Diamonds dramatically came from behind to claim their first away league win since the opening day of the season in defeating Alvechurch.
After early chances for both sides, the hosts took the lead in the seventh minute when a cross from the right was headed home by the free Kieron Miller. Diamonds had a chance to respond almost straight away when Nat Gosnal-Tyler was brought down in the area, but Nathan Hicks’ penalty hit the post and rebounded back into play. The visitors looked dangerous going forward, with Jesse Akubuine shooting just wide before Ben Acquaye had a free-kick go over and another shot well saved. Nabil Shariff, starting his first game for the club in his second spell, also came close on a couple of occasions, but Alvechurch themselves threatened with crosses into the area. Miller headed a corner kick wide of the far post, and Kyle Perry somehow blazed over from close range after Ben Heath had spilt a free-kick.
Rushden started the second period positively, and would go on to dominate almost the entirety of the half in their search for an equaliser. Jordan Macleod forced a superb save from home keeper Matthew Sargeant, Acquaye volleyed over, and Shariff had a header well saved as it looked more and more likely that it wouldn’t be Diamonds’ day. However, they levelled in the 78th minute when Akubuine’s cross from the right was turned onto the bar by a home defender, and Shariff was in the right place to bundle home the loose ball. Rushden had all the momentum now and, after Acquaye had fizzled a shot just wide, they found a winner three minutes from time. Acquaye got down the left before flashing a low ball towards the near post that substitute Tom Lorraine flicked home into the far corner. They survived five minutes of additional time without too much alarm, and saw out an important and morale-boosting win.
Manager Peaks made five changes to the starting XI that had been defeated by South Shields in the FA Trophy last weekend. He reverted to a 4-4-2 formation with Nabil Shariff starting his first game in his second spell at the club, and Jordan Macleod was brought in to partner him. Morgan Roberts’ loan spell had to come to an end during the week and he was replaced by Nat Gosnal-Tyler following his first goal for the club against Yaxley on Tuesday night. Alex Collard was sidelined by injury which meant Jack Ashton came into the team, and Jesse Akubuine was given a start alongside Nathan Hicks in midfield.
The two teams stepped out onto the Lye Meadow pitch, and sterling work had been done by volunteers to make sure the pitch was playable to pass a 10.30am pitch inspection. Alvechurch, having reached the play-off final in their first season at this level last year, had found it tougher this campaign and sat fifth-from-bottom ahead of the fixture. Though they had only won one of their last eight league matches, they had only lost one home game all season. Diamonds hadn’t won away from home in the league since the opening day, and they had only won four of their last 16 games in all competitions. Both sides were therefore keen to re-ignite their season and, following the pre-match formalities, the referee got the contest underway.
The quick and action-packed nature of the game was established immediately as both sides threatened within the opening four minutes. Firstly, Macleod broke into space for Rushden before hitting a left-footed strike from around 25 yards out that flew just over the bar. Moments later, the hosts moved down the other end and West Brom loanee Stanley Asomugha got into the box. His shot towards the far post was deflected and looped up over Ben Heath, but thankfully for Rushden it dropped behind the goal and out for a corner. The resulting delivery was met by home captain Jamie Willets in space, but his header was held by the Diamonds keeper.
The visitors did not heed that warning though, and they fell behind minutes later. Right-back Lindon Dovey received the ball on the wing and whipped an inviting delivery into the middle, and striker Kieron Miller powerfully headed home past a helpless Heath.
Rushden responded and, after a corner had led to Shariff having a shot blocked, they won a penalty. Good work down the left released Hicks in space, and his low ball towards the back post reached Gosnal-Tyler. The winger was about to shoot before having his standing leg taken away from under him by a recovering challenge, and the referee signalled for a penalty. Following his successful spot-kick in the last league outing at Biggleswade, Hicks stepped up looking for his third goal in four games. However, though his kick sent home keeper Matthew Sargeant the wrong way, the ball slammed off the post and back into play.
