Diamonds made a perfect start to life at Step 3 of Non-League football with a thumping 5-2 victory over Redditch.
They made a terrifically quick start and were ahead inside the first three minutes. A corner was only half-cleared and, after Nathan Hicks lifted the ball back into the area, Jack Bowen volleyed home from close range to mark his a perfect start. Six minutes later the lead was doubled when Callum Westwood drilled a cross to the back post where Jack Ashton headed across for Ben Farrell to guide a header into the back of the net. Diamonds were in dreamland and, though Redditch created a couple of good opportunities, they dominated the half with their fast link-up play in attack, energetic and tigerish play in midfield and many attacking runs in behind the away defence. Moments before the half-time whistle they extended their lead when Ben Diamond cut inside from the left and whistled a low effort past the keeper and inside the near post to send the hosts three goals ahead at the interval.
There was no sign of letting up in the early stages of the second half, and Diamonds added two further goals in as many minutes. Firstly Diamond slammed home the rebound from close range after Tom Lorraine’s header had been well saved, and then the Diamonds’ all-time top goalscorer netted himself after a cross had only been parried as far as him. Redditch stuck to their task though and fought to the end, and were able to grab two consolation goals. Joseph Stokes whipped in a sumptuous thirty yard free-kick beyond the reach of Ben heath, and then Leam Howards turned an effort in after an initial shot had hit the post. It refused to dampen the Rushden spirits though, and they saw the game out to begin the season in style.
For Diamonds’ first ever match at this level manager Andy Peaks named a 4-3-3 formation. With Liam Dolman being ruled out through a calf injury Jack Ashton and Blaize Punter lined up at centre-half in front of keeper Ben Heath, and Callum Westwood and Sam Brown were to play at full-back. Jack Westbrook, new signing Nathan Hicks and Ben Farrell made up the midfield contingent, and the returning Jack Bowen slotted in up front alongside Tom Lorraine and Ben Diamond.
There was a huge sense of optimism around the ground before kick-off not just for the fact that it was the first match of a new season but also due to it being Diamonds’ first game at Step 3, a fantastic achievement considering they’d only had six full seasons of senior football in their existence and had achieved three promotions in that time. The sun was shining bright and there was a healthy amount of fans around the ground when the two sets of players entered the Hayden Road playing surface. Redditch finished 14th in the Southern League Premier last season and had experienced many changes in their squad over the summer, but recent signings Tom Winter and ex-Premier League striker Stefan Moore showed they would be no simple opening fixture. After the captains Brown, standing in for Dolman, and Redditch’s skipper Joel Mead had conducted the coin-toss, there was a well observed minutes silence for the passing of long-time Diamonds supporter Yvonne. The referee Ben Cooke then blew his whistle to begin the contest.
Only three minutes had elapsed when Diamonds forged ahead. A ball forward by Ashton found Diamond on the shoulder of the defender, something he would find a lot of success with during the game, and Mead was forced to put the ball out for a corner on the left. The inswinging delivery was initially punched away by visiting keeper Ben Pierce, but it looped out for Hicks to volley back into the area. It found the unmarked Jack Bowen and, on his competitive first game in his third stint for the club, he clinically dispatched a volley past Pierce and into the back of the net.
There was euphoria and a slight sense of surprise from the home fans at the very early breakthrough, but any thought that that may have been slightly lucky or that the Diamonds were going to let up were immediately dismissed. Moments later another ball over the top looked to have released Diamond through on goal but it hit his heels and stopped the move in its tracks, but the striker was involved again when Westwood superbly anticipated an away pass to intercept and sprint forward before playing Diamond in down the right. He pulled the ball back for Bowen who was just stopped from hitting an effort at goal, and the loose ball just wouldn’t roll for the lurking Lorraine as Pierce gratefully raced out to drop onto it.
Their explosive start went up a notch in the 9th minute when they extended their lead. Brown trotted across to take a throw-in on the right but, rather than launch one of his trademark long dispatches into the area, he threw it short to the nearby Westwood. The right-back drilled a diagonal cross towards the back post where the onrushing Ashton headed it across, and last season’s top scorer Ben Farrell was free to guide a header home from around ten yards out.
Just before that goal a Redditch corner on the left found Mead at the back post but Punter used his strength well to apply pressure and allow Heath to gather, and then Declan Benjamin received a pass around 25 yards out before seeing his low shot parried and then collected by the Diamonds keeper. However, the two-goal advantage was the least Rushden deserved for taking the game to their opponents in the opening exchanges, and they continued to look dangerous everytime they went forward. In the 14th minute Diamond turned adroitly just short of the halfway line before sprinting forward and feeding Farrell on the right. He did well to generate room before lifting a cross towards the far post, and Bowen leapt superbly to power a header just wide of the upright.
