Diamonds romped to a resounding victory in their opening home match of the season as they made it two wins out of two.
They began brightly in the early stages, and they could have been ahead when Tom Lorraine saw two shots deflected before another attempt that went narrowly wide. Nathan Hicks then sliced wide and Alex Collard headed over, and it appeared that if anyone were to score the first goal, then it would be the hosts. However, Leiston forged ahead in the 22nd minute when Matthew Blake fired home from a cutback following a neat move down the right. Rushden took a little while to respond as they built possession without creating too much, but they levelled five minutes before the interval when Collard thundered home a header from a Ben Acquaye cross. It got even better for the Diamonds when, in the 44th minute, they took the lead when a corner dropped invitingly for Lorraine only yards out, and he made no mistake in firing home from close-range to send Rushden into a half-time lead.
Diamonds carried on where they left off at the end of the first period as they seeked extending their lead. Acquaye shot narrowly wide, and a number of threatening crosses were well defended by the Leiston defence. The advantage was eventually doubled when a free-kick found Jack Ashton, and he headed across for Lorraine to slide in and past the keeper for his second goal of the evening. Acquaye had a volley held soon afterwards, but he got the goal his performance merited when he powered past a couple of challenges before rifling home a low strike from around 25 yards out. It got worse for the visitors as they were reduced to ten men when George Keys was adjudged to have brought down Lorraine through on goal, and punishment was soon exacted when substitute Declan Rogers found Hicks who confidently fired an effort past the keeper. There was still time for Ben Heath to make two good saves, but the work had all been done in style as Diamonds claimed the three points.
Manager Peaks stuck with the starting XI that had defeated Barwell 2-0 on the opening weekend of the season. This meant that Matthew Slinn, who appeared to hobble off in that game, was fit to start, and that a 3-5-2 formation would again be deployed.
The two teams walked out onto the Hayden Road pitch on a calm evening, and optimism was high. Diamonds were looking to carry on their good home record of last season that only saw them lose three on their own patch all campaign, and Leiston were aiming to follow up a draw against Coalville in their opening match and begin to build a season that they hoped would improve on their fourth-bottom finish last year. The pre-match formalities were quickly completed, and referee Ben Cooke got the contest underway.
It was immediately evident that Rushden were confident and looking to make a quick start following their win only three days before. Only two minutes had elapsed when Tom Lorraine, looking for his first goal since mid-February, muscled his way onto a long ball before hitting a strike that was deflected, and so was his attempted rebound.
Diamonds’ all-time record goalscorer was in the action again only moments later when Sam Brown got in down the left, and he played a low ball towards the near post for the onrushing Lorraine. The striker got a flick on it, but it flashed wide of the target.
The hosts were putting pressure on Leiston at every opportunity, and such pressing left to another opportunity in the ninth minute. Nathan Hicks harassed and latched onto a loose ball, but his subsequent effort with the outside of his right foot flew well wide of the target.
Nat Gosnal-Tyler was already offering some good width down the right, and he had one of first chances to get down the flank shortly afterwards. The new signing powered past the away left full-back before delivering a pinpoint cross that Lorraine was just unable to get onto.
The visitors hadn’t had much chance to build possession and to venture much into the opposing half, but they were able to in the 14th minute. A neat move saw the ball worked to Byron Lawrence, and the midfielder’s sliced effort proved awkward for Ben Heath as the keeper parried it away.
Rushden were soon back on the offensive, and they won a free-kick in a promising position. Gosnal-Tyler stood over the kick, and he curled a cross into the area that found Alex Collard who headed over the bar.
After all the Diamonds pressure, it was a surprise when Leiston took the lead midway through the half. A precise ball in behind found Kyle Hammond who sped into the box on the right, and he looked up before pulling the ball back to striker Matthew Blake to convincingly sweep home into the roof of the net.
The hosts struggled to get back into their previous rhythm to begin with, and Ben Acquaye was booked moments later after a foul just short of the halfway line. The visitors had clearly been boosted by that Blake strike, and they began to work the ball more effectively without threatening too much.
The next opportunity arose in the 34th minute when Lorraine looked like he was through on goal following a ball over the top, but a covering defender got across to make an important clearance. They continued to have a good amount of ball, but Leiston were defending strongly and doing well to limit most of the threat.
As the time ticked into the last five minutes of the half, it seemed like Diamonds may be heading into the interval behind. However, they found an equaliser. An initial attack was cleared out for a corner on the right, and Acquaye moved across to take the delivery. He whipped the ball into the middle, and rising like a proverbial salmon was Alex Collard to head down and into the roof of the net. It was the defender’s first competitive goal for the club, and the third goal out of three so far this season scored by a centre-back.
Even more was to follow four minutes later. After Acquaye latched onto a ball over the top and won a corner, this time on the left, the set-piece was curled into the heart of the area. A number of players rose, and it flicked invitingly towards goal before dropping for Tom Lorraine to sweep home into the empty net from point-blank range.
It had been a complete turnaround in only a matter of moments, and play had barely got back underway when the referee blew to signal the half-time break.
