Diamonds left it late to break down 9 man Nuneaton Borough but did it with goals from attacking substitutions by Manager Andy Peaks to run out 2-0 winners.
Massiah McDonald got his first for the club on 89 minutes finishing a goal mouth scramble initially credited to Tom Lorraine in front of an ecstatic Peter De Banke Terrace. Sam Johnson clinched the points with a scorching drive on 94 minutes as the home crowd went home very happy after a 3rd win in 3 this season.
Diamonds had started brightly but Nuneaton had got on top when they had a man sent off on 22 minutes. Last man Rhys Sharpe brought down Ben Acquaye who had dispossessed him. Clear chances were limited but Jack Ashton, Nathan Hicks and Ben Acquaye went close in the first half and Jack Bowen, Ben Acquaye again and defenders Jack Ashton and Liam Dolman in the second.
Diamonds were tiring but second half subs Ben Farrell, Massiah McDonald and Sam Johnson energised them into a grandstand finish. Nuneaton had worked so hard to deny big chances but made matters worse for themselves when Dec Towers saw a second yellow card for a rash challenge on 82. Diamonds pressed and pressed and left it so late but the vital breakthrough they worked so hard for came on 89 minutes. Massiah McDonald finished a goal mouth scramble after a quick throw in had put Nuneaton under pressure . It was his first for the club which he thoroughly enjoyed in front of an ecstatic Peter De Banker Terrace. Sam Johnson then showed cool control at the edge of the box to set up a sumptuous finish that clinched the game and confirm a 2-0 scoreline.
Manager Andy Peaks made just the one change to his starting line-up that won impressively at Barwell last week. With Alex Collard missing out due a niggling injury he was able to bring in Zack Reynolds demonstrating the strength in depth of the Diamonds defensive options. Sam Johnson and Ben Farrell returned to the bench to join Ryan Dove, Massiah McDonald and Niall Cooper with Declan Rogers missing out.
A lively and sunny Hayden Road welcomed the players for this fixture between two strong sides with ambitions at the top end of the table. Nuneaton were looking for their first win after some impressive team strengthening over the summer and an improved performance in a midweek draw following opening day defeat. Diamonds were two from two against teams from the bottom reaches of last year’s table with 7 goals scored but knew this game was their biggest test so far.
The first half was a game of momentum changes with Diamonds bossing the opening stages with some good attacking play roared on by a vociferous home crowd. Ben Acquaye playing in an advanced midfield role showed great footwork to control and play a one two with Jack Bowen that nearly came off, and Jack Ashton came flying onto a far post corner in trademark fashion but saw it somehow fly just over his head.
Nuneaton roared on by their own fans in good voice then got well on top and Diamonds had Ben Heath to thank for keeping the scores level. First he made an incredible point blank save from a close range header that he somehow parried away, and then got a vital touch on a rasping effort at full stretch that crashed back off the post. Two fantastic saves….
The biggest momentum change though came on 22 minutes as Ben Acquaye chased down the last man defender Rhys Sharpe, disposed him and looked to go clear. They tangled right on the edge of the box with Acquaye going down and the referee had little choice but to issue a red card. A free-kick rather than penalty was awarded and Liam Dolmans effort was blocked by the wall.
Diamonds understandably started to dominate possession and Sam Brown on his 300th appearance came so close to setting up Tom Lorraine after some excellent link-up play down the right.
Nuneaton manager Jimmy Ginnelly having been warned by the referee for the reaction of his bench to the officials then received a yellow card for continued protests. He was followed into the “book” by Dec Towers who clashed with Jack Bowen in a way that could have been further punished as Nuneaton lost a little discipline.
Tom Lorraine was working the channels as he does so well and strained everything to get onto a through ball before a skilful turn and great ball into the supporting Nathan Hicks saw the midfield runner have an 18 yard effort just blocked. Ben Acquaye then so nearly seized on a loose ball after away keeper Cam Belford spilt a rasping shot but managed to smother Acquaye flicked effort wide.
