Diamonds won a thrilling BigFreeBet.com Challenge Cup contest against local rivals Kettering Town at Hayden Road on Tuesday evening.
It was the visitors who took the lead in as early as the second minute when Ben Milnes played a precise lofted ball through for Rhys Hoenes to latch onto and slam a half-volley past Ben Heath in the Diamonds goal. Kettering dominated the opening proceedings and looked dangerous every time they went forward, with Matthew Stevens having a shot blocked, Liam Bateman seeing an effort from outside the box fly wide and Brett Solkhon heading over a free-kick. They should have doubled their lead when Stevens headed wide when found in space at the near post, and Diamonds made them pay for this miss by equalising with their first real attack of note. Joel Gyasi won the ball on the right and powered forward before feeding Ryan Robbins. His outside-of-the-foot effort was saved by Kettering keeper Justin Greatorex, but he couldn’t collect it meaning Ben Diamond was able to nip in and power home the loose ball. The hosts were buoyed by the equaliser and Sam Brown could have easily put them ahead, but his header from a left-wing corner went wide. Play swung up the other end, with Hoenes having a shot blocked by Punter before rocketing the rebound off the crossbar, but again Rushden responded by moving back onto the attack and scoring. Robbins was found on the left, and his cross-shot was only cleared as far as Gyasi who curled a first-time effort into the top corner of the net. Kettering tried to respond as Gary Stohrer hit a low shot from the edge of the box just wide and Hoenes had an attempt blocked away, but it was Diamonds who went the closest to scoring the next goal when Brown was again found with a free header from a corner, but his effort flew wide of the upright. The scoreline remained 2-1 at half-time though, meaning all was to play for in the second period.
The second 45 minutes began with Solkhon having a header easily saved by Heath, but like in the first period, Diamonds’ first chance of the half resulted in a goal. Robbins flicked a long ball across to Gyasi, and he showed quick feet to move away from his marker and skid a low left-footed effort past Greatorex and into the corner of the net from outside the box. Kettering came close to a goal back moments later when Milnes saw a free-kick smack off the post before the rebound was slammed over by Lyndon Meikle, but aside from that the hosts looked largely comfortable with the two-goal cushion. They came close to opening up an even bigger gap in the scoreline when Ben Farrell curled narrowly over from the edge of the box, and then Kettering almost were back in the contest when Stevens’ shot took a big deflection off Blaize Punter only for Heath to pull off a superb one-handed stop. However, Stevens did manage to halve the deficit in the 80th minute when Meikle cut the ball back for him to sweep home a close-range finish. It set up a grandstand finish, but aside from a Ben Toseland drive from distance that Heath held well and a couple of attacking moves in and around the home box, the Diamonds defended brilliantly and saw out nearly six minutes of additional time to claim victory and progression to the next round.
Predictably, manager Andy Peaks made a number of changes from the starting XI that had comfortably defeated Uxbridge on Saturday afternoon. Ben Ford returned to the side to replace Liam Dolman, a change that would see Sam Brown play centre-back and Ford left-back. Ben Farrell also returned after being out with tonsilotis to replace Richard Bunting, and another change in midfield saw Joel Gyasi start at the expense of Claudiu Hoban. The final alteration saw Ben Diamond start his first game for the club, with Tom Lorraine dropping down to the bench. There was also a hugely welcome return for Jack Ashton after his year-long injury lay-off as he joined Lorraine, Callum Westwood, Chief Boateng and Kyle Swailes as substitutes.
Both sides stepped out onto the wet Hayden Road surface, a result of rain that had filled the Northamptonshire air before kick-off and would continue to do so for much of the first half, and were welcomed by their respective sets of fans. There was a keen sense of intrigue in the air, one that naturally is brought about by a contest between two local rivals, but one that was also apparent due to this being the first time Diamonds in their current guise had played Kettering in a home game. The two teams came into the fixture in good form, with Rushden being third in the Division One East, having only lost one of their previous eight games and having defeated higher-level St Neots to progress to this second round. Kettering, like St Neots plying their trade one league above Diamonds in the Southern Premier, were second in the table, had only lost two of their thirteen away matches in all competitions and had also only lost three of their twenty-three games so far this season.