Half time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 2-1 Leiston FC
During the interval, the attendance was confirmed as 446. Moments later the two teams returned from the respective changing rooms, and referee Cooke soon got the match underway again.
It was immediately evident that the hosts wanted to carry on where they left off at the end of the previous half, and Acquaye had a chance from the edge of the box only for the effort to fly wide of the target. They then had a couple of set-piece opportunities, the first a free-kick and the second a corner, but both deliveries were well defended by Leiston.
Another couple of dead-ball opportunities were headed away, but one just before the hour mark saw Diamonds extend their advantage. Acquaye won a free-kick halfway inside Rushden’s attacking half, and the delivery was clipped towards the back post where Jack Ashton headed across the box. Tom Lorraine was the first to react, and he slid in to poke a low effort past the keeper into the back of the net. The striker had waited since the middle of February for a goal, and suddenly he had two in the space of 15 minutes.
Diamonds sensed more goals, and a couple of defensive mistakes almost led to more. Firstly, a long ball forward from the home defence saw a defender head back towards his keeper Charlie Beckwith. It almost raced right past the keeper, but he stuck a foot out to take the pace off the header and the ball was eventually cleared away. Moments later, another error almost dropped for Lorraine before it was cleared to Acquaye who caught a volley superbly only for the strike to fly straight at Beckwith.
Lorraine was on the search for his hat-trick, and in the 65th minute he hit an effort that was well blocked away by the busy away defence. The visitors were able to break away up the other end for what was an increasingly rare attack, but Heath was able to hold a long-range effort.
If the result was in any doubt, those doubts were shattered with another Rushden goal. Ben Acquaye, who had been a huge threat all night, latched onto a loose ball halfway inside his attacking half before he powered away from a couple of nearby Leiston men. He then unleashed a fizzing low strike towards goal from around 25 yard out, and it flew past the helpless Beckwith into the bottom corner of the net.
This was the attacking midfielder’s final action as he was soon replaced by Declan Rogers, and Ryan Dove had been introduced for the industrious Jack Bowen moments before. To their ultimate credit, the visitors refused to let their heads down and fashioned a couple of opportunities to pull a goal back. Blake sent a cross in from the right that forced Heath to tip over the bar, and Collard won a couple of important headers along with Brown to clear subsequent danger.
However, the away side were then reduced to ten men. Lorraine latched onto a loose ball and, with several Leiston men caught upfield, he sprinted forward into space and towards the penalty area. Defender George Keys came across and attempted to win the ball back, but he was adjudged to have pushed over the striker. The referee took a moment to decide the punishment, and he issued a red card.
Moments later, after Zack Reynolds was brought on for Collard, Diamonds capitalised on the numerical advantage to add a fifth goal. Rogers ran forward before slipping a precise pass into the path of the onrushing Nathan Hicks, and the midfielder slammed a low strike past Beckwith.
The man of the match award was then announced as Gosnal-Tyler for an energetic display. Aside from a couple of Heath saves and then a Dove strike that flew wide, the final few minutes passed without any real action of note as referee Cooke soon signalled the end of the match.
Full time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 5-1 Leiston FC
This was an emphatic performance and result for the Diamonds, and one that was fully deserved. They started well and could easily have been ahead before the visitors forged ahead with their first real chance of the match. The reaction to that setback was going to be important, and Rushden showed their character to stick at what they were doing and soon led 2-1. They didn’t let up in the second half, and they continued to create a number of chances whilst showing a clinical and ruthless streak. A lot of credit must go to Leiston for never giving in and their application throughout the contest, but Diamonds had too much for them and the hosts now sit second in the table with a 100% record so far. This will be put to the test on Saturday when Nuneaton Borough, who were relegated from the National League North last season, visit Hayden Road (17 August, 3pm kick-off).
Diamonds Man of the Match (chosen by match sponsor Erskine Murray): Nat Gosnal-Tyler
Match report by Ollie Mortimer
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
13. Ben Heath
2. Nat Gosnal-Tyler
3. Sam Brown
4. Jack Ashton
5. Liam Dolman (C)
6. Alex Collard
7. Ben Acquaye
8. Matthew Slinn
9. Tom Lorraine
10. Jack Bowen
11. Nathan Hicks
12. Massiah McDonald
14. Declan Rogers (for Acquaye 71)
15. Ryan Dove (for Bowen 69)
16. Zack Reynolds (for Collard 80)
17. Niall Cooper
1. Charlie Beckwith
2. Kyle Hammond (C)
3. Thomas Woerndl
4. Jerry Kamanzi
5. Harry Knights
6. George Keys
7. Byron Lawrence
8. Joshua Hitter
9. Matthew Blake
10. Rhys Henry
11. William Davies
12. James Gaffer
14. Robert Eagle (for Woerndl 67)
15. Kyran Clements (for Henry 56)
16. Mason Sinclair (for Hitter 69)
17. Jake Jessup
Goals: Collard (40), Lorraine (44, 59), Acquaye (68), Hicks (80)
Goals: Blake (22)
Yellow cards: Acquaye (26)
Yellow cards: Knights (59)
Red cards: None
Red cards: Keys (78)
Referee: Ben Cooke
Assistants: Niall Nestor, Harley Mckittrick