Diamonds recorded their eighth consecutive league victory with a Boxing Day comeback success over Kempston Rovers.
The hosts started positively as Ryan Robbins saw a header saved by the Kempston keeper and fellow striker Tom Lorraine had a shot across goal deflected behind, but it was the visitors who took the lead in the tenth minute. A loose pass by a Diamonds man just outside their own area allowed the ball to be deflected into the path of ex-Diamond Jake Newman, and he clinically dispatched a left-footed shot across Ben Heath and into the far corner of the net. That was the first goal Diamonds had conceded in 550 minutes of league play, but they responded well with Liam Dolman having a penalty appeal waved away and Joel Gyasi curling an effort over the bar. The home side did eventually level in the 21st minute when Lorraine flicked a pass into the path of Robbins, and he powered into the left side of the area before dinking a neat finish over the keeper and into the back of the net. Moments later Diamonds, and Robbins, had their second goal. The frontman seized possession on the halfway line, turned and embarked on a direct run that took him past a couple of defenders and into the area before he calmly rolled a finish into the far corner of the goal. The best was yet to come though as the striker completed his hat-trick in the 32nd minute. He brought the ball down around 35 yards out from goal and instantly unleashed a thunderbolt that flew past the stranded Kempston keeper and into the top corner. The visitors looked to get back into the contest before half-time as a couple of long-range efforts went over the bar, and in response Diamonds could have extended their advantage when Joe Curtis hit a shot across goal and Luke Fairlamb had a fierce effort well saved. However, no more goals were to be had in the wholly entertaining opening period, and so the scoreline remained 3-1 at the interval.
After a relatively quiet start to the second half the game was halted in the 54th minute as the floodlights went out, but after a fifteen minute delay they were back on and play was able to resume. Gyasi had a free-kick for the hosts well saved, and moments later Dolman caught a left-footed volley sweetly only for the keeper to save the effort as the Diamonds looked to put the game beyond doubt. However, just after the hour mark the visitors could have easily pulled a goal back as a corner from the left passed through a huge number of players, and just when it looked for all the world that it would be turned into the goal at the far post the ball rolled wide of goal. Diamonds responded with Ben Farrell meeting an inswinging Gyasi cross to flick a header narrowly wide of goal, and then up the other end Newman had a strong effort from outside the box straight at Heath. The home side then took control of the rest of the contest, with firstly the excellent Fairlamb exchanging passes with Robbins before seeing a low effort blocked by the keeper’s legs. Robbins himself then went so close to a fourth goal as a poor clearance by the away keeper fell for him around 40 yards from goal, and his instant effort rolled towards the unguarded goal before flicking the post and going wide. Farrell then had one effort go over and one fly wide before a Fairlamb cross towards Lorraine was well kicked away by the keeper, but the Diamonds had ultimately done more than enough to secure the three points and to remain in pole position heading into 2018.
Manager Andy Peaks kept the same sixteen-strong squad that had defeated Hanwell last time out, with the 3-5-2 that had served the team extremely well in recent times again deployed for this fixture. Diamonds looked to extend a run that had seen them won their last seven consecutive league fixtures and not concede for six straight games, and Kempston came into the contest only one place and one point off the play-off spots. A keen sense of intrigue was therefore felt by all around the ground as the two teams entered onto the field of play, and as soon as the coin toss had been conducted and the kick-off decided, referee Robert Hathaway sounded the whistle to start the game.
The hosts were kicking towards the Peter de Banke terrace for the opening half, and it was they who had the first opportunity of the contest in the third minute. They won a throw-in on the left, and Sam Brown stepped up to launch one of his archetypal long-throws into the middle of the area. It was flicked on by Tom Lorraine for his strike-partner Ryan Robbins, but the ball came fast to the Diamonds number 10 and his subsequent header goalwards was straight at Kempston goalkeeper Martin Conway. Two minutes later they had another chance when Ben Farrell did well to win the ball in midfield, and he moved forward before slipping a pass into the path of the advancing Lorraine. A nearby defender slipped, and so the striker was able to reach the ball before hitting an effort across goal that required Conway to deflect it behind for a corner.
