AFC Rushden & Diamonds reached their first cup final as a senior side with a last gasp 2-1 victory over title challengers Wisbech Town in their UCL KO Cup semi-final on Tuesday night.
Diamonds took the lead on 7 minutes as Brad Harris headed home a floated Matt Gearing corner. Wisbech pulled level on 23 as Daniel Beaumont side footed home from 12 yards. It was a little against the run of play in first half dominated by Diamonds attacking play, but the fenmen were much stronger in an even second half which lacked much in the way of clear chances. Just when extra time was looming Charlie Butt got free on the right hand side of the box on 89 minutes and his pullback was swept home by Jason Turner through a sea of bodies in front of a delighted Peter De Banke terrace. Diamonds will face Potton United in the final on a date and venue to be confirmed.
Manager Andy Peaks picked another strong side for this KO cup semi-final as he has done throughout the competition. Darren Purse made his Diamonds debut at centre-half in place of Jack Ashton who was unavailable. Scott Joseph came in up front alongside top goal scorer Tom Lorraine. Tommy Berwick was on the bench as he was for the Quarter-Final, along with young Joe Ackroyd and the returning Jason Turner.
Diamonds made a bright start to the game in breezy conditions and had an early penalty appeal turned down in just the 2nd minute as Tom Lorraine’s run was stopped by ball against hand.
They then took a deserved lead on 7 minutes through free scoring midfielder Brad Harris. Matt Gearing floated his corner to the far post and Harris headed firmly into to the top corner from 4 yards out.
Diamonds were really pressuring the Wisbech back 4 all across the front line and had a number of close efforts in this early period. Matt Gearing clipped in a chipped effort that Lea Jordan in the goal tipped over the bar, and from the resultant corner Darren Purse came close to a debut goal with a near post header that was scrambled clear.
As momentum was building Diamonds were forced into a substitution on just 14 minutes. Richard Bunting took a knock and after treatment went off to be replaced by Tommy Berwick. Tom Lorraine dropping back into centre midfield.
It didn’t really affect the pattern of play though as Berwick was immediately troubling the Wisbech back-four with Elliott Lamb-Johnson in close support. The winger created a chance of his own on 13 minutes, blocking a clearance then surging into the box and firing in a shot that the keeper got a touch too taking it away from Tommy Berwick who was just denied the chance to put in the loose ball.
Wisbech had their first period of pressure around the 20 minute mark and they got their equalizer through it. A good move down the left on 23 minutes got Willie Smith into the left hand-side of the area and his cutback was side footed home by Daniel Beaumont.
The setback didn’t affect Diamonds approach to the game and they continued to create good positions and chances. Tommy Berwick fired in a superb effort from 30 yards that was well held by Jordan. Scott Joseph got in behind the right full-back a number of number of times in quick succession, being caught offside three times, but also firing in a close efforts when one on one with the keeper that he just blocked.
Then Tommy Berwick came closest to restoring Diamonds lead again in behind the right full back this time curling his shot past keeper Jordan only to see it crash back off the crossbar.
As the half drew to a close, a few feisty tackles came in and Joe Merrill received a yellow card and picked up a knock which may have influenced the decision to substitute him at half-time.
There was time in the last few minutes of the half for Sam Brown to fire in a fierce shot that was well saved, and Tom Lorraine to fire a spectacular volley that just went over from 40 yards but the half which Diamonds had shaded finished level 1-1.
Half-time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1 – Wisbech Town 1
Charlie Butt entered the play at half-time in place of Joe Merrill and it was Wisbech who grabbed momentum in the early period of the half.
Matthew Lunn worked himself into space just outside the box and fired in a fierce effort that Finlay held down low, and after getting away down the left hand-side of the diamonds defence the same player hit a low cross that evaded everyone as it shot through the penalty area.
The conditions were worsening and neither side was able to retain possession for any meaningful period. A few more feisty challenges came in which resulted in cautions for Darren Purse for Diamonds and Josh Ford for Wisbech.
