The Dog and Duck played host to a thrilling NFA David Joyce U18 Cup final, between AFC Rushden & Diamonds U18s / MAA and Peterborough United, in horrendous weather conditions.
The scholars went into the game against a strong Posh side, who named two players who were involved in the First Team’s final league game of the season, at Oldham.
But this didn’t faze the young Diamonds and instead, it was the home side who started the brighter. Just two minutes in, following a Harrison Desborough corner, there was a penalty appeal for handball, however the referee waved it away.
Although the majority of scholars were all a year younger than the ‘Boro side, they more than matched them physically. Ashley Hewett went on a strong run forward on the left, before being clattered by two late challenges. Matty Pinder’s fierce resulting free-kick went just over.
Diamonds’ three man midfield was working well, as the whole team put the Peterborough side under pressure, and as a result, were making lots of mistakes. However in a rare first half chance for the Posh, Jacob Kearney was on hand to scuff out an opportunity.
But the pressure eventually came more frequent. Dangerman Leo Da-Silva Lopes, who started in Peterborough’s final League One game of the season, and made his senior debut a week before, turned Chris Knapp just outside the area and his shot deflected off the Diamonds defender for a corner, 36 minutes in. From the resulting corner, a clever routine was crossed in towards an unmarked defender, however he couldn’t hit the target at the back post.
Then Rushden got the rewards for a good, dominant first half performance. 44 minutes in, Salek Uddin’s throw on the left hand side found Pinder, who cleverly turned away from his marker. He got to the by-line before cutting back to Ieuan Ivett who side-footed it in from six yards to give Diamonds a deserved one nil lead.
Half Time. AFC Rushden & Diamonds / MAA 1–0 Peterborough United.
Second half, Peterborough had come out the brighter team and could have easily been on level terms within a minute. A midfielder played a one-two with the striker, but the former put it wide from six yards.
For the next 15 minutes, the weather took a turn for the worse and the rain affected both teams rhythm. It was a physical, scrappy game with not many chances.
The scholars were put under the cosh from about 70 minutes onwards, as tiredness played its part. Da-Silva Lopes had a 20 yard shot comfortably held by Rhys Redding in the Rushden goal. And when Da-Silva Lopes struck again just two minutes later, the first team back-up goalkeeper gathered at the second attempt.
But still, despite Peterborough being on top in the second half, they were yet to create a real clear cut chance. Diamonds right-back Bradley Grundy was on hand to sniff out a Posh chance in the box. However the equaliser came 12 minutes from time. A free-kick into the box was not dealt with by the Rushden defence and the central defender smashed it in to make it 1-1.
Then Peterborough made the dominance count further. Just three minutes later, a flash of brilliance from Da-Silva Lopes. The 16-year-old picked up the ball in midfield, evaded a tackle from captain Ryan Kirk and then by recent first team debutant Joe Ackroyd, before smashing the ball beyond Redding. It was a superb solo goal, good enough to win any cup tie. Peterborough led 2-1.
The MAA boys then tried to pile the pressure on to force the final into penalties, however it wasn’t to be. The lads gave a good account for themselves which provides a sound platform to build on for next year.
Full Time. AFC Rushden & Diamonds / MAA 1–2 Peterborough United.
Team: Redding, Grundy, Knapp, Kearney, Uddin, Ackroyd, Kirk (c), Desborough, Ivett, Hewett, Pinder.
Subs: Peaks, Barnes, Weekes, Leeson, Garner.
I spoke to manager Darren Purse after the game who expressed his pride in his players.
“I’m proud of the lads, they were top drawer. They did everything I asked of them and towards the end got tired and gaps started to open up. Peterborough just had that little bit of quality in the final third.
First half we were the better team – and we deserved to go in one nil up but to be critical, we lacked that little bit of quality on the ball.