The respective sets of fans were both in good voice as the two captains met in the centre-citcke, shook hands and conducted the coin-toss. Brown won the toss for Diamonds and decided to kick-off, meaning they would be shooting towards the Kettering fans in the opening period and the packed Peter de Banke terrace in the second. Moments later referee Matthew Law blew his whistle to signal the start of the contest, and Ryan Robbins got the game underway for the hosts.
It was immediately apparent that Diamonds had switched from their 3-4-1-2 system that they had deployed to great effect at Uxbridge to a 4-4-2 formation for this contest, and Kettering also lined up with an identical system. Only two minutes had elapsed when the visitors forged into the lead. Ben Milnes picked up possession in the middle of the Kettering attacking half and lofted a neat through-ball for Rhys Hoenes to run onto and to slam a half-volley past Ben Heath in the home goal. The away side visibly had their tails up after the very early goal, and a minute later Matthew Stevens found room in the area before seeing his shot blocked behind by the covering Brown. From the resulting corner the ball was worked short, and a left-wing cross was only cleared as far as Liam Bateman who drilled an effort wide and into the terrace from the edge of the box.
Rushden were struggling to keep possession or to begin building an attacking tempo and momentum, with Kettering applying plenty of pressure in the early exchanges and looking a threat every time they attacked. Luke Fairlamb was penalised for a foul in the Diamonds left-back area, and the subsequent deep free-kick found ex-RDFC man Brett Solkhon at the far post but he was stretching and so his header went harmlessly over the bar. Two minutes later the visitors had a superb chance to double their lead. A good move down the left saw a precise cross into the near post for the unmarked Stevens around ten yards out form goal. He seemed surprised to find himself in such space, and so he snatched at his diving-header resulting in the ball drifting wide of the post.
After eighteen minutes of Kettering control and domination, Diamonds were able to break forward for one of the first times in the contest and win a corner on the right. The inswinging delivery from Joe Curtis was dangerous and almost found the rising Brown, but a combination of the goalkeeper and defending red-shirts were able to flick it away and then to clear upfield. The hosts did not have to wait much longer for a goal though as they levelled the tie in their next attack. Gyasi did superbly to win the ball back from Ben Toseland on the right, and the winger ran forward towards the area before passing it across for Robbins. The Diamonds striker instinctively flicked an effort towards goal with the outside of his left foot but Justin Greatorex, a late replacement in the away goal for Paul White who was injured in the warm-up, parried the ball and looked to have collected it. However, the ball squirmed away from his grasp, and the nearby Ben Diamond was on hand to power the loose ball into the empty net.
The equaliser had noticeably invigorated the hosts, and they almost surged into the lead only two minutes after their equaliser. They earnt another corner, this time on the left, and Gyasi’s deep delivery found Brown in plenty of room at the back post. However, his header went wide of the post, with his frustrated reaction showing how good an opportunity it was. Kettering almost made the defender pay for his miss when they swept down the other end, and after Hoenes had cut in from the left and seen an initial shot blocked by Blaize Punter, he collected the rebound and fired in a thunderous effort that thumped off the woodwork and bounced away to safety.
The contest was being played at a quick tempo, with both sides swift to get the ball forward and to attack with pace. It was now becoming very end-to-end also, and after Hoenes’ near-miss Diamonds were the next to attack. Robbins was found by a pinpoint pass into the left channel, and he moved forward before drilling a cross-shot across the face of the area. The danger was only half-cleared, and it ran perfectly into the path of Joel Gyasi to curl home a sumptuous effort past the despairing dive of Greatorex from just inside the area. It was the winger’s first-ever home goal for Rushden, and brought vociferous cheers and delight from the home fans around the ground. A flare was thrown onto the field of play as a result of the goal, but after this was cleared away the match resumed with Diamonds having turned the game around.
