Diamonds won a Tuesday night cup tie for the second Tuesday running with a 3-0 victory in the NFA Hillier Cup against Wellingborough Whitworths at Hayden Road.
Diamonds dominated this game from the off with Nabil Shariff scoring twice in the first 7 minutes. He nodded home a brilliant early cross from Tom Lorraine on 2 minutes and turned home Fernando Bell-Toxtle’s cute pull-back on 7. After a series of efforts on goal and saves by away keeper Lee Baxter, Tom Lorraine added the third on 33 turning home on the stretch at the far post after Nabil Shariff’s close range effort was again blocked by hard working Baxter.
The second half was goalless but not lacking in action as Whitworths had a better share of possession and chances. Ben Heath was forced into saves from a 25 yard free-kick, a close range near post effort and a stinging drive from the edge of the box. They also had a strong penalty shout after Ryan Archer was met by a tremendous last ditch Ben Ford tackle but their claims were waved away by the referee. Diamonds were denied by Lee Baxter in the away goal saving a Darryl Smith header from a corner, clinging on to a Callum Westwood 25 yard effort and a Chief Boateng stinger in the final minutes. They also saw Darryl Smith crash an 18 yard effort off the bar but it remained 3-0 to the home side.
Manager Andy Peaks picked another strong line-up with Ben Heath returning in goal behind an unchanged back four of Callum Westwood, Ben Ford, Sam Brown and Liam Dolman. Ben Farrell and Fernando Bell-Toxtle were paired in centre midfield with the returning Claudiu Hoban and Darryl Smith out wide. Tom Lorraine joined Nabil Shariff up front. Hayford Osei made a welcome addition to the bench stepping up from some impressive U18 displays and was joined by Luke Fairlamb, Joel Gyasi, Chief Boateng and Matt Finlay.
Diamonds dominated this game from the off and took just 2 minutes to open the scoring. The front two combined brilliantly as Tom Lorraine surged into space down the right wing spotted Nabil Shariff clear in the box and hit a superb first time cross right onto his head to nod home from 8 yards.
Nabil Shariff came close to adding a second on 4 minutes as he broke clear into the right side of the box only to see his low effort from an angle blocked by the keeper’s legs. Diamonds were overrunning their opponents at this stage and duly doubled their lead on 7 minutes. Fernando Bell-Toxtle ran deep into the Whitworths box after a good passing build-up and spotted Nabil Shariff free for a neat cutback that the striker swept home from 15 yards.
The midfield pairing of Ben Farrell and Fernando Bell-Toxtle were combining really well, with Ben Ford and Callum Westwood always showing for the ball and Darryl Smith and Claudiu Hoban cutting inside to link with Tom Lorraine and Nabil Shariff.
Whitworths were struggling to cope defensively with the pace and movement of Diamonds but were lively themselves going forward when they could. A brilliant cross field ball found the impressive Remy Brittain in space down the right on 11 minutes and his cross whipped through the 6 yard box just evading his supporting strikers.
Nabil Shariff could have completed a quick-fire hat-trick on 15 minutes when he was played in by Claudiu Hoban after some trade-mark trickery by the wideman. Back to goal he turned and fired just over from 12 yards. And again on 22 as a cross into the 6 yard box got stuck under the keeper and squirted out to the left where on the stretch going away from goal he could only lift it over from near the left hand post.
After Claudiu Hoban and Darryl Smith both had mazy runs through the Whitworths back four blocked by the legs of the hardworking Lee Baxter in the away goal, and Tom Lorraine had fired a rebound just over Diamonds finally made it 3. This time it was Nabil Shariff the provider as he ran deep into the Whitworths box again only to see Baxter block with his body, the ball squeezing out for Tom Lorraine to stretch and prod home at the far post.
Nabil Shariff had one more chance for that first-half hat-trick as he ran in front of the Whitworths back four from left to right and fired a 20 yard effort just over the Peter De Banke.
Whitworths had tried to be enterprising whenever they could and generated their best chance on 40 as the impressive Remy Brittain fed Cavell Jarvis through on goal where Ben Heath got a touch on his low effort not spotted by the ref but it was enough to send it wide.
Half-time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 3 Wellingborough Whitworths 0
It was end to end in the early stages of the second half with corners at both ends in the early minutes, Darryl Smith meeting one with a point blank header which was brilliantly saved by Lee Baxter.
Whitworths were breaking with real purpose as they tried to get back into the game and put pressure on the Diamonds back four with some dangerous crosses and direct running. Liam Dolman and Sam Brown were solid in the middle of the Diamonds back four though heading everything clear and Ben Ford and Callum Westwood were energetic in tracking back and defending the Whitworths wide players well.
Claudiu Hoban was always keen to run with the ball for Diamonds and he tested Baxter again with a trademark curling effort at the end of one run that the stopper pushed away on 55.
The game was much more even in possession in the second half with Whitworths passing the ball well and creating opportunities if not chances. A 25 yard free-kick was driven at goal but well held by Ben Heath on 57 and a run into the box on 63 was just blocked by a tremendous Ben Ford tackle that produced strong penalty appeals that were waved away.
Diamonds were content to hit Whitworths on the break in the closing stages which they did frequently and at real pace. Tom Lorraine so nearly collected a great through ball at the end of one speedy move, and Darryl Smith couldn’t quite control another quick ball through to him inside the box at the end of another.
Diamonds made changes to the front two in the last half hour with Chief Boateng replacing Nabil Shariff and then Hayford Osei joined the fray for his debut replacing Tom Lorraine.
They both showed good touches and made good runs in an attempt to break clear of the Whitworths back four and were supporting Darryl Smith well as he flashed a header just wide from a well won corner and crashed an effort off the bar after good build-up play.
It was the two goalkeepers who would star in the final action though. Ben Heath for Diamonds batting away a close range effort at the near post, and Lee Baxter for Whitworths holding a well-struck 25 yard effort from Callum Westwood and a stinger from Chief Boateng held in front of his face.
Full-time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 3 Wellingborough Whitworths 0
This was an important morale boost for Diamonds after weekend disappointment and they were impressive in terms of attitude and purpose as well as skill and creativity. The win takes them to the NFA Hillier Cup Quarter-final tie at home to Wellingborough Town to go with their Southern League Cup Second Road tie with Kettering Town, both in November.
Next up though an important set of league matches starting with a home game against old foes Egham Town at Hayden Road on Saturday.
Man of the Match: Tom Lorraine
Match Report by Paul Judd
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
13. Ben Heath
2. Callum Westwood
3. Ben Ford
4. Sam Brown
5. Liam Dolman
6. Ben Farrell
7. Darryl Smith
8. Fernando Bell-Toxtle
9. Tom Lorraine
10. Nabil Shariff
11. Darry Smith
12. Luke Fairlamb
17. Ben Heath
14. Joel Gyasi
15. Hayford Osei (for Lorraine 78)
16. Chief Boateng (for Shariff 63)
1. Lee Baxter (c)
2. Remy Brittain
3. Ryan Baxter
4. Dean Hall
5. James Gorman
6. Ben Harris
7. Connor Bell
8. Ryan Archer
9. Cavell Jarvis
10. Jordan Pendred
11. Ross Patrick
12. Jack Dyson (for Patrick 61)
14. Connor Mallows
15. Simon Anderson
16. Phil Turner
Goals: Shariif (2, 7), Lorraine 33
Referee: Andrew Humphries
Assistants: Thomas Cooke, Sam Brough