10 man Diamonds won their first league game since Bank Holiday Monday with a come from behind 2-1 win clinched with Nabil Shariff’s 88th minute penalty.
Strugglers Sheffield took a 14th minute lead through an Alec Denton penalty with Rory Winters sent-off for his challenge that conceded the spot kick. 10 man Diamonds responded well with Nabil Shariff netting a 20th minute equaliser as he chased down his own shot that came back off the post scooping home from a tight angle. The introduction of ex football league player Lewis Wilson energised Diamonds for a strong finish and Nabil Shariff converted a much delayed 88th minute penalty awarded for handball.
Manager Andy Peaks selected an unchanged side from the fantastic midweek 6-1 win at Histon with Ash Deeney retaining the right-back birth, Jason Lee and Rory Winters continuing their promising centre-half pairing and Kyal McNulty retaining the holding midfield spot he performed so well in on Tuesday night. The bench looked incredibly strong with Jack Ashton, Liam Dolman and Richard Bunting returning from injury and midweek goal scorer Jake Newman joining new signing Lewis Wilson.
The Dog & Duck surface looked fantastic on a perfect sunny autumn afternoon as the two sides sparred in the opening stages without creating much in the way of chances. Ash Deeney showed he can compete with Sam Brown in the long throw stakes nearly setting up Taylor Orosz and Orosz and Nic Evangelinos combined well as they had to great effect on Tuesday night to give Orosz a good crossing chance that was blocked.
Sheffield belied their lowly league position as FA Trophy opponents Histon had last weekend with neat passing and movement and working some good crossing positions to force the Diamonds back four to clear under pressure.
Connor Hall was prominent in and around the box for the visitors and forced a great blocking save by Matt Finlay on 13 when he found space deep in the Diamonds box, and he won the penalty a minute later by which his side would take the lead. Getting goal side of Rory Winters chasing a bouncing ball into the area he went down with Winters judged to have deliberately pulled him back meaning a red card for the Diamonds defender. Alec Denton slotted the penalty into the bottom corner.
The dependable Brad Harris dropped into the centre-half position as Diamonds looked to consolidate following that blow but they found an a quick equaliser that was probably crucial in the outcome of the game. Sam Brown hit a through ball for Nabil Shariff to chase but the defender was initially favourite. Shariff won the challenge though and as the keeper advanced slid the ball under him only to see it come back of the post. He hadn’t given up the chase though and despite the ball coming back to a tight angle he managed to scoop it home with a defender closing him down.
Sam Brown came so close to adding a second 4 minutes later as he worked a position left and then right in the box and hit a low cross shot that went agonisingly wide.
It was Sheffield who were gaining the ascendency in this period though as they used the extra space well to pressure the home defence. And Diamonds were struggling defensively at this point prompting Manager Andy Peaks to make two changes in quick succession that would have a major impact on his side’s chances in the game. First on 32 Liam Dolman came on for the unlucky Nic Evangelinos to allow him to take up the centre-half position releasing Brad Harris back into centre midfield. Then when Ash Deeney picked up an injury on 35 forcing him off he brought the influential Richard Bunting into midfield with Kyal McNulty dropping into full-back.
It gave 10 man Diamonds a more solid look and they were much more comfortable going into towards half-time. They were able to create a chance for Liam Dolman as a corner was played back into the centre and he fired straight at the keeper, and had a penalty appeal of their own right on half-time as Sam Brown did looked to be pushed at the far post as he tried to get onto a looped cross.
Half time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1 Sheffield FC 1
Sheffield started the second half strongly as they pushed Diamonds back using the extra man well but were again unable to create much in the way of decent chances. Sam Finlaw possibly could have done better with what was a wild effort from 18 yards when he was well placed, and Alec Denton had a free header from 10 yards from a corner that he put well over.
Diamonds were defending well though and breaking at times with Nabil Shariff and Taylor Orosz combining well first to raise another penalty appeal as Shariff looked like he might have been tripped in the box, and then Orosz firing his knock-back well over on 56.