Greatorex in the Kettering goal was looking nervy after his mistake for Diamonds’ first goal, and in the 30th minute he was tested further. Fairlamb did well to advance down the left and whip a cross into the middle, and the Kettering keeper dropped on the ball before almost spilling it to Diamond again. This time however, he was able to recover and collect the ball in his grasp. In response the visitors looked for a quick riposte, and after Lindon Meikle drove into the area from the right before being dispossessed, midfielder Gary Stohrer broke forward into space and advanced on the Rushden back-four. He reached the edge of the box before hitting a low left-footed shot that passed Heath but also flashed wide of the far post.
Diamonds were getting a lot of joy down both flanks, with Gyasi and Fairlamb directly running with pace and looking a danger every time they were given the ball. The latter brilliantly powered down the left past a couple of challenges before playing the ball across goal, but Diamond was just unable to reach the cross before the danger was cleared away. Moments later Robbins and Bateman came together off-the-ball just inside the Kettering defensive area, but after a quick word-of-warning by the referee the game was able to continue.
The half ticked into the last five minutes of regulation time, with the match still being played at a high tempo and with both sides still consistently threatening. The visitors were the next to go close when the lively Hoenes checked in from the left and saw a goalbound effort well blocked behind, but after the resultant corner came to nothing Diamonds were able to break down the other end and win a corner of their own. The inswinging delivery from Gyasi was again deep and again found Brown with a free header, but his header again flew wide of the target.
There remained one final chance of the half as the match moved into two minutes of additional time. Kettering’s James Brighton showed quick footwork to swiftly turn away from a Diamonds defender in the right-side or the box before his cross-shot was well held by Heath at his near post. Shortly afterwards the referee blew his whistle for the end of the half, one in which Kettering had controlled in the opening twenty minutes before Diamonds hit back to lead and to set up an intriguing second period.
Half Time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 2-1 Kettering Town
The two teams emerged from the changing rooms ready for the second period, with fans wondering whether Kettering would start the half in a similar vein to the opening period, how Diamonds would approach the rest of the contest and generally how the half would pan out. The visitors made one change at the interval, with Michael Morrow replacing Brighton, and after a quick adding-up of both sides the referee got the contest back underway.
Only two minutes had elapsed in the half when a Diamonds attack broke down, and Kettering won a free-kick just ahead of the halfway line as they attempted to break forward. The deep set-piece found the leaping Solkhon, but his downward header lacked power and Heath was able to easily collect. Moments later it was the hosts’ turn to attack, and a ball through by Robbins to strike-partner Diamond looked to have released the forward through on goal, but he was stopped in his tracks by an offside flag.
However, shortly afterwards in the 51st minute, Rushden did extend their lead. A long kick forward by Heath was well-flicked across by Robbins to Joel Gyasi outside the D of the area, and after he had quickly twisted after from Morrow onto his left side, he sent a low skidding effort past Greatorex as he dived to his left and into the back of the net. The Peter de Banke terrace, right behind the goal, and fellow Diamonds fans around the ground responded with a crescendo of noise and atmosphere, but just under 40 minutes of normal time still remained in the match and so there was still plenty of work to do. Minutes after his second goal Gyasi embarked on a jinking run forwards down the right flank before winning a corner, though the resultant delivery was well punched away by Greatorex and then cleared away downfield.
The pattern of play was similar to that of the latter stages of the first half in that the match was being played at an often frantic pace and was still largely end-to-end. Kettering were the next ones on the attack, and they earnt a free-kick in a dangerous position after Ford had been adjudged to have committed a foul. The set-piece was around twenty-five yards from goal in a central area, and Milnes stepped up to take the kick. He whipped the ball over the wall right-footed, and Heath was rooted to the spot as it flew through the air and cannoned off the right post. The rebound fell to Meikle running in, but from point-blank range he could only fire over the bar to give Diamonds a reprieve.