Half-time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0 Nuneaton Borough 0
It had been a good quality first half but a slightly frantic start to the second half saw the quality drop a little. Nuneaton showed they were still going for the points in what remained a competitive contest by harrying Diamonds and the 10 men continued to press forward in numbers.
Diamonds did start to find their feet though to begin dominating possession again with hard working Jack Bowen prominent. He first just guided a header over from a hard driven right wing Ben Acquaye cross after some lovely Diamonds passing, then got away from his man in the area and came so close to connecting with a left wing cross around the penalty spot, and then rising well at the far post to just head wide.
Ben Acquaye showed his great ability on 63 minutes as he controlled well and struck a flying effort just wide. Jack Ashton then saw a far post header cleared off the line, and Liam Dolman headed just over from another dangerous corner.
The killer chance just wouldn’t come though for tiring Diamonds and just after Jack Bowen had the ball in the net with a lob over the keeper ruled out for offside he was substituted to a great round of applause. Massiah McDonald came on joining Ben Farrell (replacing Matt Slinn) and was later joined by Sam Johnson (replacing Nat Gosnal-Tyler) and between them they energised the home side into a grandstand finish.
Nuneaton made life harder for themselves when they were reduced to 9 men after Dec Towers saw a second yellow for a rash challenge wide on the right with 8 minutes to go.
Diamonds peppered the Nuneaton area and it possibly looked like their chance had gone when Sam Brown seized on halfway line throw in on 89 minutes. He threw early and long in behind the retreating Nuneaton defence where Tom Lorraine got a touch amongst the Nuneaton confusion and the falling Massiah McDonald swept the ball high into the net to send the Peter De Banke Terrace into ecstasy. Initially given to Tom Lorraine this was definitely McDonald’s goal his first for the club and won Diamonds the game.
4 minutes into added on time the icing on the cake saw Ben Acquaye chase a ball down the left wing and cross to Sam Johnson to take a great touch to the right of the defender and slam the ball home.
Final Score: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 2 Nuneaton Borough 0
Diamonds left it so late against hard working 9 man Nuneaton but Manager Andy Peaks clever substitutions helped energise a tiring Diamonds side into a grandstand finish. Man of the Match Sam Brown’s quick thinking and pressure from Tom Lorraine set-up Massiah McDonald for a first Diamonds goal and what a vital goal it was. Nuneaton will possibly feel hard done by that they didn’t hold out but ill-discipline cost them and Diamonds worked hard right to the end to earn the points.
Diamonds are now the only side with maximum points in the division which probably exceeds everyone’s expectations for week one. Two tough games over the Bank Holiday weekend – away to Stratford next up and home to St. Ives on Bank Holiday Monday will go a long way to setting Diamonds genuine expectations for the season.
Man of the Match: Sam Brown (chosen by Radio Diamonds)
Match Summary: Paul Judd
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
13. Ben Heath
2. Zack Reynolds
3. Sam Brown
4. Jack Ashton
5. Liam Dolman (C)
6. Nat Gosnal-Taylor
7. Ben Acquaye
8. Matt Slinn
9. Tom Lorraine
10. Jack Bowen
11. Nathan Hicks
12. Sam Johnson (for Gosnal-Tyler 84)
14. Ben Farrell (for Slinn 73)
15. Ryan Dove
16. Massiah McDonald (for Bowen 75)
17. Niall Cooper
1. Cam Belford (C)
2. James Clifton
3. Rhys Sharpe
4. Dec Towers
5. Keith Lowe
6. Aman Verma
7. Callum Powell
8. Stuart Bevon
9. Luke Benbow
10. Devon Kelly-Evans
11. Ryan Edmunds
12. Chris Camwell
14. Ryan Harkin
15. Lewis Rankin (for Bevon 77)
16. Dan Preston (for Benbow 84)
17. Curtis Obeng (for Edmunds 68)
Goals: McDonald (89), Johnson (90+4)
Yellow Card: McDonald
Yellow Cards: Towers x2, Kelly-Evans, Ginnelly (Manager)
Red Cards: Sharpe (22), Towers (82)
Referee: Oliver Mackay
Assistants: Aidan Murphy, Gary Lord