AFC Rushden & Diamonds 4-0 St Ives Town FC

Diamonds began 2022 in perfect fashion with a resounding win over St Ives on New Year’s Day.

After a couple of early chances, they took the lead in the 16th minute when Nathan Tshikuna stormed forward before clinically slotting a low effort past the keeper from the edge of the area. Rushden doubled their advantage a minute later when a long ball found Ty Deacon in behind who poked home. Though Nabil Shariff drew a good save from Snedker for the visitors, Diamonds were in control and added another before half-time when Jesse Akubuine fired home first-time following a low ball in.

The Saints were unfortunate not to pull one back in the second half when a goalmouth scramble led to a crucial block and two important Snedker saves, and down the other end AJ George rounded the keeper only to see his shot come back off the post. The away side were then reduced to ten men when defender Callum Milne shoved over Ty Deacon in the area as he looked set to score, and Tshikuna stepped up only for his effort to be well saved. However, he soon earned another penalty after being tripped which he dispatched with aplomb for his second goal of the game. Substitute Will Jones almost rounded off the victory when his long-range strike was superbly tipped onto the bar, but it didn’t affect the result as Diamonds claimed their sixth win in their last seven.

First half

Manager Peaks made two changes to the side that had won away at Royston two weeks ago. Captain Alex Collard and Connor Furlong were ruled out, and so Ryan Hughes and Jesse Akubuine returned to the starting XI to replace them.

After their last scheduled match at Peterborough Sports was postponed due to a number of positive Covid-19 cases, Diamonds came into this clash seventh in the table. They had won five of their last six and eight of their last ten, though they had lost their last home match versus Stratford. St Ives were in good form having won three of their last four and only losing one of their previous six after having been defeated 11 out of 15 prior to that.

The hosts made a quick start and could have led within three minutes. Nathan Tshikuna, who would prove to be a constant threat, received a pass in space and ran forward before hitting a 25-yard strike that forced away keeper Lewis Patching to parry it clear. Moments later a quick burst forward from Fernando Bell-Toxtle saw him play it across to Ty Deacon, and the striker did well to turn away from a challenge before poking wide from close-range.

The Saints threatened briefly when Tyrone Baker had an effort from distance easily held and Ethan Johnston fired wide of the far post, but it was Diamonds who then took the lead. A quick break forward led to Nathan Tshikuna driving at the back four before sweeping a low effort into the far corner of the net.

A minute later they scored another as a long ball over the away defence reached Ty Deacon, and he showed terrific strength to hold off the close attention of a defender before slotting it between the keeper’s legs and into the back of the net. It was his sixth goal in only ten Rushden appearances so far, and put the hosts into a very commanding position.

Though Diamonds were dominating with their high-pressing style and swift forays forward, Ives did create some opportunities. Johnston was found by a neat ball in behind but could only shoot across goal, and ex-Diamonds man Nabil Shariff then broke through only to be denied by a strong save by Dean Snedker. Down the other end Liam Dolman had a precise lob well held and AJ George saw an attempt saved after good link-up play from Tshikuna and Bell-Toxtle.

The home side looked like they would score from every attack, and George went close again when Tshikuna and Deacon combined to feed the winger. He cut inside from the left before his low strike across flew millimetres wide of the far post. However, moments later, he was involved in Rushden adding another goal just before the break. A neat move down the left led to George playing a low ball into the box that reached Jesse Akubuine to clinically dispatch a first-time effort past Patching.

Shariff slammed an effort harmlessly over and Akubuine was denied by some last-ditch defending, but there was no more action as the half-time whistle was blown.

Half time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 3-0 St Ives Town

Second half

The opening exchanges after the interval were fairly quiet, with Ives having more possession but not creating too much and Diamonds still looking a threat on the counter. An away free-kick was curled well off-target before another strike, this time from just inside the area, was sidefooted narrowly over.

They should have pulled one back just after the hour mark when a corner from the right led to a header that was saved, and a couple of other efforts in the melee were brilliantly denied by Snedker. Diamonds broke down the other when Tshikuna played a precise through ball to George who skipped round the keeper, but his low effort from a tightening angle hit the post and rolled back into play.

A few minutes later, the hosts won a penalty. A long-throw from the left was flicked on, it wasn’t fully cleared and Hughes fed George whose close-range effort was saved. The rebound looped up for Ben Diamond who was about to head home but he was shoved from behind by Callum Milne, and referee Matthew Jackson had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. The Saints defender was shown a red card, and Tshikuna stepped up looking to emulate his successful spot-kick at Royston last time out. However, Patching dived to his right to stop the effort and keep the scoreline at 3-0.

Shariff then had the ball in the net for Ives but the offside flag had long been raised. They continued to search for what would have ultimately been a consolation, and ex-Kettering man Michael Richens saw two efforts well saved as Snedker continued to impress.

Two minutes after Matt Slinn came on for Akubuine in Diamonds’ first change, they won another penalty when a buccaneering run from the superb Nathan Tshikuna led to him being brought down by Patching. Despite missing before, the attacking midfielder again took responsibility and this time slammed the spot-kick into the net for his eighth goal of the season.

Will Jones and Ben Garwood were introduced in the final ten minutes, and both came close to putting the icing on the cake. Firstly Jones controlled, span and hit a fizzing effort from around 25 yards out that Patching somehow tipped onto the crossbar. Garwood was then played in behind but, just as he was about to pull the trigger, he was denied by an excellent last-ditch sliding challenge from substitute Kyle Davison-Gordon.

Four minutes of stoppage time were signalled, but these quickly passed as Diamonds saw out their clean sheet and victory that moved them up to sixth and to within four points of the play-off places.

Full time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 4-0 St Ives Town

This was a superb display from Diamonds – one that was full of threat, confidence, application, organisation and ruthlessness in front of goal. St Ives were punished from regularly trying to play out from the back, with the hosts pressing to force mistakes that they were able to capitalise on. Even when the visitors did create chances, Snedker made some key saves and the third home clean sheet of the season was well merited.

Rushden have a free weekend coming up, with their next match seeing them travel to Oxfordshire to take on table-toppers Banbury United on Saturday 15 January, 3pm kick-off.

Attendance: 539

Diamonds Man of the Match: Nathan Tshikuna

Match report by Ollie Mortimer

Diamonds: Snedker, Casey, Warburton, Bell-Toxtle (C), Dolman, Hughes, Tshikuna, Diamond, Deacon (Jones 81), George (Garwood 85), Akubuine (Slinn 77) (subs not used: Nixon)

Diamonds goals: Tshikuna (16, pen 80), Deacon (17), Akubuine (38)

Diamonds yellows: Casey (70)

St Ives Town: Lewis Patching, Callum Westwood, Michael Richens, Brett Solkhon (C), Callum Milne, Tyrone Baker (Jason Dwumfuo 82), Nabil Shariff, Dylan Williams (Kyle Davison-Gordon 67), Ben Toseland, Nathan Hicks (Edmund Hottor 75), Ethan Johnston (subs not used: Farris Rhaman, Christopher Manangu)

St Ives Town yellows: Richens (13), Baker (57)

AFC Rushden & Diamonds

One Fan, ONE vote, one community, one club