Manager Andy Peaks made his third and final substitution on 62 bringing on Lewis Wilson for his diamonds debut for the hardworking Taylor Orosz. As with the first half-changes it had a major impact on the pattern of the game as Diamonds started to move the ball forward with real purpose where Wilson and Nabil Shariff were holding it up well and bring midfield runners into the game.
They very nearly scored just a minute later as a Jason Lee free-kick pinged around the box and was somehow scooped off the line by keeper Butt. Nabil Shariff really should have scored on 64 as great link-up play saw him through on goal, one to one with the keeper running in towards the Peter de Banke but he found the keeps legs rather than the net.
On 67 they again came agonisingly close as Jason Lee headed a Richard Bunting free-kick back across goal where it seemed to travel along the goal-line without anyone able to force it home.
Lewis Wilson was starting to show his quality as the game went into the last 15 minutes first chesting a free-kick down for an audacious volley on the turn that went just over, and then feeding Nabil Shariff who cut into the box and fired left footed straight at keeper Butt. He then showed great body shape to leap and head a left wing cross back across goal but just over on 77.
Richard Bunting looked to have pulled something on 85 but with all substitutions made he hobbled on and kept looking to drive his side forward as you sensed the improved forward play was going to produce something dramatic for the home side.
And it duly did on 88 as Diamonds were awarded a penalty as a Sam Brown long throw was only half cleared and hit a defenders hand for what seemed a clear decision. Sheffield were obviously disappointed and the kick was much delayed as protests were dealt with and keeper given a yellow card for his delaying tactics.
Nabil Shariff waited patiently throughout despite the provocation and with the ground holding its collective breath he stepped up and coolly finished into the bottom corner. Massive cheers of relief around the ground greeted the late late winner for the hardworking 10 men. Shariff picked up a yellow card during the celebrations as he let the keeper know he had scored!!
A couple of feisty challenges in the final minutes fired up both sets of players but Diamonds managed possession well in added on time and the final whistle brought massive cheers from around the ground as Diamonds sealed a vital home win.
This was a strong performance from a very hardworking home side who suffered an early blow of losing Rory Winters and an early goal but battled well to come from behind and take a vital 3 points. It wasn’t the crisp passing sparkling display of Tuesday night, but was equally impressive in its hardworking battle against adversity.
The management team must take plaudits for the way they re-shaped the team following Winters dismissal and Ash Deeney’s injury, and for the positive 62nd minute use of the final substitution to introduce Lewis Wilson to try and win the game. It paid off and the fitness and energy of the team cannot be questioned as they dominated the final stages with 10 men and forced the winning goal they so richly deserved.
Diamonds will look to add more points in the coming week as they head to Belper Town on Tuesday night and entertain Basford United next Saturday.
Diamonds Man of the Match chosen by Match Sponsor Edward Bailey: Nabil Shariff
Match Ball Sponsor: Steve Gray
Match Report by Paul Judd
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
17. Matt Finlay
2. Ash Deeney
3. Sam Brown
4. Rory Winters
5. Jason Lee
6. Brad Harris
7. Nabil Shariff
8. Kyal McNulty
9. Taylor Orosz
10. Tom Lorraine
11. Nic Evangelinos
12. Jack Ashton
13. Jake Newman
14. Lewis Wilson (for Orosz 62)
15. Richard Bunting (for Deeney 35)
16. Liam Dolman (for Evangelinos 32)
1. Christopher Butt
2. Fabian Bailey
3. Thomas Rose
4. Ross Goodwin
5. Lee Cooksey
6. Damian Magee
7. Reece Treasure
8. Sam Finlaw
9. Connor Hall
10. Patrick Lindley
11. Alec Denton
12. Brian Cusworth (for Denton 55)
14. Stuart Ludlam
15. Jamie Hadfield
16. Mohammed Hamid (for Treasure 72)
17. Matthew Roney (Goodwin 72)
Goals: Shariff (20 & 88 Pen)
Goals: Denton (14)
Yellow Card: Harris, Shariff, Orosz
Yellow Cards: Rose, Butt Lindley
Red Cards: Winters
Referee: Tom Reeves
Assistants: Harley Kittrick, Ryan Williams
Click here for match video and post-match interviews.