickly retook the lead when a pinpoint cross in from the right found Tyrell Waite at the far post to bury a header past a helpless Ben Heath. The hosts again fought back though and almost levelled again when a cross in from Albie Hopkins was sliced by an away defender up and over the keeper but off the crossbar and away to safety.
The Diamonds continued to press in the second half, but only after a period of Tamworth pressure early in the half. Asante drilled a shot across goal that an onrushing away man just narrowly missed, and then Heath made a stunning save from point-blank range after a header flew towards goal from a corner. Chris Lait then fired into the side-netting as the visitors looked to establish a two-goal lead and maybe take the game away from Diamonds, but the hosts battled back and started putting more and more pressure on the away defence. Dolman had a flick from a Westwood free-kick that was saved, Hopkins jinked down the left before seeing a low effort held at the second attempt, and a number of threatening crosses into the box required strong defending from the visiting backline. Just when it looked like Tamworth would return to Staffordshire with all three points Diamomds struck in the fifth of ten additional minutes. Westwood played a cross across the six-yard box that popped up out of the goalkeepers hands, and there was Lorraine to head home from yards out for his second of the game to send the Diamonds faithful into raptures and to rescue a late, great point.
Manager Andy Peaks made just the solitary change to the starting XI that had recorded an impressive victory over St Neots on Bank Holiday Monday. Jack Ashton had limped off in that game and hadn’t recovered in time for this contest, and so Blaize Punter came in as a like-for-like replacement. Callum Westwood, who had also come off injured in the last league match, was available though and maintained his place, and there was also a welcome return to the bench for the fit-again Ben Diamond after his injury sustained at Biggleswade.
The two teams took to the Hayden Road playing surface, with this being Diamonds’ first Friday fixture since August 2014, with a keen sense of intrigue felt by everyone around the ground. Tamworth had been relegated from the National League North last season and memories abounded amongst many home fans of games in the Conference against them with the old Rushden & Diamonds. The visitors had failed to win any of their first four league outings this campaign but had won their most recent league fixture meaning they were 13th heading into the match, and Diamonds, after winning their first away game at this level on Monday afternoon, came into the contest in 11th place with a game in hand on most of the teams around them. With a number of away fans in attendance, and a strong turnout by the home fans also, the atmosphere was beginning to build even before the players shook hands and the coin-toss was conducted. Shortly afterwards referee Robbie Dadley blew his whistle to get the game underway.
Diamonds, as they had done on Monday, began on the front foot as they immediately settled into a quick tempo and pressed their opponents high up the pitch from the get-go. In the fourth minute Lorraine harried well and a loose ball fell for Albie Hopkins to feed Ben Farrell. His attempted ball back towards Hopkins was diverted by an away defender inadvertently into the path of the continuing Lorraine, but the striker leant back and his shot from just inside the area flew over the crossbar. A minute later they created another opportunity as Joel Gyasi ran forward before bundling through a couple of challenges, and he then squeezed a pass into the path of Farrell. The midfielder hit an effort that was blocked, but he then slid in to reach the rebound only for the attempt to slip wide of the far post.
The hosts continued to threaten and have the better of the opening stages, and they created another opportunity. Gyasi ran forward and stepped inside from the right before feeding the overlapping Westwood on the outside, and the full-back’s low cross was narrowly missed by Lorraine at the near post before it was cleared behind for a corner. The resulting delivery initially looked dangerous, but was eventually cleared by the away defence.
Tamworth, after struggling to build much possession and having most of the play played in their own half, then took the lead in their first foray forward. They won a corner on the right, and it was swung into the near post for the arriving Regan Upton to flick on. It reached the onrushing Akwasi Asante at the back post, and he gleefully tapped home into the unguarded net past the stranded Ben Heath.
The goal gave the visitors a big boost and confidence, and they came close to adding to their lead moments afterwards. Winger Kyle Finn was fed a pass on the right before he ran forward, cut inside and curled an effort towards the far corner, but it floated wide of the mark and out for a goal-kick. Diamonds responded by building an attack down the other end, and they fashioned a great opening to equalise. They earnt a throw-in on the right, and Sam Brown went across to launch in one of his trademark deliveries. He pitched it into the near post, and Lorraine flicked it on. It ran for the free Liam Dolman, and it appeared for all the world that he would convert, but the ball somehow stayed out and the keeper was able to collect. He quickly launched it downfield and a striker threatened to latch onto the ball to run through on goal, but Jack Westbrook got back to win a crucial and superbly-timed sliding challenge to stop the danger.
That period of play was perfectly representative and indicative of the pattern thus far, with both sides threatening and the game being played at a very quick and often frenetic tempo. Diamonds had the next chance when Gyasi’s cross on the half-volley reached Lorraine, but his header drifted across goal and was cleared away upfield. However, the hosts didn’t have to wait much longer for a leveller. They had continued to harry their opponents high up the pitch, and in this instance Farrell did excellently to step in and nick the ball ahead of a Tamworth midfielder. He then engaged in a fifty-fifty with away defender and captain Joel Kettle, and it ricocheted through to Tom Lorraine who took a touch into the right side of the area before rifling a low shot across the goal, past the despairing dive of the keeper and into the far corner of the net.