The match ticked past the hour mark with Diamonds still two goals to the good, and Robbins, who like Gyasi had had a hand in all three of the home goals, threatened to add further to the advantage. Firstly he collected a long ball forward and attempted to bulldoze his way through a couple of challenges into the area, but just as it appeared that he may be able to get a shot at goal, a visiting defender stepped in and played the ball back to Greatorex who cleared away the danger. Moments later Diamond rose highest to flick the ball on, something he was effective at doing all game, into the path of his fellow forward, but Robbins’ shot on the turn flew over the top of the goal.
Kettering still remained a threat however, and so the home side knew they would have to defend well to see out the tie. One example came in the 65th minute when Meikle found some space to slip a pass through for Stevens, but just before he was able to shoot Punter came across to make a sensationally-timed sliding challenge to stop a clear chance at goal. Shortly afterwards the official attendance was confirmed as 615, the highest crowd for a Diamonds competitive home game at Hayden Road this season, and one that brought a strong atmosphere throughout the match. Ford then went down for Diamonds after a coming-together just outside their own penalty area, and after some initial treatment he hobbled off to be replaced by Callum Westwood in a like-for-like substitution.
The next goal of the contest would undoubtedly be crucial, with Diamonds putting the tie to bed if they were to get it but Kettering being right back in the match if they were to net. The hosts were the next to go close, and again Gyasi was at the heart of the attack. He set off on another purposeful, direct and pacey run down the right, and after he managed to bypass a couple of challenges he hit a shot that went wide. The referee’s whistle had already been blown though for an infringement by the winger, and so the effort would not have counted anyway. Minutes later the visitors won a corner on the right, but the opportunity was wasted as the kick didn’t clear the first man and Farrell was able to comfortably head away. The midfielder then had a good chance to score and to seal the contest down the other end in the 76th minute. Unsurprisingly Gyasi helped to create the opportunity with yet another quick run down the wing, and he layed the ball across to Farrell just outside the area in plenty of space. However, the Diamonds number six leaned back as he hit his attempt, and so the shot went narrowly over the crossbar.
A minute later Kettering went even closer to a goal. The ball was worked into the path of Stevens on the right side of the box, and his shot took a sizeable deflection off Punter. Heath, whose weight was all on his right foot as he tried to read the original effort, looked like he may be beaten, but he superbly reacted to instinctively throw his left hand out and tip the ball around the post for a corner. The subsequent delivery flicked off Farrell at the near post and flashed dangerously across goal, but thankfully for the hosts it flew past everybody for another corner that was cleared away.
However, the visitors did not have to wait much longer to pull a goal back. In the 80th minute a lofted ball into the box was not dealt with by the Diamonds defence, and Meikle seized possession before playing a pass across for Matthew Stevens to turn home from close-range. The dynamic of the final ten minutes, plus stoppage-time, was now completely changed, with Kettering now truly believing they could complete the comeback and force a leveller. They began to push even more men forward in search of the all-important goal, with Solkhon moving forward from defence and started to put further pressure on the home back-four and midfield. Moments after Stevens’ goal, Milnes played a clipped ball in to the area that looked threatening, but Heath quickly advanced off his line to safely collect. With more red-shirts piling up front more gaps opened for Diamonds to exploit, and one was almost taken advantage of when Farrell played in Diamond, but a last-ditch defensive challenge put the ball out for a throw-in. The striker almost seized upon another opportunity again shortly afterwards as he chased down a short back-pass, but Greatorex swiftly advanced from his goal to clear the danger away.
