An impressive second half display and two goals in 10 minutes mid way through saw Diamonds win this high quality match against in form play-off contenders Stratford Town. Man of the match Liam Dolman opened the scoring on 69 minutes netting Tom Lorraine’s pull-back from 15 yards, Sam Johnson added the second running clean through on goal and striking from the edge of the box.
Manager Andy Peaks made two changes to his line-up for this third tough home game on the trot with Jack Westbrook and Sam Johnson promoted from the bench in place of Joe Curtis and John Dean.
A healthy midweek crowd of just shy of 400 saw another entertaining at times end to end game between two sides with genuine play-off ambitions. Diamonds pressed well in the early stages with Declan Rogers and Ben Diamond combining well but just prevented from delivering the killer ball, and Tom Lorraine running the channel well again but just seen out by the away defence.
Former Diamond Ross Oulton was in the thick of things for the away side and two robust challenges against his former team mates in the first 15 minutes saw him shown an early yellow card. A free-kick attracted shouts for handball on the 20 minute mark that were waived away and two dangerous balls in from Declan Rogers and then Sam Johnson tested the away defence.
Stratford were strong and quick on the break in these opening stages in what seemed an end to end game at times with another former Diamond Nabil Shariff coming close on 25 minutes just seen out by the impressive Liam Dolman. Ross Oulton got his new side in behind the Diamonds back four with a great ball over the top on 27 minutes but the resultant cross didn’t match the build-up play. Jack Ashton was then forced into an excellent clearing header and Ben Heath made a great save from a Nabil Shariff effort which was possibly the best chance of the half as Stratford finished the half strongly.
Half-time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0 Stratford Town 0
Diamonds started the second -half really well pushing Stratford back and starting to build some real momentum. Sam Johnson broke away twice the second time finding Tom Lorraine but Stratford were able to clear it away. Nathan Hicks had a shot on the turn well saved and Alex Collard put a header just wide.
Stratford continued to create chances on the break though and came really close twice in quick succession around 55 minutes. The first chance only cleared away after numerous blocks by the home defenders in the penalty area and the second a great ball to the far post that really should have been headed home.
Diamonds finally got the vital breakthrough on 59 minutes as a corner came out to Nathan Hicks whose ball to the far post was headed towards goal only to be parried by the away keeper. Tom Lorraine collected the loose ball by the goal-line and listened to the call from Liam Dolman sliding the ball right into his path for a strong left-footed finish from 15 yards. Dolman peeled away to the home fans in jubilant fashion pursued by his team mates who realised what that goal meant to the team.
It got even better for Diamonds 10 minutes later as the bright Sam Johnson was put clean through on goal running in from distance and gleefully finishing from the edge of the box.
Stratford pushed to get back into the game but were repelled by the kind of excellent defending that had won the points against King Lynn just 10 days ago. A dangerous free-kick was superbly headed clear, Ben Heath tipped another Ross Oulton free-kick just over and Nabil Shariff headed wide under pressure when well placed.
There was time for a trademark Tom Lorraine run that was ended in what could have been a late penalty for Diamonds but was waived away and an attempted cushioned defensive header back to Ben Heath by a Diamonds defender just avoided an own goal.
Full-time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 2 Stratford Town 0
This was another excellent home performance from Diamonds against one of the big names of Midlands non-league football and a genuine play-off contender. It was an even end to end contest especially in the first half but an even better second-half peformance from Diamonds won the game. Goals came at important times when in control of the game and that will have pleased Andy Peaks. Diamonds move within touching distance of the play-offs again thanks to 7 points from 3 seemingly difficult home games and fans will really enjoy watching what this side can achieve in the 12 game run in.
Next up another trip to the Black Country with the visit to Halesowen Town on Saturday afternoon.
Man of the Match: Liam Dolman
Match Report: Paul Judd