No sooner were Rushden level though that the visitors took the lead again four minutes later. A neat move saw the ball worked to Finn who played it out to full-back Tristan Dunkley on the right, and he stepped inside before curling a dangerous delivery towards the back post. Tyrell Waite timed his run to perfection, and he thumped home a powerful header past Heath and into the back of the net.
It really had been a high-octane opening half an hour, and one which hadn’t showed signs of letting up in terms of tempo and pace of the game. After good work from Dan Clifton had fed Westwood on the right only for his cross to go over everyone, the hosts were then millimetres away from equalising for a second time. Lorraine won a header just ahead of the halfway line before the ball bounced up and Gyasi won an important header to send Hopkins on his way down the left. He crossed into the area looking for the arriving Lorraine, but Tamworth defender Paul Green, in his attempt to clear, sliced the ball which looped up and over the keeper but off the crossbar. The rebound just bounced out of the reach of Lorraine, and so the visitors were able to clear the danger.
Shortly afterwards the away side threatened as Punter missed a clearance which allowed Waite to get down the left before squeezing a pass back to Chris Lait just inside the area, and the winger’s curling effort needed deflecting behind for a corner that the Diamonds were able to clear. Two minutes later play swung down the other end as Farrell played a precise pass over the top of Dunkley for Hopkins to run in behind and reach but, as the ball sat up invitingly for him to strike, his half-volleyed attempt flew well over the bar.
After Westbrook was booked for the hosts one final chance remained in the half, and it fell to Rushden. Brown took a long-throw on the right that was originally cleared, but it was cleverly worked back out to the full-back for him to cross into the area and towards the back post. It seemed perfect for the awaiting Lorraine, but in the nick of time a Tamworth defender stretched to win the header ahead of the striker and to quell the danger.
Two minutes of additional time passed without any real action of note and the referee blew his whistle to call time on a captivating and engrossing first half, with everything to still to play for as the two teams made their way to the changing rooms.
Half Time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1-2 Tamworth FC
After the breathless nature of the first half the interval represented a chance for everyone to have a breather, and most thoughts during the break centred around if the intensity of the first half could be sustained by both sides, and who would score the all-important next goal of the contest. The attendance was announced as 683, a superb effort from everybody involved for a Friday night, and soon afterwards both sets of players retook to the pitch. After a quick count of both sides referee Dadley signalled the beginning of the second period.
Diamonds initially started on the front foot, as they had done in the first half, and Gyasi cut in from the right before having a shot blocked away. However, the next fifteen minutes saw the visitors dominate and put the hosts’ defence to the test. In the 49th minute a ball was slipped into the right side of the area for Asante to reach and strike across the face of goal, and it seemed that the stretching Lait would reach the ball to turn it into the empty net, but his desperate slide narrowly missed connecting and it ran out for a corner-kick after it had taken a slight deflection on the way through. Diamonds were able to clear that set-piece, but the ball was recycled for Asante to slip a neat pass around the corner for strike-partner Waite to control. He did so and turned just inside the area, with his shot across goal beating Heath but also beating the far post as it flashed wide for a goal-kick.
A further corner moments later created a great opportunity for Tamworth. Ryan Beswick curled an inswinging delivery into the area, and it found the run of Aman Verma to thump a header towards goal from around 10 yards out. Heath didn’t have much time to react, but he flung out an instinctive right hand to push the ball away and to crucially keep the deficit to only one goal. Shortly afterwards a home attack was countered by a swift foray forward by the visitors, and Waite powered forward before feeding the galloping Lait on the outside of him on his left. The winger took the shot in his stride, but the effort hit the near side-netting rather than the back of the net.
The hour mark passed, and the game was still very much in the balance. After Diamonds had rode the Tamworth storm they responded with a free-kick after Lorraine had been fouled, and this in turn led to a couple of crosses into the area that were well defended by the away backline. Another free-kick saw Westwood curl an inviting delivery into the area that found Dolman, and his impudent flick required the away keeper to dive across to hold onto the effort.
The game was keenly-contested and very competitive throughout and, though not a truly physical or dirty affair, Tamworth were issued two yellow cards in the space of two minutes as Verma and Green both had their names taken by the referee. Westwood, who proved a danger down the right for much of the game, then flashed in another couple of crosses in the hope of finding a white shirt, but again the visitors defended strongly and were able to clear the danger. The play, like it had been for much of the contest, was still end-to-end, and to fit the pattern Tamworth were the next to go close. They countered dangerously again only for Waite to hit a shot wide from the left, and moments later the number 9 found room to slam an effort goalwards that this time hit the target, but Heath got across well to parry it away. In between these opportunities Diamonds made their first change as Ben Diamond made a welcome return to action at the expense of Gyasi.
