AFC Rushden & Diamonds dispatched of a near full strength Northampton Town side 2-0 at Hayden Road on Wednesday night in the Diamonds’ second pre-season friendly. Goals either side of half time from midfielder Ben Farrell and striker Tom Lorraine respectively earned the home side a well fought victory against Football League opposition, with the Diamonds putting in a fantastic team performance.
Manager Andy Peaks made a number of changes from the side that beat Barwell on penalties on Saturday, with Ben Heath playing the first half in goal, and with defender Ben Ford, midfielders Joel Gyasi, Rich Bunting and Farrell and striker Chris Dillon all earning starts. Former Rushden & Diamonds manager Justin Edinburgh brought a near full strength Cobblers side with him, with Football League veterans Brendan Moloney, Yaser Kasim, Dean Bowditch and Alex Revell all starting the game, alongside Manchester United loanee Regan Poole also in defence.
But it was the non-league side who had the first chance of the game. Winger Gyasi had an effort in the area blocked by the Northampton defence after just three minutes. However a minute later at the other end, striker Revell headed a cross into Heath’s arms from a Bowditch cross.
Diamonds had another good chance to take the lead on eight minutes when Gyasi found striker Nabil Shariff in the area but he hit his volley into the side netting. But again a minute later the Cobblers found themselves with a great goalscoring chance when youth player James Gillard found space down the left before teeing up left back George Smith, but the former Gateshead man blazed his shot high over the bar.
A Gyasi corner on 11 minutes was cleared to Darryl Smith on the edge of the area who teed up a volley which looped harmlessly over the crossbar.
But it was the visitors who once again had a very good chance to open the scoring when full back Moloney squirmed the ball past numerous Diamonds players towards the edge of the box before teeing up George Smith who fizzed a low powerful shot inches past Heath’s far post.
Northampton enjoyed much of the possession in the first half but couldn’t create many clear cut chances, much to the frustration of the front men as another difficult Revell header on 22 minutes was put wide after some good work from Leon Lobjoit on the right wing.
However, despite being on the back foot, Diamonds very almost took the lead on 23 minutes when the very impressive Gyasi sent Shariff through on goal but his shot was saved and put out for a corner.
The Cobblers had another great chance to take the lead when Gillard dribbled his way into the area before sliding an effort into the side netting.
But despite being the underdogs, it was the Diamonds who took the lead on 28 minutes. Shariff’s cross from the left was aimed towards Gyasi in the area but he was dwarfed by the towering defender who cleared to Farrell waiting hungrily on the edge of the box to place a left footed shot sweetly into the top left corner.
The opener seemed to spur the Diamonds on, and on 39 minutes they were inches away from doubling their lead. Gyasi, involved once again, fired a curler from the corner of the 18-yard box which smashed the crossbar and back into play. And again on 43 minutes, an error from the Cobblers defence handed Dillon a wonderful chance but he was denied by a fantastic save from James Goff.
Half time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1 Northampton Town 0
Both sides emerged for the second half completely unchanged, and the half got off to a slow start, with the first chance not coming until the 54th minute when a smart corner from Bowditch found Moloney on the edge of the area who drove his shot just wide of the post.
Rushden made their first changes of the tie a minute later, with Finlay replacing Heath in goal, and new boy Luke Fairlamb coming on for Darryl Smith.
Moments later, the Diamonds broke forward with Gyasi leading the counter attack before laying the ball off to Dillon in space who forced another good save from the impressive Goff. The resulting corner ended in a goalmouth scramble with a number of white shirts trying to squirm the ball over the line before eventually being cleared.
On the hour mark, Justin Edinburgh decided to make all ten changes to field a completely different line-up for the remaining half an hour. The newcomers were made up of more first team players for Northampton, including ex-Premier League and FA Cup winner Matthew Taylor gracing the Hayden Road pitch. The Diamonds also made a substitution amongst the swarm of Northampton shirts, with Lorraine replacing Dillon up front.
The new faces almost made an immediate impact on 63 minutes when Daniel Powell worked his way into the Diamonds area but his shot was well saved by Finlay.
The away side then had a strong shout for a penalty waved away by referee Matthew Buonassi on 66 minutes when Billy Waters went down from a challenge inside the area. Shariff came off for Lewis Leslie three minutes later.
Once again, on 73 minutes, Northampton were wondering how they hadn’t scored, as a cross from the right found defender Leon Barnett at the back post but he couldn’t quite turn the ball in.
With under quarter of an hour remaining, Diamonds made another couple of substitutions, with midfielder Joe Curtis coming on for Bunting, and Blaize Punter replacing Ford.
Moments later, Diamonds had their second goal of the game. Fairlamb found himself on the right wing before crossing the ball onto the head of Lorraine, who diverted his header low to the goalkeeper’s left.
Diamonds made their final changes with seven minutes remaining. Ollie Brown-Hill and trialist Harry Hembury came on for Gyasi and Farrell, after both putting in tremendous displays.
Northampton had a number of chances towards the end of the game, but couldn’t break down the presence of Callum Westwood, Liam Dolman and Sam Brown at the back.
Full time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 2 Northampton Town 0
In the end, it was a very impressive display from Andy Peaks’s side to beat a team five leagues above. The newcomers all put in tremendous performances, and the defence looked unbreachable. And the performance off the pitch was equally as impressive with an attendance of 807 at Hayden Road. A massive bonus going into the new season.
Match Report by Adam Benney
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
1. Ben Heath
2. Callum Westwood
3. Ben Ford
4. Sam Brown
5. Liam Dolman
6. Ben Farrell
7. Joel Gyasi
8. Richard Bunting (C)
9. Chris Dillon
10. Nabil Shariff
11. Darryl Smith
12. Joe Curtis
14. Blaize Punter
15. Ollie Brown-Hill
16. Tom Lorraine
17. Matt Finlay
18. Harry Hembury
19. Luke Fairlamb
20. Lewis Leslie
25. James Goff
2. Brendan Maloney
4. Yaser Kassim
10. Alex Revell
12. Leon Labjoit
15. Dean Bowditch
16. Jarvis Wilson
19. James Gillard
20. George Smith
22. Prudence Anaele
26. Regan Poole
3. David Buchanan
5. Leon Barnett
7. Billy Waters
8. Sam Foley
9. Marc Richards
11. Daniel Powell
18. Aaron Phillips
24. Jay Williams
27. Morgan Roberts
31. Matthew Taylor
Goals: Farrell (28), Lorraine (80)
Referee: Mr Matthew Buonassi
Assistants: Mr Matt Law and Mr Olly Mackay