Diamonds went to the top of the Southern League East table for the first time on Tuesday night after an excellent performance and 2-0 victory against a good Cambridge City side.
Moneyfields unexpected first home defeat to Uxbridge allowed Diamonds to top the 4 sides now sitting on 35 pointsat the top of the table. Diamonds are now the leagues top goalscorers and the team with the best defensive record hence the top goal difference.
The game was an even contest between two good sides with Diamonds shading possession and half-chances but having to defend solidly against a quick breaking away side. Joel Gyasi had Diamonds best first half-chance striking a rebound wide from 15 yards and Tom Lorraine had a far post header saved at the near post and then saw an even better save by away keeper Niall Conroy from a near post flick, somehow turned over the bar one handed. The opening goal his performance deserved finally game on 43 minutes as Lorraine rose highest to power a header home from a left wing free-kick.
The second half-continued in the same vein with Diamonds breaking at a hard working Cambridge defence and creating some tremendous shooting opportunities. Ryan Robbins had three stunning efforts, two brilliantly saved by Conroy and one flying just wide. Tom Lorraine had a chance as he broke into the box at pace but tried to set-up Robbins rather than shooting and the ball was cleared.
Ben Farrell also struck a superb volley just over and had a hand in the vital second goal on 71 minutes. His break and ball to Gyasi sent the winger free, cutting into the box and slotting home into the bottom corner. He was mobbed by his team mates and the jubilant home crowd showing him how much he is loved at Hayden Road.
Cambridge had a good spell in the last 15 minutes as they tried to get back into the game but solid defending and some great blocks from Blaize Punter, Liam Dolman and Richard Bunting showed the hard working Diamonds defence at it’s best.
Manager Andy Peaks made one change to the team that won so well at Ashford at the weekend with Joel Gyasi available again he went straight into the side as right wingback. Cameron Gilchrist dropped to a strong looking bench with new signing Jack Westbrook, Ben Diamond, Ben Ford and Kyle Swailes.
It was a very chilly evening in Rushden but the Hayden Road pitch looked in excellent condition for the time of year as both sides went straight onto the front foot in what was to be an entertaining game for the 421 crowd.
Diamonds forced the play in the early stages with controlled possession in the middle of the park and dynamic running from wing backs Joel Gyasi and Luke Fairlamb. Both fired in early dangerous crosses to test the away defence and Fairlamb set-up Ryan Robbins for a flying volley from 20 yards on 9 minutes that he hooked just over.
It was Gyasi’s turn next to set-up Tom Lorraine for a far post downward header that forced away keeper Niall Conroy to save low down at his left hand post.
Cambridge were good in possession themselves in these early stages and broke well to force Liam Dolman and Sam Brown into timely clearances. Ryan Relizani broke deep into the box on 22 minutes looking to close in on goal but he was brilliantly tracked by Joel Gyasi who made a well-timed challenge to save Diamonds.
Gyasi continued to get up and down the right hand side of the pitch to harass the Cambridge back four and came close to setting up Ryan Robbins again with a clever cut-back that was just intercepted.
Luke Fairlamb and Richard Bunting then picked up yellow cards for similar saving challenges on either side of the box as the free–running Cambridge players continued to pose a danger.
The best chance of the half came on 35 minutes as Fairlamb threatened in the attacking half twice cutting into the box and crossing, his second effort only cleared as far as Joel Gyasi who struck a first time half volley wide from 15 yards when well placed.
Away keeper Niall Conroy made an incredible save from Tom Lorraine on 38 minutes as the pressure mounted on the away defence, his near post flick from a Gyasi cross was somehow forced one handed over the bar from close range.
The breakthrough finally came on 43 minutes as Lorraine wasn’t to be denied this time powering his header from a left wing free-kick into the top corner in front of a delighted Peter De Banke Terrace.
