Diamonds made it a winning start at Hayden Road with a hard fought opening day 2-0 victory against Hanwell Town.
After a quiet start Diamonds took the lead through a Nabil Shariff penalty on 11. Joe Curtis was challenged in the air on the edge of the box with the referee immediately pointing to the spot. Shariff’s firm effort caught the keepers fingers but blasted past him into the net. Hanwell were strong opponents throughout though whipping in numerous dangerous crosses to test the Diamonds defence in the first half and seeing ex Diamond Michael Malcolm crash one effort off the bar. Diamonds improved in their passing as the half wore on and produced good saves from impressive away keeper Xavi Leon Comas from Nabil Shariff and Ben Farrell and from a late Liam Dolman free-kick.
Diamonds started the second half well and soon doubled their lead on 51. A corner pinged around the box with Hanwell struggling to clear before being lobbed back in where Shariff prodded a high bouncing ball home from 8 yards. Hanwell remained a threat in the game although sporadic they missed two golden chances to get into the game with first an effort swept wide from 15 yards that should have hit the target and then one from even closer in that really should have been their deserved goal back.
Diamonds did press well throughout the half being caught offside and denied by the excellent Comas. Ben Farrell and Nabil Shariff stinging his fingers and second half sub Tom Lorraine persistent as ever nearly setting up Shariff twice. There was still time for Joel Gyasi to hit one stunning effort off the bar in added on time as Diamonds ran out 2-0 opening day winners.
It was a wonderful moment for so many at the club as the teams emerged onto a sun dappled Hayden Road for the first time. The arena looked fantastic a testament to so much hard work to achieve the ground grading and get ready for the crowds desperate to see step 4 football in Rushden.
Manager Andy Peaks selected three of his recent signings in his first starting 11 at Hayden Road with Joel Gyasi, Chris Dillon and Luke Fairlamb all starting. Ben Heath started in goal with Sam Brown at centre half alongside Liam Dolman with recently contracted Callum Westwood and Ben Ford at full-back. Ben Farrell partnered Joe Curtis in midfield with the new boys Gyasi and Fairlamb out wide. Dillon partnered Nabil Shariff up front.
Diamonds started quietly as Hanwell pressed in the opening minutes, Charlie Mitchell getting away down the right whipping in excellent ball on 3 minutes that just evaded ex Diamond Michael Malcolm.
The home side gradually got their passing going in the middle and final third earning a corner on 7 minutes after a decent move that saw away keeper Xavi Leon Comas punch clear under pressure.
And they duly took the lead on 11 through a Nabil Shariff penalty. Joe Curtis had been forcefully challenged in the air just inside the box and the referee pointed straight to the spot. Shariff struck his penalty to the keepers left and although he got fingertips to it it blasted past him to give Diamonds the lead.
Hanwell so nearly equalised just 3 minutes later as Michael Malcolm crashed a superb volley off the bar with Ben Heath beaten and they continued to press forward and whip in dangerous crosses that had the Diamonds back four working hard to clear.
Diamonds started to shade possession though and create chances through good passing and neat link up play. One great sweeping move started by Gyasi weaving out of his own box was played into Chris Dillon who rolled it out to Ben Ford who put Nabil Shariff into the left of the away box for a shot across goal.
Ben Farrell hit a brilliant volley from the edge of the box on 24 after another good move saw a half cleared cross fall to the midfielder his first time effort just pushed wide by Comas. Shariff and Dillon came close to linking up in the box after a clever exchange and quick feet, and Gyasi got in on the clever footwork as he exchanged with Dillon but was just denied his chance to get a shot away.
Liam Dolman was then set-up for a trademark free-kick on the edge of the D on 35 by more decent build up play but he surprised everyone one with a delicate curled effort to the left corner that Comas just held.
There was still time for a great turn and shot by Nabil Shariff from the edge of the box that had the hardworking Comas at full stretch to keep out.
Half time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1 Hanwell Town 0
Diamonds started the second half as they ended the first pressing their opponents and creating decent chances. Ben Farrell latched onto another half clearance of a decent move whipping a first time effort over the bar from 25 yards before they doubled their lead on 51.
A left wing corner caused problems for Hanwell as Chris Dillon had a shot blocked and when the ball was lobbed back into the mix Shariff was there to flick the high bouncing ball home for his second of the game.
Hanwell responded as they had to going behind in the first half and really should have had a goal back on 58. Kyle Watson saw a cross shot come back off the post to Michael Malcolm but he somehow swept the ball wide from only 4 yards.
Hanwell shaded the next period of the game with the Diamonds back four working hard to keep them to shots from distance. A number of efforts came in but none troubled Ben Heath.
Tom Lorraine was introduced on 66 and his persistence and power allowed him to claim the ball deep inside the box on 74 where he span along the goal line pulling it back to Nabil Shariff who saw his effort from 12 yards blocked.
As the game got stretched there were chances at both ends on 79 with Nabil Shariff firing into the keepers arms from 15 yards after a Ben Farrell effort had been blocked and Hanwell breaking straight down the field to create a shooting chance which was swept wide from 20 yards when you feared the net was going to bulge.
More changes for Diamonds saw Fernando Bell-Toxtle and Darryl Smith on for their debuts as they looked to manage the game better in the final stages.
Hanwell had just one more decent chance as full back Joe Chandiram got forward down the left and struck a superb cross shot that Ben Heath brilliantly touched onto the bar and away.
Then it was Diamonds turn to test the framework of the goal with Joel Gyasi smacking a tremendous effort off the vibrating bar and down onto the line and away.
Final Score: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 2 Hanwell Town 0
This was a good opening day win for Diamonds who worked hard to contain a much improved Hanwell side and to bring their own passing and movement game to the fore. They just shaded possession and chances and won the game with two goals from the impressive Nabil Shariff. Hanwell had the chances to earn a share of the spoils and pressed well for good periods and will feel they deserved something from the game.
An opening day win at your new home ground in the August sunshine in front of over 600 crowd is definitely what the doctor ordered. Next up is a trip to Oxfordshire on Tuesday night to take on Thame United.
Man of the Match: Nabil Shariff
Match Report by Paul Judd
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
13. Ben Heath
2. Callum Westwood
3. Ben Ford
4. Sam Brown
5. Liam Dolman
6. Ben Farrell
7. Joel Gyasi
8. Joe Curtis
9. Chris Dillon
10. Nabil Shariff
11. Luke Fairlamb
12. Tom Lorraine (for Dillon 66)
14. Darryl Smith (for Fairlamb 85)
15. Blaize Punter
16. Fernando Bell-Toxtle (for Farrell 81)
17. Matt Finlay
1. Xavi Leon Comas
2. Karl Stevenson
3. Joe Chandiram
4. Michael Buckley
5. Oliver Duffy
6. Calum Duffy
7. Charlie Mitchell
8. Kyle Watson
9. Michael Malcolm
10. Peter Dean
11. Callum Wright
12. Ruddock Yala
14. Tom Hunt (for Dean 66)
15. Glen Yala Bolasie (for Stevenson 45)
16. Georges Ehui (for Mitchell 58)
17. Tom Regan
Goals: Shariff 11 Pen, 51
Yellow Card: Farrell
Yellow Cards: Oliver Duffy
Referee: Robbie Dudley
Assistants: Ryan Williams, William Doyle
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