On a day of drama on and off the pitch, AFC Rushden & Diamonds defeated AFC Wulfrunians 4-2 (AET) in the Second Round Proper of the FA Carlsberg Vase on Saturday afternoon at the Castlecroft Stadium.
Jake Gillingwater played the entire 120 minutes in goal for the Diamonds, as traffic problems meant Tom Cross and Brad Harris did not arrive until half-time. The Diamonds had taken the lead through Alfie Taylor before Jamal Clarke was sent off after 26 minutes. The hosts then took a 2-1 lead, their second goal via an own-goal from Arron Parkinson mid-way through the second half, but Russ Dunkley equalised with four minutes left. Taylor and Parkinson then scored in the first period of extra-time to make the final score 4-2.
Alex Deakin was named as one of the Diamonds substitutes, and he might have been used when Clarke was sent off, but he had been taken ill before the game and was unable to play. With Brad Harris unavailable at the start of the game, Richard Bunting made his Diamonds debut, with Greg Ling also joining the Diamonds action for the first time after 75 minutes.
With the pre-match period impacted by both the traffic problems affecting Tom Cross and Brad Harris, as well as the Alex Deakin illness, the Diamonds lined up in their blue strip with Jake Gillingwater in goal, and debutant Richard Bunting in midfield.
The Diamonds dominated the early exchanges, and might have been ahead within the first two minutes when Séan McBride was fouled, and a Matt Gearing free-kick seemed to elude everyone to strike the far post. Jake Gillingwater quickly demonstrated his confidence in goal, both by catching a dangerous looking cross and then finding Russell Dunkley with his clearances. Further chances fell to all the Diamonds forwards players before the Diamonds took a deserved lead after 16 minutes when Alfie Taylor fired home from a Dunkley flick-on of a Sam Brown throw.
Wulfs keeper Evans was having a fine game, with several important saves, notably from Alfie Taylor, but the Diamonds almost conceded an equaliser when in a rare attack Craig Gregg hooked wide when set up by the impressive Andy Thompson.
After 26 minutes Thompson made a break down the right, and although Jamal Clarke appeared to make a clean tackle, he reacted to some holding and after referee Lear consulted his assistant was shown a red card. With Deakin unavailable, the Diamonds chose to push Sam Brown to centre-back and move Séan McBride to left-back.
Richard Bunting was having an impressive Diamonds debut, but he received a yellow card which appeared to be for dissent after 32 minutes. A minute later the hosts had equalised, when a corner from Scott Stevenson was volleyed home by Andy Thompson.
Another Diamonds free-kick caused problems as a poor clearance fell to Bunting who set up Dunkley for an effort that was fired just wide.
Shortly before the break Aaron King replaced Fazel Koriya to bolster the Diamonds central midfield, with Bunting having dropped back to support the defence. King immediately got involved, and found space on the right side of the area on two occasions, but the first effort was blocked, and the second went across the face of the goal with nobody able to prod home. Alfie Taylor hit the post after good work from Matt Gearing as the Diamonds continue to press despite being a man short.
Half-Time: AFC Wulfrunians 1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1
Although Tom Cross and Brad Harris had arrived shortly before the break, and were able to warm-up during the interval, Mark Starmer continued with Gillingwater in goal, as he had not put a foot wrong, and there was the possibility of extra-time, so he might need his other two outfield substitutes.
Within four minutes of the restart the Diamonds might have gone ahead when a Russ Dunkley effort was saved by Evans after he broke past his marker, and Dunkley also broke clear to square a low ball across the box that was cleared, but there was further concern as Dunkley appeared to have a hamstring problem.
After 65 minutes the hosts took the lead against the run of play, with recent substitute Jake Webb getting to the byline down the right and hitting a low cross that Arron Parkinson deflected home giving Gillingwater no chance. The stand-in keeper made a fine save from David Howells shortly afterwards, before Aaron King forced Evans to make an equally good save at the other end. Evans then made two further fine saves from Alfie Taylor as the minutes ticked by.
With 15 minutes left Greg Ling came on to make his Diamonds debut, replacing in the stand-in left-back Séan McBride as the Diamonds went to a 3-4-2 formation. A fine move involving King and Dunkley saw Evans pull off another save – this time from Gearing, who then saw an overhead kick fly just over the bar after Dunkley had flicked on a Merrill throw.
The Diamonds were not panicking, although the home crowd were starting to celebrate, and with four minutes left they had the equaliser they deserved, with Russ Dunkley heading home a Joe Merrill ball into the box.
Both sides had late chances to score a winner, with Taylor forcing another save from Evans, and Gillingwater again keeping out a dangerous-looking shot, before referee Lear signalled that the 10-men would have to play a further 30 minutes, after having already played a man short for an hour.
After 90 Minutes: AFC Wulfrunians 2 AFC Rushden & Diamonds 2
After such an enthralling 90 minutes, the extra-time period continued to produce drama, as after 96 minutes Russ Dunkley forced the ball on to Matt Gearing, who then squared for Alfie Taylor to fire home. Gearing also played his part in the Diamonds fourth goal, 12 minutes into the first period of extra-time, as his corner was powered home by Arron Parkinson for his first goal for the club.
Just before the break Richard Bunting left the field having played 105 minutes in his debut for the club, with Brad Harris taking to the field.
After Extra Time First Period: AFC Wulfrunians 2 AFC Rushden & Diamonds 4
With the two goal cushion there was less tension in the final period of the game than there might have been. Alfie Taylor went close to his hat-trick, and Aaron King forced another good save from Evans after the Wulfrunians defence thought he was playing towards the corner flag, only to see him flick the ball along the goal-line, over a defender’s leg, and shoot from a narrow angle.
The final whistle was met with well-deserved celebrations from the tired Diamonds players, as once again they have shown their battling qualities to win a cup tie they might have lost.
After a rather mundane game against Woodford United in the previous round, few would have expected such a contrast for this fixture.
Diamonds Man of the Match: Jake Gillingwater
The result means the Diamonds have reached the third round of the FA Vase for the second season running.
The draw for the third round of the FA Carlsberg Vase is on Monday, with 32 ties to be drawn. The Diamonds next game is at Yaxley on Tuesday evening – see here for a preview.
An updated fixture list is available here.
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
1. Paul Evans (GK)
2. Jake Sedgemore (Capt)
3. Ash Burd
4. Richard Palmer
5. Lucan Spittle
6. Dave Asbury
7. Jordan Perks
8. David Howells
9. Craig Gregg
10. Andy Thompson
11. Scott Stevenson
12. Nathan Rose-Laing (for Perks 80)
14. Jake Webb (for Thompson 63)
15. Tom Piggott (for Palmer 95)
16. Michael Robertson
17. Tom Griffin
13. Jake Gillingwater
2. Joe Merrill
3. Sam Brown
4. Séan McBride
5. Arron Parkinson (Capt)
6. Jamal Clarke
7. Matt Gearing
8. Richard Bunting
9. Russ Dunkley
10. Alfie Taylor
11. Fazel Koriya
12. Brad Harris (for Bunting 105)
14. Aaron King (for Koriya 38)
15. Greg Ling (for McBride 75)
16. Alex Deakin
17. Tom Cross
Goals: Thompson (33), Parkinson(og) (65)
Goals: Taylor(16, 96), Dunkley (86), Parkinson (102)
Yellow Cards: Howells, Perks, Rose-Laing.
Yellow Cards: Bunting
Red Card: Clarke (26)
Referee: Mr Nigel Lear
Asst Referees – Mr Darren Amor & Mr Ollie Williams