Kempston responded and had their first chance a few moments later. An attacking move saw the ball worked into a shooting position around 30 yards from goal, but the following effort flew way over the top of Ben Heath’s goal. Two minutes later though, the visitors were to take the lead. It appeared that the Diamonds had snuffed out an away attack as Liam Dolman won a challenge before Jack Westbrook fed Farrell, but the midfielder’s attempt to flick the ball forward was blocked by a Kempston midfielder and ran into the path of Jake Newman. The ex-Diamonds man, who had scored 20 goals in all competitions so far this season prior to this fixture, ran into the left side of the area before shifting the ball onto his left foot and dispatching a shot across Heath into the far corner of the net. It was the first league goal Diamonds had conceded since November 11th, a grand total of 550 minutes of play, and meant they had work to do to get back into the game. Several minutes later they won a free-kick on the left, just ahead of the dugouts, and Joel Gyasi’s subsequent delivery looked like it may find Dolman only for the defender to end up on the floor. He argued that he had been wrestled to the ground, but the referee waved away the penalty appeals.
In the early exchanges the visitors were happy to allow Diamonds possession in defence, but once the hosts moved over the halfway line they were quick to press and harry. Rushden were still creating chances though, and in the 19th minute a loose ball dropped for Gyasi to cut inside from the left only for his following shot to curl well over the crossbar. However, they were level only two minutes later. Luke Fairlamb did brilliantly to run forward past a couple of challenges before chipping a ball forward for Lorraine, and he in turn did really well to flick it into the path of Ryan Robbins on his left. The striker controlled the pass before powerfully striding forward and into the area whilst strongly holding off a defensive challenge, and he then cleverly lifted a shot over Conway and into the back of the net.
Rushden kept up the forward momentum and continued to create chances, with Lorraine escaping down the right flank moments after Robbins’ leveller before the forward’s cross towards a couple of white shirts in the area was just collected by Conway. However, they didn’t have to wait much longer to take the lead. Farrell relentlessly harried just short of the halfway line to win the ball back, and it rolled for Ryan Robbins to collect on the halfway line. He quickly stepped past a couple of challenges before sprinting forward towards the edge of the area. Once he reached it he checked back outside another defender onto his preferred left foot, and he ran into the box before calmly rolling a low shot past Conway and inside the far post. Only fifteen minutes previously Diamonds had been behind, but the quick turnaround now left them in control of the match. Before the kick-off the referee went across to issue a warning with one of the Kempston co-managers who had been remonstrating that there had been a foul by Farrell in the build-up to the latest goal, but play resumed immediately afterwards.
The away side had been shook by Diamonds four-minute salvo, but they still represented an attacking threat. On the half-hour mark Nathan Tshikuna had a shot from the edge of the box that was deflected behind for a corner, and after the subsequent delivery was only just smuggled away by the hosts at the back post, an effort from Seb Simpson was on target but ultimately represented an easy save for Heath. The wholly entertaining nature of the game, one that had been played at a quick tempo and had seen numerous chances, continued, and in the 32nd minute Diamonds extended their lead further. Westbrook headed the ball forward on the halfway line, and it found Ryan Robbins around 30 yards out with his back to goal and with defenders in close attention. He controlled the ball, quickly swivelled away from Kempston defender Jordan Lee and powered forward. Such was his confidence that, although he had other Diamonds players in support, he decided to go it alone in unleashing a left-footed effort at goal. It flew towards goal whilst swerving in the air and, whilst Conway got a hand to the ball, he was powerless to stop the thunderbolt from flying into the top corner of the goal. The strike completed an 11-minute hat-trick for the frontman, and made it his tenth goal in only his eleventh appearance for the club.
Rushden didn’t relent as they seeked more goals, and four minutes after Robbins’ third goal they won a free-kick on the left. Fairlamb whipped in a dangerous delivery that looked like it would find Lorraine at the back post, but the striker was just unable to stretch enough and the ball ultimately ran out for a goal-kick. Kempston failed to let their heads drop though, and they carved out an opportunity in the 39th minute. Newman picked up possession and ran forward before hitting a shot goalwards from around 30 yards out, but his effort flew over the bar without troubling Heath. Play swung back up the other end, and Joe Curtis came close to scoring his first goal of the season for Diamonds. Fairlamb ran down the left before playing the ball inside to the white-shirted number 8, and he strode forward a pace before hitting an effort across goal that just missed the far post and also the nearby Lorraine.