Hopkins, like in his first start for Diamonds in the previous game, was looking dangerous with his precise close control and his direct running, and in the 71st minute he cleverly jinked inside and then out before seeing a low shot easily held by the away keeper. The hosts’ main attacks were coming down the flanks, with the right wing especially proving a frequent source of danger, and shortly afterwards Westwood served up another potentially threatening cross only for it to run away from his intended targets.
Less than fifteen minutes remained now, and Peaks decided to make another change as Leon Lobjolt was summoned to take the place of the tireless Farrell. Rushden were chasing the game more and more as the time ticked down, and this naturally led to play becoming more stretched. One such moment allowed the visitors to break forward with Lait advancing over the halfway line and towards the home backline, but thankfully for them his attempt flew just over the bar. Westbrook got into an attacking position down the other end to sweep a cross into the area, and it appeared that it would reach the free Hopkins only for a late saving defensive header to challenge and for the ball to drop to the grateful keeper.
In one last throw of the dice Diamonds made their third and final substitution as John Dean replaced Hopkins, and he was into the action immediately as he sped down the left away from a couple of challenges before his attempted low cross was blocked away. The hosts were still pushing, pressing and searching for the leveller, but for much of the half they were stopped in their tracks by a strong and stoic Tamworth defence. The visitors came close to sealing the contest a minute before the end of the regulation ninety when Green had room to shoot at goal, but his effort went wide of the post.
Stoppage time began, and two more Rushden crosses were solidly dealt with by the away backline as it seemed increasingly likely that Tamworth would see the game out and claim their second consecutive league success. However, drama still remained. A long free-kick from inside the Diamonds defensive half was commandingly headed away by a Tamworth defender, but it ran out for Westwood to take a touch past a covering player and to sprint down the right. His cross reached Punter at the near post who controlled and laid it back to Westwood close to the byline, and he sidefooted a high ball across the six-yard box. The Tamworth keeper looked like he would collect it as he got two hands to the ball, but it looped up out of his grasp. There was Tom Lorraine, in the right place at the right time, and from point-blank range he calmly headed the loose ball into the unguarded net.
The scenes from players, coaches and fans alike were euphoric and joyous to say the least, but yet more drama was almost around the corner. Firstly, in the seventh minute of additional time, the visitors built an attack before space opened up for a shot from just outside the box, but Heath dived to his right to make a crucial save. Then moments later the hosts won a throw-in on the right, with Brown sprinting across to take it as the Diamonds searched for a winner, and his long pitch into the area was met by a home head only for it drift behind for a goal-kick.
After ten minutes of stoppage time overall the referee called time on the action, a game that was action-packed, enthralling and one that will live long in the memory for all involved.
Full Time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 2-2 Tamworth FC
This represented a fair result overall as both sides represented a true threat throughout, pressed and harried one another for much of the contest and refused to let up the quick and frenetic nature of the tempo. Diamonds showed excellent character and togetherness to fight back twice and match a side that had been relegated from the league above last campaign, and the late, great equaliser felt like a winner in many ways. Tamworth took their chances clinically in the opening period and then had the better of the early sections of the second before defending calmly and confidently in almost seeing out the win, with Heath’s save from Verma’s header in the second half perhaps acting as a crucial turning point in the match and one that helped to galvanise the Diamonds. Overall the contest was a terrific advert for Step 3 Non-League football, one that was a thoroughly entertaining spectacle and one that saw chances aplenty throughout. Rushden’s next fixture sees them entertain Deeping Rangers in the Emirates FA Cup Preliminary Round replay on Tuesday (September 4th, 19:45pm kick-off) after their 1-1 draw in the original tie.
Diamonds Man of the Match: Tom Lorraine
Match Report by Ollie Mortimer
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
13. Ben Heath
2. Callum Westwood
3. Sam Brown
4. Blaize Punter
5. Liam Dolman (C)
6. Jack Westbrook
7. Joel Gyasi
8. Ben Farrell
9. Tom Lorraine
10. Albie Hopkins
11. Dan Clifton
12. John Dean (for Hopkins 83)
14. Nathan Hicks
16. Leon Lobjolt (for Farrell 76)
17. Nathan Pickworth
18. Ben Diamond (for Gyasi 68)
1. Jas Singh
2. Tristan Dunkley
3. Regan Upton
4. Paul Green
5. Joel Kettle (C)
6. Ryan Beswick
7. Kyle Finn
8. Aman Verma
9. Tyrell Waite
10. Akwasi Asante
11. Chris Lait
12. Lewis Wright (for Dunkley 86)
13. Dan Jezeph
14. Charlie Shaw (for Finn 90)
15. James Morris (for Lait 90+3)
16. Tyrone Ofori
Goals: Lorraine (22, 90+5)
Goals: Asante (12), Waite (26)
Yellow Cards: Westbrook (42), Punter (68)
Yellow Cards: Verma (63), Green (65)
Referee: Robbie Dadley
Assistants: Mariusz Tomon, William Ottoway