Diamonds got back to winning ways at Hayden Road on Tuesday night in a tightly fought 2-1 victory over Banbury United.
Manager Andy Peaks put new signing Jordan Macleod straight into his starting line-up and was rewarded with a debut goal for the young striker in just the 6th minute. Banbury had started with real purpose with impressive loanee Ryan Hughes forced into a superb last ditch tackle on Jannal Gordon to prevent an early strike by the Puritans but a Sam Brown long throw on Diamonds first foray forward caused mayhem in the Banbury penalty area. Jordan Macleod pounced from a few yards out to sweep home and lead fantastic celebrations in front of the Hevey Community Stand by the entire Diamonds side.
It was a very open first half with excellent attacking play from both sides and chances at both ends. Nathan Hicks fired into the side netting after a great run, and saw a shot saved after a good move involving Jordan Macleod and Morgan Roberts. Banbury moved the ball at pace and threatened from some tremendous positions down the flanks but found the Diamonds defence particularly Sam Brown, Alex Collard and Ryan Hughes anticipating crosses so well to clear time and again. Liam Dolman and Zack Reynolds were seeing out more central attacks despite some tricky and clever passing and movement from the away side.
Banbury did finally find a way through on 30 minutes but could only beat Ben Heath with the most amazing strike from distance by Jannal Gordon. Almost out of nowhere 25 yards out the impressive striker turned infield and fired in off the underside of the bar giving Heath no chance.
Diamonds were seemingly unaffected though and surged forward at pace themselves as they had done earlier and re-took the lead on 34 minutes. Jordan Macleod outmuscled the fullback down the left in chasing a ball played into the channel and surged towards the box. He ran in and crossed low towards Morgan Roberts running in towards the near post. He took a touch and struck left footed back across the diving keeper into the far corner.
The game continued in an end to end fashion but with few chances despite good passing from both sides. Diamonds had a strong penalty shout when a ball crossed in from the right was blocked as it headed towards unmarked Ryan Dove but the referee looked for a second but then waived protests away. Diamonds then had another penalty shout 2 minutes from half-time after the ball bounced up in the penalty area after a Sam Brown long throw, maybe not so clear but this time it was given. Ben Farrell stepped up and going for height unfortunately lifted the ball over the bar.
Half-time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 2 Banbury United 1
The second half saw the away side largely dominate possession with some lovely football that put pressure on the Diamonds defence but they defended the 18 yard box really well again and denied Banbury much in the way of significant chances. The game also became a bit feisty in midfield with 4 Banbury players and 2 Diamonds seeing yellow across the game.
Banbury’s best opportunities came from free-kicks with Ben Heath forced into a superb low save from Giorgio Rasulo at the base of the post and seeing another effort just sail wide from the same player. Heath also superbly palmed away a rasping effort from the right angle of the area and held a couple of crosses really well from right under the bar under serious pressure from Banbury strikers.
Banbury passed the ball really well and got into some great crossing positions but Ryan Hughes, Sam Brown and Alex Collard cleared almost everything away. One major exception was a superb ball in from the left that found Ryan Nesbitt free 8 yards out but he could only direct his effort wide right.
Diamonds were trying to hit on the break with Jordan Macleod and then substitutes Jack Bowen, Jesse Akubuine and Ben Acquaye all willing runners. And Banbury were reduced to 10 men when Connor Roberts halted another quick move to receive his second yellow and the inevitable red card.
Diamonds saw out the game well despite a late nerve jangling free-kick that was curled just wide and an even later corner that was just headed clear.
Full-time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 2 Banbury United 1
The last two encouraging performances – second half at Tamworth and the draw at Rushall – had suggested Diamonds were turning round their fortunes and this hard fought win will be a massive boost to the morale and confidence of this young growing side. The return of the experienced Liam Dolman, Alex Collard, Sam Brown and Zack Reynolds together with a confident Ben Heath has really helped defensive solidity but the impact of a confident assured loanee Ryan Hughes shouldn’t be under-estimated.
Fellow loanee Morgan Roberts has given really energy to the final third and with the introduction of Jordan Macleod Diamonds have real dynamism up front. Nathan Hicks is relishing his return to midfield after covering at full-back and working really well with Ben Farrell. Ryan Dove is working his socks off up front and will be disappointed to have to come off early in the second half with a rib injury. Jack Bowen, Jesse Aqubuine, and Ben Acquaye looked full of running when they came on and there are definitely encouraging signs for this side.
Next up is a first FA Trophy tie of the season on Saturday at home to….Banbury United.
Man of the Match: Jordan Macleod
Match Report: Paul Judd
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
13. Ben Heath
2. Zack Reynolds
3. Sam Brown
4. Ryan Hughes
5. Liam Dolman (C)
6. Alex Collard
7. Morgan Roberts
8. Ben Farrell
9. Ryan Dove
10. Jordan Macleod
11. Nathan Hicks
12. Jack Bowen (for Dove 56)
14. Ben Acquaye (for Roberts 84)
15. Jesse Aqubuine (for McLeod 76)
16. Matt Slinn
17. Niall Cooper
1. Jack Harding
14. Lee Henderson
5. Kynan Isaac
6. Jack Westbrook (C)
7. Charles Hawtin
8. Giorgio Rasulo
11. Claudio Dias
13. Ryan Nesbitt
18. Jannal Gordon
2. Connor Roberts
10. Pablo Haysham
4. Eddie Odhiambo
16. Denilson Silva (for Hawtin 84)
19. Kobe Chong
3. Gedeon Okito (for Henderson 68)
12. Amer Awadh (for Haysham 70)
Goals: McLeod (6), Roberts (34)
Goals: Gordon (30)
Yellow Card: Roberts, Farrell
Yellow Cards: Isaac, Westbrook, Gordon, Roberts (x2)
Red Cards: Roberts
Referee: Gareth Davis
Assistants: Jack Carter, Stephen Davies