Moments later Gyasi was fed by Lorraine down the right, and his low ball across the box looked as if it would find the lurking Robbins until Conway dived to collect the cross ahead of the striker. The time ticked into the 45th minute but, although there was only three added-on minutes, there still remained time for several chances. Firstly away midfielder Luke Heneghan found time and space to hit a shot from distance, but again the attempt sailed comfortably over the bar. Diamonds then won a corner on the left, and Gyasi played it short and quickly to Fairlamb who subsequently jinked past a defender and hit a fierce effort that required Conway to beat the ball away at his near post. Finally, Kempston broke up the other end and launched an attack that saw Robbie Goodman have a chance on the edge of the box, but his shot flashed wide of the post.
Shortly afterwards Hathaway signalled the end of the first half, one which Diamonds had largely controlled and proved a constant threat in establishing a two-goal advantage heading into the interval.
Half Time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 3-1 Kempston Rovers
The attendance figure was confirmed as 679 during the half-time break, a season-high so far for Hayden Road, and shortly afterwards the two sets of players returned to the pitch. The next goal of the contest would be crucial, with Diamonds surely putting the result beyond doubt if they were to score it but Kempston being right back in the game if they were to score. After a quick count of both teams, the referee got the second half underway.
Unlike the often frenetic first half, the second period began quietly and with neither side able to build any forward momentum or create a clear-cut opportunity. Robbins did have a chance just outside the area to release a through-ball for Lorraine, but a nearby defender just managed to intercept and clear away upfield. Moments later the pitch was plunged into darkness as the floodlights suddenly turned off. Many home fans’ thoughts turned back to Boxing Day 2014 when Diamonds’ home game with Wellingborough Town was abandoned in the second half due to floodlight failure, and both sets of players wandered off to the changing rooms to keep warm whilst work was done to get the floodlights back on. Around ten minutes later light returned on the dugouts side of the ground, and shortly afterwards it did also to the opposite side. The players subsequently returned to the pitch, and so after a fifteen minute delay play was able to resume.
No sooner had the game begun again that Diamonds launched an attack down the left and won a free-kick around 25 yards from goal. Gyasi lined up the kick and bent it up and over the three-man wall, but Conway was able to get across in time to hold the effort. Moments later the hosts won a corner on the right, and Curtis’ delivery flew past a few players and the onrushing Conway before an attempted clearance ballooned up into the air. Dolman watched it all the way and, with the ball dropping over his left shoulder, caught a left-footed volley very sweetly. Unfortunately for the defender though the effort was close to Conway and he was able to confidently catch the effort.
Kempston then advanced up the other end and won a corner-kick of their own in the 63rd minute. The ball was whipped in dangerously from the left and flashed over a group of players at the near post before hitting away striker Jermaine Ivy and dropping close to him. Fellow Kempston men Newman and Alex Collard were also in close attendance with Fairlamb being the only Diamonds man between the ball and the goal, but he superbly stood strong to stop an effort at goal before the ball nicked off Newman and behind for a goal-kick. It was a big let-off for the hosts, and reminded them that Kempston were only a goal away from being well back into the contest.
Two minutes later Fairlamb took a free-kick on the left short for the nearby Gyasi, and he cut inside before curling a cross into the middle of the box. It reached the perfectly-timed run of Farrell, but his flicked header flashed wide of the far post. After the slow start to the half chances were now being created regularly, and the visitors were the next to threaten. Newman collected a long kick forward from the goalkeeper and turned quickly before dispatching an effort at goal from distance, but it was straight at Heath and easy for the Diamonds stopper to collect.
Fairlamb had proved a threat throughout the contest with his pace, his direct running , his boundless energy and his low centre of gravity that helped him to beat defenders with regularity, and he came very close to scoring the goal that his performance deserved in the 71st minute. After collecting the ball in his own half he sped over the halfway line before slowing down away substitute Michael Lyon, and then he quickly sped away from the Kempston man to reach the edge of the penalty area. He played a pass inside to Robbins and received a precise ball back to find himself through on goal. However, Conway stood tall and saved Fairlamb’s effort with his legs.