The visitors still represented a threat from time to time though, and shortly afterwards Winter fed a pass to Joseph Stokes who dispatched a shot at goal that forced Heath to parry to his left. The rebound was latched upon by Leam Howards, but his flashed cross ran past everyone and away to safety. Westwood was then booked for a sliding challenge, and moments later a strong run by full-back Jordan Mills saw him run down the left before standing up a cross towards the far post. Benjamin stretched to meet it, but he was only able to glance his header wide of the upright.
Despite these Redditch openings Diamonds were still first to most second balls and looking confident in possession whilst dangerous in attack and strong in defence. In the 25th minute another nice move saw Diamond get into space down the left, and he stepped inside before rolling a pass back to Hicks. However, the midfielder leant back when attempting to curl his effort towards the far post, and it flew well over the bar. Five minutes later Redditch created their clearest chance of the half when Howards turned well in the area and nutmegged Ashton before running in on Heath, but thankfully for the hosts the striker lifted his shot over the bar and out for a goal-kick.
The opening half an hour had been wholly entertaining and had seen plenty of goalmouth action, and this pattern showed no sign of letting up when Diamonds created the next opening. Brown received the ball just inside his attacking half on the left, and he looked up playing a diagonal ball towards the far side of the area. Pierce came racing out of his goal but was always second best to reach the ball before Bowen, and it was the striker who won the header ahead of the onrushing keeper. The attempt dropped towards goal but hit the outside of the post, though the offside flag had been raised in the process.
The next ten minutes then brought the first period of the match that saw little action as half-time approached, but before that arrived Diamonds added another goal. Brown ran forward before playing the ball out to Ben Diamond on the left, and the front-man slowed the full-back down before cutting inside into the area and flashing a low shot inside the near post and into the back of the net.
That finish capped a perfect and flowing first half, one that left the home players, staff and fans alike in dreamland as the half-time whistle was signalled.
Half Time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 3-0 Redditch United
Discussion at the interval centred on how hungry, determined and fired-up Diamonds had looked in the opening period, and how, though they were only 45 minutes into the new campaign, they had took life at Step 3 well within their stride immediately. Both teams re-emerged from the changing rooms, with fans wondering if Diamonds would be able to keep up the intensity they displayed in the opening half and how Redditch would respond to their manager’s words and to their change to regroup during the break. The attendance was announced as 592 and, after the visitors made a substitution and after a subsequent quick count of the players, the referee sounded to get the match back underway.
The early exchanges followed a similar pattern to the opening period as Diamonds showed no sign of sitting back on their lead or letting up in their attempts to score more goals. Just like in the first half they created a chance in the opening three minutes when a diagonal cross from Brown was aimed towards Lorraine at the far post, and again Pierce came rushing a long way out of goal to try and reach the ball. Like before the Diamonds man got his head to the ball first, but it drifted well wide of the post. The striker was involved again moments later when he powered down the right before standing up the defender and laying it back to the supporting Hicks. He in turn whipped a teasing cross into the area that just ran away from the stretching Diamond and the late-arriving Bowen at the back post.
Every ball in behind the Redditch defence, with Diamond in particular always playing on the shoulder of the defenders, had represented a threat, and this proved the case again only two minutes after the hosts’ previous opportunity. A ball forward from midfield almost ran for Diamond and would have released him through on goal but it was slightly over-hit and it ran through for Pierce.
The away side, had barely entered Diamonds’ half in the second period up to now, then managed to fashion a couple of chances. Firstly Heath was required to tip over a cross from Benjamin that threatened to dip underneath the crossbar, and then from the subsequent set-piece a loose ball for a Redditch man to strike goalwards only for Brown to importantly block away before it could threaten the goal.
Two minutes later the hosts added another goal. They won a corner down the right after another neat attacking move, and the driven corner found Lorraine whose strong header was superbly and instinctively saved by Pierce after it came through a sea of players. However, the loose ball fell for the waiting Ben Diamond, and he gleefully swept home his second of the game from a matter of yards.
Lorraine was not to be denied his goal for much longer though as it got even better for Diamonds two minutes after Diamonds second goal. Westwood made a superb run down the right to get in behind the full-back to play a low ball across goal and, though Pierce parried the cross away, it fell for Tom Lorraine to rifle home the loose ball into the far corner of the net.
