AFC Rushden and Diamonds had a dramatic finish to their UCL title winning season with an exciting 3-3 draw against local rivals Cogenhoe United at a celebrating Dog & Duck on Saturday afternoon.
In a competitive first half with plenty of goalmouth action at both ends Diamonds took the lead on 41 minutes through Tom Lorraine’s stooping header after Jack Ashton’s flicked-on Declan Rogers corner. Cogenhoe started the second half with a bang. Lewis Leslie deservedly equalised with a superb 30 yard free-kick on 48 minutes fired into the bottom corner, and ex Diamonds favourite Alfie Taylor hit a volley which crashed in off the bar on 56 which he notably didn’t want to celebrate. Then in a breathless last 15 minutes Diamonds received a fortunate looking penalty on 83 which Matt Gearing converted to pull Diamonds level before Dean Lukeman nodded Cogenhoe back into the lead from close range after Richard Bunting had been sent off. Then on 89 Gearing again converted from the spot on the rebound to snatch a 99th point of the season for Diamonds.
Diamonds Manager Andy Peaks picked an unchanged side for the last league game of the season with Adam Confue. Brad Harris, Joe Merrill and Elliot Lamb-Johnson on a very strong bench with Rhys Redding. Cogenhoe United manager Andy Marks had announced this would be his final game in charge of the cooks and included ex -Diamonds Alfie Taylor, Mark Hewitt, Josh Thompson and Danny Harmon in his side for side who could clinch 4th place in the league with a win.
And on a bright breezy afternoon it was the visitors who started brightly. Having forced Diamonds to kick towards the Peter De Banke Terrace in the first half they were bright and positive in possession and had an excellent chance to take the lead on just 4 minutes. Dean Lukeman snatched at a right wing cross when unmarked 12 yards out and dragged his volley just wide.
Diamonds were sporadic in attack in these early stages with Tommy Berwick prominent but his poor luck in front of goal continued. Scott Joseph played him into the edge of the box on 8 minutes and as he looked to fire home his effort was just blocked by a cooks defender for a corner.
Dean Lukeman was finding space in midfield for the visitors and enjoying running at the Diamonds defence and fired in another fine effort which Finlay was forced to watch carefully. Taylor Orosz then had the Diamonds keeper at full stretch on 23 minutes to tip a fierce effort from 25 yards just round the post.
Diamonds were getting forward and putting pressure on a strong Cogenhoe back four led by the impressive Mark Hewitt, and had a series of dangerous moves and crosses that were just cleared or blocked denying many real chances on goal. Scott Joseph had a close range effort from a Charlie Butt cross blocked, and Matt Gearing fired over on the angle after working his way into the right hand side of the box.
Liam Dolman picked up a strain around the half-hour mark and left the field to be replaced by Brad Harris, possibly putting his cup final place in doubt.
Diamonds noticeably upped the intensity in the last 10 minutes of the half and the pressure paid off with the opening goal on 41 minutes. Scott Joseph had been denied from 10 yards with a last ditch block resulting in a corner. Declan Rogers fired in low to the near post which Jack Ashton flicked on for Tom Lorraine to stoop and head home his 18th of the season from just 2 yards.
Scott Joseph nearly added a quick fire second latching onto an excellent ball over the top of a high pressing Cooks defence, touching the ball round the out rushing keeper only to see his effort on goal cleared off the line by Bowen.
Half-time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1 – Cogenhoe United – 0
Cogenhoe would have been disappointed to go in a goal down at half-time and manager Andy Marks last half-time team talk as their manager clearly had them fired up because they started the second half with a bang.
Luke Emery ran at the Diamonds back four drawing a rash challenge and a free-kick on 48. Lewis Leslie took his time over the kick but fired in a superb effort from 30 yards right into the bottom corner in front a stunned Peter de Banke terrace.
Just 8 minutes later the moment the Diamonds faithful had dreaded came in spectacular fashion. After a Cogenhoe corner was only partially cleared Alfie Taylor fired in a vicious volley which crashed down off the bar and up into the roof of the net. The Diamonds 50 goal all-time top scorer turned away in instinctive delight but immediately curtailed his celebrations.
