AFC Rushden & Diamonds progressed to the Preliminary Round of the FA Cup with Budweiser after recording a 6-1 win over London Colney on Tuesday evening at the Dog & Duck. An excellent flowing team performance was such a contrast to the struggle the Diamonds had in the original game of the tie on Saturday, and helped to erase the memory of that earlier game for the around 350 Diamonds fans who travelled to that game. With the game arranged at such short notice, the attendance of 546 was as impressive as the Diamonds’ performance. It was also the first time the Diamonds had scored more than five goals at home.
A goal from Russ Dunkley after 30 seconds was the perfect start, and Dunkley turned provider when he set Alfie Taylor in for a well taken second before the break. The tenacious Séan McBride scored seven minutes into the second half, and then a brace from Matt Gearing made the game safe. A consolation goal for the visitors from Jimmy Hill was quickly followed by the Diamonds sixth goal from Jack Wisniewski.
There was some concern with the floodlights at half-time but sterling work behind the scenes enabled the game to be completed.
Diamonds’ Manager Mark Starmer’s reaction to the poor performance at Cotlandwick was to make three changes to his starting line-up. With Alex Deakin now fit for a first team start, his centre-back stand-in Jake Gillingwater was relegated to the bench, given the form of Joe Merrill in the right-back role that Gillingwater had filled for the second half of last season. Alfie Taylor had fully recovered from the knock he took a week ago, so he started up front at the expense of Ben Morgan, and then Elliot Dent was given only his seventh start for the club to give the Diamonds more attacking purpose in central midfield, with Brad Harris stepping down.
The game started with a bang, as with only 30 seconds on the clock Russ Dunkley slotted home a Sam Brown cross from the left. The visitors were able to compose themselves after this early blow, and both teams showed an attacking flair which made for an entertaining first-half. Elliot Dent forced a good save from keeper Noble, who also did well to tip over a Wisniewski effort. Russ Dunkley twice went close to adding to his tally, with a shot clipping the post and another going narrowly wide, and Jack Wisniewski saw an effort tipped over the bar.
With less than 30 minutes gone the Diamonds had their second goal, and this time Dunkley was the provider. He received the ball just outside the box, and made some space with his first touch. With the defenders anticipating a shot he slotted a neat reverse ball into the gap and Alfie Taylor showed his acceleration to nip in and fire home.
Another fine Diamonds move involving Taylor and Dunkley saw some excellent defending preventing Matt Gearing getting a tap-in as the two Diamonds forwards seemed to be anticipating each other’s play far better. The best chance for the visitors came just before the break when a move down the right ended with a cross to the left post where Matt Newman was in space, but he seemed to trip over himself and the chance was wasted.
Half-Time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 2 London Colney 0
The start of the second period was delayed by 10 minutes as work went on behind the scenes to sort out an issue with the Dog & Duck floodlights. Sam Brown set up Matt Gearing for an early chance which went just over the bar, and then Wisniewski set up Dunkley who saw his first effort saved and his follow-up cleared off the line. Visiting defender Mark Shaw almost put through his own goal, with the ball skewing onto the post and away to safety.
With some excellent passing moves the Diamonds were playing some of the best football seen by their fans, and after 52 minutes this was rewarded with a third goal. Séan McBride chased down a loose ball just outside the penalty area, and saw his initial shot flicked up by Alfie Taylor, but he was able to react quickly and make his second effort count.
At the other end the visitors had not given up hope, and a good run from captain Fitzgerald towards the right byline saw him fire into the side netting.
Russ Dunkley created a chance for Jack Wisniewski that went wide before the Diamonds striker linked with Alfie Taylor with an hour on the clock and Taylor’s effort was tipped onto the top of the crossbar.
A minute later the Diamonds fourth goal came, courtesy of a Matt Gearing shot that looked destined for the net the moment he cut inside at the end of a break down the left flank and hit a right-footed drive.
The four-goal cushion meant that the Diamonds could start making a number of changes, but Matt Gearing increased the lead after 68 minutes when he ghosted into the left channel to scramble home a cross from the right.
Even with the scoreline at 5-0, the visitors did not let their heads drop, and created good chances for substitutes Dean Goodwin and James Warner, either of which might have earned them a consolation goal, but this did come after 76 minutes. Daniel Power got forward down the right and found Jimmy Hill in space in the area, and he was able to open the visitors’ account.
Any thought that might complete the scoring for the evening was quickly dispelled as substitutes Allen, Liburd and Grainger all made a positive contribution to the final 15 minutes of action, and it was Lance Allen that set up Jack Wisniewski for the goal his performance deserved with 12 minutes left.
With the scoreline at 6-1, the only nervousness amongst the Diamonds fans in the final few minutes of the game was whether there would be any further issue with the floodlights, but with Allen and Liburd combining to see an Allen header cleared off the line, and then Liburd having to receive treatment after a poor tackle near the half-way line, plus a final late chance for Wisniewski, the Diamonds were able to celebrate their first victory in this historic competition.
Full-Time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 6 London Colney 1
AFC Rushden & Diamonds will now travel to face Northwood in the Preliminary Round, with the tie provisionally scheduled for Saturday August 31st. This means their UCL game on that date against Cogenhoe United at the Dog & Duck is expected to be postponed. See the Fixture News section for the latest fixture updates – where you can also download the latest fixture poster showing the Northwood match. See the Player and Match Stats section for updated stats following tonight’s game.
The Diamonds next game is in the UCL Premier, when Sleaford Town visit the Dog & Duck on Saturday – see here for a match preview.
Diamonds Man of the Match: Matt Gearing
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
17. Tom Cross
2. Joe Merrill
3. Sam Brown
4. Séan McBride
5. Alex Deakin
6. Jamal Clarke
7. Jack Wisniewski
8. Elliot Dent
9. Russ Dunkley (Capt)
10. Alfie Taylor
11. Matt Gearing
12. Ben Morgan
13. Quincy Shorunmu
14. Lance Allen (for Taylor 71)
15. Dan Grainger (for McBride 68)
16. Nat Liburd (for Dunkley 66)
18. Jake Gillingwater
21. Brad Harris
1. Daniel Noble
2. Daniel Power
3. Daniel McCafferty
4. Mark Paradise
5. Shaun Murphy
6. Greg Shaw
7. Daniel Fitzgerald (Capt)
8. Spencer Clark-Mardel
9. Jimmy Hill
10. Matt Newman
11. Russell Gallagher
12. James Warner (for Fitzgerald 58)
14. Anthony Burns (for Newman 69)
15. Yashin Boodhoo
16. Jamie Taylor
17. James Lawrence
18. Dean Goodwin (for Gallagher 51)
19. Martin Collins
Goals: Dunkley (1), Taylor (28), McBride (52), Gearing (62, 67), Wisniewski (78)
Goals: Hill (76)
Yellow Cards: None
Yellow Cards : Power, Hill, Burns
Referee: Andy Aylott
Assistants: Bruce Stevens, Craig Buettner
See here for video highlights and interviews.