Five minutes later Robbins was involved again as he went agonisingly close to his fourth goal of the game. Another quick run down the left from Fairlamb took him past a couple of away players but not away from the covering Goodman who played it back to Conway. The Diamonds winger chased the pass-back down though and forced Conway into a rushed clearance, and it flew straight to Robbins around 40 yards from goal. He had plenty to do to get it back towards the unguarded goal, but he effortlessly volleyed the ball forwards first time. It raced towards the net and Conway seemed to think the ball was rolling into the net as he stopped running, but the effort clipped the post and went out for a goal-kick. After his goal-of-the-season contender in the opening half this would have been another one if it had gone in, but ultimately it didn’t and the scoreline remained 3-1.
Diamonds were controlling the final stages of the contest as they monopolised possession, dictated the tempo and still continued to threaten when attacking. In one such attack a loose ball fell for Farrell on the edge of the box, but he was leaning back as he struck the effort and, as a result, it flew over the crossbar. Moments later the midfielder had another chance from outside the box after yet another superb, direct run by Fairlamb, but this time the attempt rolled wide of the post.
The time ticked towards stoppage time, and the hosts still remained in firm control as they defended well to limit Kempston to very little in the way of chances and a way back into the contest. Four minutes of additional time was signalled, and in the second of these Diamonds created the final chance of the match. Unsurprisingly, given his second half display in particular, Fairlamb was the creator as he sped away down the left and saw Lorraine waiting in the middle. His fierce cross was intended to find the striker, but Conway intervened as he kicked the ball away to safety.
Moments later the final whistle was signalled to confirm Diamonds’ victory, and to ensure they would remain top of the league heading into 2018.
Full Time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 3-1 Kempston Rovers
This represented a well-earnt victory for Rushden and one that was never really in doubt once they had come from behind to lead. They responded tremendously well to conceding early in scoring three well-taken goals, they created numerous opportunities and they also defended strongly when they were required to do so. Credit must go to Kempston for ending Diamonds’ run of 550 minutes of league action without conceding and for contributing to a keenly-contested match, but ultimately the hosts had too much for them and emerged victorious. Although all the team played well, Ryan Robbins obviously stood out with his hat-trick and Luke Fairlamb also was a constant threat to the Kempston backline. The win extends Diamonds’ run of consecutive league victories to eight, their unbeaten league run to ten and their unbeaten home run in all competitions to ten also. It also maintained their two point lead at the top of the table, and with games in hand on all their promotion rivals and given their excellent recent form, things look very positive indeed heading into the New Year. Their first match of 2018 will take place on New Years Day as they make the trip to The Eyrie to take on Bedford Town (3pm kick-off).
Diamonds Man of the Match: Ryan Robbins
Match Report by Ollie Mortimer
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
13. Ben Heath
2. Blaize Punter
3. Sam Brown
4. Jack Westbrook
5. Liam Dolman (C)
6. Ben Farrell
7. Joel Gyasi
8. Joe Curtis
9. Tom Lorraine
10. Ryan Robbins
11. Luke Fairlamb
12. Cameron Gilchrist
14. Darryl Smith
15. Jack Ashton
16. Ben Diamond (for Robbins 82)
18. Richard Bunting
1. Martin Conway
2. Kyal McNulty
3. Jordan Lee
4. Robbie Goodman
5. Alex Collard
6. Seb Simpson (C)
7. Nathan Tshikuna
8. Luke Heneghan
9. Jake Newman
10. Jermaine Ivy
11. Josh Crawley
12. Michael Lyon (for McNulty 59)
14. Ben Shepherd (for Tshikuna 61)
15. Callum Lewis
16. Ieuan Riley (for Ivy 73)
17. Alex Stoyles
Goals: Robbins (21, 25, 32)
Goals: Newman (10)
Yellow Cards: None
Yellow Cards: Heneghan (23)
Referee: Robert Hathaway
Assistants: Andrew Genders, Joshua Hackett