Orosz then slashed the ball wide for Cogenhoe when well-placed after winning the ball from Sam Brown, and Lewis Leslie curled another free-kick agonisingly wide on 61 minutes.
Just a minute later Andy Peaks made a bold change in an effort to get a grip back on the game bringing on Elliot Lamb-Johnson and Adam Confue in place of Charlie Butt and Scott Joseph and went to 3 at the back with a very attack minded midfield 5.
It took some time to produce an effect but when it did it led to a dramatic last 10 minutes in the sunshine. After a Matt Gearing corner had been almost converted by Tom Lorraine it was Gearing himself who fell under a double challenge on the corner of the 6 yard box on 83 minutes. It was a slightly harsh penalty award by referee Michael Dunkley, but Gearing seized the chance to bring Diamonds back level by firing down the middle in trademark fashion. It was his 8th successful penalty of the season.
Phil Cassidy then came close to regaining the lead for Cogenhoe hitting a great curling effort which Finlay saved at a stretch before Richard Bunting received a second yellow card and his marching orders for going to ground in an awkward looking challenge on 85.
And Cogenhoe did retake the lead from the resulting free-kick. Hit deep it attracted the Diamonds tall men to the back post but was won by a Cogenhoe head with the ball falling to Dean Lukeman to nod home in similar fashion to Tom Lorraine opener for Diamonds.
When it looked like the unbeaten home record was in serious danger Diamonds pressing hard for a late equaliser were awarded another penalty, their 17th of the season. A corner produced panic in the Cogenhoe defence and handball was awarded despite Adam Confue firing the loose ball into the corner of the net.
Matt Gearing stepped up again and changed his method going for the corner going only to see Cogenhoe keeper Josh Thompson save superbly, but the rebound came back to Gearing who was falling as he scooped the ball into the bottom corner to the delight and relief of the 790 crowd.
Final Score: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 3 – Cogenhoe United- 3
It was an enjoyable and competitive final UCL game for Diamonds against a motivated Cogenhoe side who looked as good as any side have at the Dog & Duck this season. The second half in particular provided great entertainment and both managers will be pleased with the way their sides performed at the end of a long season. Diamonds finish the season with 99 points 11 clear of their nearest rivals Thurnby, while their 121 league goals was just pipped by the 123 of the Leicestershire men.
They have the little matter of a Cup Final to look forward to on Bank Holiday Monday as a great way to finish the season against a Potton United side who scored 8 in their final Division One game on Saturday.
Man of the Match awarded by Match Sponsors DS Services & TEC Trailers Limited: Sam Brown
Match Report by Paul Judd
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
17. Matt Finlay
2. Charlie Butt
3. Sam Brown
4. Jack Ashton
5. Liam Dolman
6. Tom Lorraine
7. Matt Gearing
8. Richard Bunting
9. Scott Joseph
10. Tommy Berwick
11. Declan Rogers
12. Joe Merrill
13. Rhys Redding
14.Elliot Lamb-Johnson (for Butt 62)
15. Adam Confue (for Joseph 62)
19. Brad Harris (for Dolman 30)
1. Josh Thompson
2. Danny Harmon
3. Damon Herbert
4. Mark Hewitt
5. Jack Bowen
6. Phil Cassidy
7. Taylor Orosz
8. Lewis Leslie
9. Luke Emery
10. Alfie Taylor
11. Dean Lukeman
12. Toby Jones (for Taylor 90)
14. Karl Bates (for Emery 62)
15. Courtney Herbert (for Orosz 73)
16. Anton Sambrook
Goals: Lorraine (41), Gearing (Pen 83, 89)
Goals: Leslie (48), Taylor (56), Lukeman (85)
Yellow Cards: Bunting (72 & 85), Confue (79)
Yellow Cards: Cassidy (8), Hewitt (90)
Red Cards: Bunting (85)
Referee: Michael Dunkley
Assistants: Paul Dobbs, Daniel Johnston
Updated player profiles with appearance and goalscoring details are now available.