With an hour on the clock it had been a near faultless and perfect display from the hosts up to this point, one that surely nobody could have even dreamt before the game. As a contest the match was all but over, though Redditch to their credit continued to look to get some foothold and to get at least one goal back for their efforts. Heath made a good save after Diamonds were unable to clear a cross in and the loose ball looped up for a nearby Redditch man, and then both teams made a substitution each. Luke Keen replaced the quiet Moore, who had been well shackled by Ashton, for the visitors, and for Diamonds Zach Reynolds took to the field at the expense of Westwood. Moments afterwards an away attacker saw a curling shot from the left deflected behind for a corner, and the resulting delivery led to a strike from a narrow angle that Heath was able to confidently hold.
Ross Oulton then replaced the impressive Ashton as Westbrook dropped back into defence, but the substitute’s first piece of action was to commit a foul around 30 yards from goal. Joseph Stokes stepped up and curled a sumptuous right-footed strike into the top right corner beyond the despairing dive of Heath, a goal that was arguably the best of the contest.
A minute later Diamonds almost re-established their five-goal advantage. Bowen almost threaded a ball through for Lorraine to be one-on-one with the keeper, but the number 11 latched back onto the ball before curling a shot wide of the far post. Immediately after this opportunity John Dean took to the field to replace the tireless Lorraine in Rushden’s final change, and Ben Diamond was then announced as the man of the match, a just reward for his two goals, his ever-present danger and his all-action display.
The game was still quite stretched and chances were still fairly aplenty as the clock ticked into the final ten minutes, and Redditch should have pulled another one back. Stokes escaped down the right before whipping in an inviting delivery that found a free Redditch man, but he somehow put his header wide of the post. Play then swung down the other end and, after he had received a yellow card for a foul, Dean latched onto a neat backheel from Bowen before hitting a low left-footed effort that forced Pierce to dive and save down to his left side.
There remained one final chance for either side as the match ticked towards 90 minutes. Firstly Diamond was found by an accurate through ball on the left before running into the area and striking towards goal as he searched for his hat-trick, but it bobbled up just before he hit the effort and so it flew well over the bar. Then Redditch were able to pull another goal back when Stokes hit a shot that Heath did well to tip onto the post as he dived to his right, but Leam Howards latched onto the rebound to steer home into the far corner of the net.
Only a couple of minutes were added on, and these passed by without any action of note. Cooke blew the whistle to signal the end of the match, one which saw Diamonds produce a breathless and scintillating 60 minute period of football before Redditch scored a couple of consolation goals, but the hosts were undoubtedly worthy victors and began their Step 3 adventure in perfect fashion.
Full Time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 5-2 Redditch United
This represented a perfect day all round for the Diamonds. They were hungry, determined, fluid in their formation and positions, pressured and harried their opponents, used the ball well, looked dangerous throughout and ultimately were clinical when their chances arose. Although they will be slightly frustrated that they conceded the two late goals nothing can detract from their level of performance throughout the contest, and if Diamonds play like that for much of the season then they will cause many other sides plenty of problems. Redditch never gave in and threatened with several chances of their own, but in the end they were blown away by an irrepressible Diamonds performance. Though it is only one game into the season and though other kinds of tests from different teams will present themselves during the course of the season, this was undoubtedly a perfect start and sees Diamonds sitting second in the early league table. Their next match sees them make their first away trip at this level when they travel to play Biggleswade Town, a team who impressively defeated Kings Lynn 4-2 away from home in their first match, on Tuesday evening (August 14th, 19:45pm kick-off).
Diamonds Man of the Match: Ben Diamond
Match Report by Ollie Mortimer
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
13. Ben Heath
2. Callum Westwood
3. Sam Brown (C)
4. Jack Ashton
5. Blaize Punter
6. Jack Westbrook
7. Nathan Hicks
8. Ben Farrell
9. Tom Lorraine
10. Ben Diamond
11. Jack Bowen
12. John Dean (for Lorraine 75)
14. Ty Ward
15. Zack Reynolds (for Westwood 67)
16. Ross Oulton (for Ashton 72)
19. Dan Clifton
1. Ben Pierce
2. Jamie Ashmore
3. Jordan Mills
4. Joel Mead (C)
5. Max Loveridge
6. Louis Ezewele
7. Joseph Stokes
8. Declan Benjamin
9. Stefan Moore
10. Leam Howards
11. Tom Winters
12. William Davidson (for Ezewele HT)
14. Luke Keen (for Moore 66)
15. Montel Gibson (for Winters 60)
16. Shaquille Leach-Whittingham
17. Caolan Boyd-Munce
Goals: Bowen (3), Farrell (9), Diamond (43, 58), Lorraine (60)
Goals: Stokes (74), Howards (89)
Yellow Cards: Westwood (19), Dean (82)
Yellow Cards: None
Referee: Ben Cooke
Assistants: Simon Kavanagh, Richard Cutts
Updated player profiles with appearance and goalscoring details are now available.
Video highlights and post-match interviews are available here.