Half-time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1 Cambridge City 0
The second half started with a real spell of end to end football with first Tom Lorraine breaking clear again to force a corner from which Joe Curtis and Ben Farrell both had edge of the area shooting chances just blocked.
Cambridge then broke straight back to create edge of the area shooting chances themselves with the better looking second opportunity blocked by a brilliant Richard Bunting slide.
Tom Lorraine showed his incredible commitment to the cause forcing himself onto a ball that was rapidly running out of play to get a cross in knowing his momentum would take him flying into the pitch side boarding. Shaken not stirred he returned to the fray surging into the box again unselfishly crossing for Ryan Robbins when he might have had a shot on goal himself, his cross blocked by a retreating defender.
Ryan Robbins had really grown into the game in the second half and had three excellent efforts on goal in the middle period of the half. He dragged his first effort wide on 55 minutes when well placed in the left hand side of the box, he struck a superb dipping volley on 62 minutes that Conroy was to forced save just under the bar, and 5 minutes later he ran at the back four and struck a low shot just wide of the left hand post with Conroy scrambling across goal.
Cambridge were still an attacking threat in the game and twice in quick succession Blaize Punter made vital challenges and clearances that denied the away side dangerous moments.
Diamonds then forced the vital second goal following another quick break with Ben Farrell at the heart of it. He collected a loose ball, ran over the half-way line and fed the free-running Joel Gyasi down the right. He cut inside one defender, then another and struck a low left footed effort from 20 yards into the bottom right corner.
Ryan Robbins nearly added a 3rd straight away running clear of the Cambridge defence moving the ball onto his left foot and letting fly his effort just grazing the bar.
Cambridge fought back well though and went on to dominate the closing stages with Relizani firing wide when well-placed and Liam Dolman forced into another good headed clearance under pressure.
Ben Diamond and Jack Westbrook were introduced to give Diamonds fresh legs in the closing stages and they were involved in a move that created a corner from which Ben Farrell hit a brilliant volley from a high dropping clearance that the excellent Conroy just pushed over.
Liam Dolman, Blaize Punter and Sam Brown continued to be strong at the back with important clearances as Cambridge pressed and preserved a third clean sheet in succession for the home side.
Full-time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 2 Cambridge City 0
The consistently high performance level throughout the team will please Andy Peaks most about this game. Diamonds were positive from the off with good passing and running at the away side’s defence and dynamic defending when pressed by a very good Cambridge side. It was a high quality game between sides which will surely be challenging right at the top end of the table and very good on the eye.
Diamonds find themselves top of the table after the midweek games heading 4 teams all on 35 points courtesy of the best goal difference. Next up is another top 7 side in Hartley & Wintney at Hayden Road on Saturday.
Man of the Match: Tom Lorraine (as chosen by Radio Diamonds)
Match Report by Paul Judd
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
13. Ben Heath
2. Joel Gyasi
3. Sam Brown
4. Blaize Punter
5. Liam Dolman
6. Ben Farrell
7. Joe Curtis
8. Richard Bunting (C)
9. Tom Lorraine
10. Ryan Robbins
11. Luke Fairlamb
12. Jack Westbrook (for Curtis 80)
14. Ben Diamonds (for Gyasi 76)
15. Cameron Gilchrist
16. Ben Ford
17. Kyle Swailes
1. Niall Conroy
2. Ben Robinson
3. Mark Coulson
4. Ross Paterson (C)
5. Jordan Gent
6. Adam Capel
7. Salim Relianzi
8. Ryan Towner
9. Nathan Olukanmi
10. Ryan Sharman
11. Tom Knowles
12. Mason Spence (for Olukanmi 79)
14. Jack Vasey
15. Ollie Snaith (for Knowles 67)
16. Lewis Wilson
17. Buster Harradine
Goals: Lorraine 43, Gyasi 71
Yellow Card: Fairlamb, Bunting
Yellow Cards: Gent
Referee: Andrew Ellis
Assistants: Simon Kavanagh, William Ottaway