It was an emotional afternoon at Hayden Road for AFC Rushden & Diamonds as they secured their first piece of silverware of the season. A thrilling match with two goals apiece either side of half time sent the game into a penalty shootout, where Ben Ford held his nerve in sudden death to win the Dale Roberts Memorial Trophy. During normal time, a second half own goal and a free kick from captain Liam Dolman cancelled out goals from striker Matthew Stenson and winger Ryan Robbins, who gave the visitors an early first half lead.
A warm Saturday afternoon signalled the start of a new era for AFC Rushden & Diamonds as they played their first home game at Hayden Road since moving from the Dog & Duck this summer. The inaugural game at the new home saw a pre-season visit from Leicestershire’s Barwell to contend the annual Dale Roberts Memorial Cup. Andy Peaks’ first squad selection of the season included two debutants in wingers Darryl Smith and Luke Fairlamb. Joe Curtis and Ross Oulton enjoyed a rare partnership in the centre of midfield, with both having recovered from long term injuries.
However, it wasn’t the start Diamonds fans had in mind to the new era at Hayden Road. Just three minutes into the game, an early Barwell corner from the right hand side was headed in powerfully by Stenson. And it was the visitors who continued to dominate much of the first half. Robbins blasted a 25-yard shot just over keeper Matt Finlay’s goal on nine minutes, and on 16 minutes, Stenson showed more of his aerial capabilities; heading just over the Diamonds net.
Rushden’s first chance of the game came just seconds later. Full back Sam Brown played the ball to Curtis in the middle who sent striker Nabil Shariff through on goal, but his effort was turned just past the post by keeper Mikey Turner.
Diamonds had a chance to equalise when Shariff was bundled over in the area by defender Craig Stanley. However, Shariff’s penalty was saved by the keeper’s legs as he tried to put the ball down the middle. Two minutes later, Oulton found himself in the referee’s book after successive fouls.
The new boys Fairlamb and Smith both seemed lively on either wing; occasionally switching wings while Oulton and Curtis both battled in the centre. The new look midfield seemed to hold up the ball successfully, and were using the wingers to try and create chances – something the Diamonds fans were happy to see as this is what the team had been lacking previously.
However, the away side doubled their lead on 37 minutes. A free kick conceded on the right wing was swung into the box, cleared straight to Robbins on his own on the right hand side of the 18-yard box, and his fierce first time left footed volley found the corner of the net, leaving Finlay with no chance.
A Smith free kick on 42 minutes was curled just over the top corner, ensuring the Diamonds went into the break two goals down.
Half time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0-2 Barwell.
The second half resumed with just one changed for Rushden. Ben Heath replaced Finlay between the sticks, giving the goalkeepers 45 minutes each.
The first Diamonds chance of the half came on 52 minutes. Curtis crossed a free kick into the box, which was flicked on by Shariff to striker Tom Lorraine at the far post but his shot could only cannon off the woodwork and out for a goal kick. A minute later, Lorraine was replaced by striker Chris Dillon, with midfielder Richard Bunting also coming on for Oulton.
Barwell’s best second half chances came within four minutes of each other. On 63 minutes, right back Jake Whitmore found Stenson in the area, but he blasted his shot just over Heaths’s goal. And then moments later, a cross from the left was headed inches wide by defender Liam Kay.
Diamonds made two more changes on 69 minutes, with Ford and new signing Joel Gyasi coming on to replace Smith and centre back Brad Harris. Seconds later, Diamonds finally got into the goal there second half play deserved. Full back Callum Westwood found himself with some space on the right flank, and his cross was turned into the Barwell net by one of their own defenders.
More pre-season subs for Diamonds on 82 minutes as Westwood and Fairlamb came off for trialists Vitalie Puscas and Harry Hembury.
Then Diamonds got an extremely late equaliser when they were awarded a free kick 25 yards out with just two minutes remaining. Up stepped set piece specialist Liam Dolman to curl a beauty in off the left hand post.
Almost immediately after kick-off, the home side could have snatch a victory in normal time, with Shariff firing into the side netting after finding himself in space in the opposition area. However, it wasn’t to be as the game ended 2-2 after 90 minutes, sending the tie to penalties.
Full time: AFC Rushden & Diamonds 2-2 Barwell.
Barwell stepped up to take the first penalty, sending the ball straight down the middle. Dolman took charge of the Diamonds’ opening spot pick, sending the keeper the wrong way. The shoot-out was sent into sudden death, as Dillon, Curtis, Gyasi and Shariff all cancelled out Barwell’s well taken shots. However, the pressure got to the visitor’s as their first sudden death penalty was saved down the middle by Heath. And it was up to Ben Ford to put the tie to bed, and he did just that, earning the Diamonds their first piece of silverware for the season.
Match Report by Adam Benney
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
17. Matt Finlay
2. Callum Westwood
3. Sam Brown
4. Brad Harris
5. Liam Dolman
6. Ross Oulton
7. Darryl Smith
8. Joe Curtis
9. Tom Lorraine.
10. Nabil Shariff
11. Luke Fairlamb
12. Joel Gyasi
13. Ben Heath
14. Ben Ford
15. Richard Bunting
16. Vitalie Puscas
18. Harry Hembury
19. Chris Dillon
1. Mikey Turner
2. Jake Whitmore
3. Eddy Nisevic
4. Liam Kay
5. Craig Stanley
6. Nigel Julien
7. Ryan Robbins
8. Lee Hildreth
9. Matthew Stenson
10. Ryan Seal
11. Tom Bates
12. Ryan Baldwin
13. Dale Belford
14. James Daly
16. Cordel White
Photo Gallery courtesy Mark Mayhew, except where annotated as courtesy Matt Hawkins.