Tommy Berwick continued to work the Wisbech defence and linked well with Tom Lorraine on 61 working his way into space in the box before his effort was blocked by excellent last ditch Wisbech defending.
Just shy of the 70 minute mark both sides made substitutions which certainly impacted then game. Jason Turner who would feature in the winning goal came on for Elliott Lamb-Johnson for Diamonds, and Wisbech danger man Josh Ford came off to be replaced by James.
Diamonds went 4-3-3 to match their opponents and the mobility of the front three that we saw so effectively in the quarter-final at Yaxley started to have an impact on the game.
Turner got onto a ball over the top on 81 surged into the area had his initial effort when one on one with Jordan blocked by the away keeper and he was just denied the chance to force the rebound home.
Reid then had two good efforts for Wisbech firing in shots that were held by Finlay, and Gearing for Diamonds fired an effort that was held at full stretch by then hard worked Jordan.
Charlie Butt had played for Wisbech on loan early in his career and had looked particularly motivated going forward. His break on 89 minutes produced the goal that won the game and prevented the extra-time that neither team wanted.
The ball was played neatly to him out right, he fed it inside and went for the return ball which was cleverly played inside the full-back. He controlled well and sprinted into the area and pulled the ball back to Jason Turner who swept the ball home from 10 yards through a sea of players in front of an ecstatic Peter De Banke terrace.
It may have deflected off his fellow striker Tom Lorraine and with both of them topping the season’s goal scoring charts there could be an argument over who gets the credit for the vital goal, but the immediate celebrations by the whole team showed how much it meant to make the season ending cup-final.
There was little time for Wisbech to respond and it was Diamonds who had again scored late against the Fenmen to clinch a vital result.
Final Score: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 2 – Wisbech Town – 1
This was another close contest by two evenly matched title challenging teams and although Diamonds shaded the first half Wisbech always looked to have a goal in them and will be disappointed to be un done so late for the second time in a couple of weeks. Squad depth and flexibility came through again for Diamonds with Scott Joseph excellent again, Tommy Berwick having a major impact after coming on in just the 14th minute, Tom Lorraine doing an excellent job when dropping back into centre midfield, and the change to 4-3-3 late on following the introduction of Jason Turner having a major impact on the later stages of the game.
The final against Potton United looks to be scheduled for 4th May Bank Holiday Monday with venue to be confirmed, but is subject to confirmation by the UCL in agreement with the clubs concerned.
With Holbeach dropping points at Deeping on the same night despite fighting back to a 3-3 draw Diamonds know they can all but clinch 3rd place and that promotion place on Easter Monday in their next game against Long Buckby.
Man of the Match: Tom Lorraine
Match Report by Paul Judd
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
17. Matt Finlay
2. Joe Merrill
3. Sam Brown
4. Darren Purse
5. Liam Dolman
6. Brad Harris
7. Matt Gearing
8. Richard Bunting
9. Tom Lorraine
10. Scott Joseph
11. Elliott Lamb-Johnson
12. Charlie Butt (for Merrill 45)
13. Rhys Redding
14. Josh Ackroyd
16. Jason Turner (for Lamb-Johnson 70)
19. Tommy Berwick (for Bunting 14)
1. Lea Jordan
2. Scott Johnson
3. Luke Wilson
4. Adam Millson
5. Jon Fairweather
6. Paul Cousins
7. Matt Lunn
8. Steven Reid
9. Josh Ford
10. Danny Beaumont
11. Billy Smith
12. Thomas James (for Ford 69)
14. Ryan Alexander
15. Neal Stafford (for Milson 80)
Goals: Harris (7), Turner (89)
Goals: Beaumont (23)
Yellow Cards: Merrill (30), Purse (57)
Yellow Cards: Ford (60)
Referee: Ian Ruddock
Assistants: Shaun Willis, Peter Wilson