Tom Lorraine had replaced Robbins in another like-for-like alteration, and he went close to sealing the tie when he latched onto a Gilchrist cross from the right, but his flick was saved. Down the other end Toseland generated some space for himself just under thirty yards out, and he hit a powerful effort that Heath did excellently well to hold onto rather than parry into the path of an incoming striker. The game was being played at an even more frenetic pace with the time ticking down as Kettering searched for any small opportunity to complete the turnaround, but often their final pass was lacking or was rushed and consequently not reaching its intended target. From one misplaced pass Rushden broke upfield, and Lorraine was able to win a flick-on on the right into the path of Diamond, but despite options running in behind him he went for goal and hit his effort wide of the target. Kettering weren’t only misplacing some passes, but the hosts were also defending stoutly and strongly to limit the visitors to few real chances in these latter stages. One period of play in the Diamonds area saw the ball ricocheting around before it ran for Morrow who was running into the box ready to hit a shot at goal. However, Curtis timed his slide-tackle superbly to stop the intended effort, and a fellow white-shirt cleared the loose ball away.
Three initial minutes of added-on time were signalled, and in the second of these Kettering had their last opportunity to force an equaliser. They won the ball back in defence and played a quick ball forwards, and a red-shirt powered over the halfway line with plenty of numbers in support in the attack. However, his touch was slightly heavy and allowed Gilchrist the chance to win the ball back. If he had have missed his challenge or seen the Kettering man skip away from him, then Diamonds would have undoubtedly found themselves outnumbered, but the full-back timed his challenge to perfection to win possession and play the ball forward.
Three minutes of stoppage-time ticked into four, and four turned into five as play continued but Diamonds still defended solidly, and rather comfortably also. They won a throw-in on the right in their attacking half to further wind the clock down, and seconds later the referee signalled the end of the contest. It was a match which was thoroughly entertaining throughout, one which made it ten goals scored in the last two matches played between the sides, and one which saw plenty of twists and turns, with Diamonds ultimately emerging victorious and progressing through to the third round.
Full Time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 3-2 Kettering Town
Though Andy Peaks stated earlier on in the week that this competition was not at the top of his priorities, he will have been hugely encouraged by the performance and by the result. Any victory over local rivals is one that is greatly significant, and the way that the Diamonds reacted to the Kettering domination of, and their 1-0 lead in, the early exchanges to surge into a 3-1 lead by the 51st minute was a massive positive and one that speaks volumes about the character of the side. Despite Kettering scoring twice and also hitting the woodwork on a couple of occasions, Rushden limited their opportunities especially in the second half whilst still remaining a threat at the other end, and in the end they fairly comfortably closed out the contest. Joel Gyasi in particular impressed with an effervescent and vibrant display, one that was full of pace and direct running, and one that caused continuous problems for the Kettering defence. Ryan Robbins with his part in all three goals, and Ben Diamond also with his goal and his all-round play during the game, also impressed again, and further demonstrated how they appear to be shrewd acquisitions. Credit must go to Kettering for their part in the contest and for their performance which, on another day, may have seen them score more goals and consequently may have led to another result, but Diamonds are the ones who do go through to the next round of the BigFreeBet.com Challenge Cup. They are back in action at Hayden Road this coming Saturday (November 18th) when they return to league action to entertain midtable Northwood.
Diamonds Man of the Match: Joel Gyasi
Match Report by Ollie Mortimer
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
13. Ben Heath
2. Cameron Gilchrist
3. Ben Ford
4. Sam Brown (C)
5. Blaize Punter
6. Ben Farrell
7. Joel Gyasi
8. Joe Curtis
9. Ben Diamond
10. Ryan Robbins
11. Luke Fairlamb
12. Callum Westwood (for Ford 68)
14. Tom Lorraine (for Robbins 75)
15. Jack Ashton
17. Kyle Swailes
19. Chief Boateng
1. Justin Greatorex
2. Munashe Sundire
3. Ben Toseland
4. Brett Solkhon (C)
5. Liam Bateman
6. Gary Stohrer
7. Lindon Meikle
8. James Brighton
9. Matthew Stevens
10. Ben Milnes
11. Rhys Hoenes
12. Gary Mulligan
14. Michael Morrow (for Brighton HT)
16. Daniel Camacho
Goals: Diamond (20), Gyasi (26, 51)
Goals: Hoenes (2), Stevens (80)
Yellow Cards: None
Yellow Cards: None
Referee: Matthew Law
Assistants: Simon Frandley, Michael Butterworth