After the frenetic opening exchanges, it wasn’t a surprise that the game then had a few minutes with relatively little action. Diamonds continued to look a threat going forward, though their final pass often wasn’t precise enough. In the 22nd minute Akubuine hit a low shot from just outside the area that bobbled wide of the post, but he had been brought down in the process of doing so and the referee pulled the play back for the free-kick. It was in a promising position on the edge of the area, but Acquaye’s kick flew well over the bar.
Shariff and Macleod had shown flashes of developing a thriving partnership and, in the 27th minute, they linked up well to set up a chance for Gosnal-Tyler. The winger’s shot was deflected though, and it took the pace off the strike making it easy for Sargeant to collect. He was involved again moments later when he met a dangerous ball in by Sam Brown at the back post, and his pullback almost fell for Shariff only for some last-ditch defending to clear the danger away.
The hosts hadn’t threatened too much since their goal, but a series of set-piece and crosses into the box had troubled the Diamonds defence. In the 37th minute they won a corner on the left, and the inswinging delivery was met by Miller only for the striker’s header to fly wide of the post. Rushden broke down the other end, and neat footwork by Acquaye bought him some room to drive a shot at goal that Sargeant parried away diving to his right.
Despite all the Rushden pressure, it was Alvechurch who should have doubled their lead. A free-kick from around 30 yards out was hit towards goal, and Heath spilt the strike. It ran to the onrushing Kyle Perry, but he somehow lifted his shot over with the goal gaping.
It was a big let-off for the visitors, and it proved to be the final action of the half as the referee soon signalled for half-time.
Half time: Alvechurch FC 1-0 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
The players returned to the Lye Meadow pitch which was now illuminated by the floodlights that had been turned on during the break. Following a quick count of both teams, the referee got the match back underway.
Diamonds were straight onto the front foot again, looking to force the issue and maintain the pressure. Only three minutes of the half had elapsed when Macleod got down the left and curled in a teasing cross into the area. The stretching Shariff just couldn’t reach it, but it bounced off home defender Zac Foster and forced Sargeant into a sharp save to his right.
Aside from that, it was a largely quiet and scrappy start to the half. Alvechurch were looking to play on the counter-attack and protect the lead they had, while Diamonds were looking to conjure up some quality to get back into the game. Macleod almost provided it on the hour mark when he embarked on a driving run forward, and he shifted the ball onto his right foot before firing a shot towards goal from outside the area. Sargeant got up and got a fingertip on the effort to send it over the bar for a corner. The resultant delivery was cleared away, but moments later Acquaye led a charge that saw him play a neat pass in behind for Shariff. The striker had Hicks and Macleod in the middle, but his cross was just turned away from danger and out for a corner.
It felt that Rushden were beginning to turn the screw in their attempts to find an equaliser, and Acquaye was involved again moments later. Hicks broke into the right side of the area before having a cross blocked, but he latched onto the loose ball to play it across goal. Acquaye got onto it, but the cross came at him quickly and he could only volley over the bar.
A minute later, Peaks made his first change as Matthew Slinn came on for Gosnal-Tyler. This meant Akubuine went out to the right wing, and that Slinn would play alongside Hicks. The one-way traffic continued and, soon after the change, Macleod played in a cross from the left that found Shariff. The striker did well to generate some pace on the header, but Sargeant got down to his right to make the save.
With every minute that ticked away, it began to feel more and more that Diamonds would not be able to break through. However, that all changed in the 78th minute. A loose ball dropped for Akubuine in the area, and he showed quick feet to generate some space before firing it across goal. Willets inadvertently turned the ball onto his own crossbar, and it dropped for Nabil Shariff. His instinctive header was somehow saved by Sargeant on the line, but he reacted quickly to stab the loose ball home into the far corner of the net.
The Diamonds players were quick to run back to the halfway line ready for the restart, something that showed their intentions of wanting to win the game. They almost had another only two minutes after the equaliser when good play by Shariff saw him feed Acquaye, and the dangerous winger hit a first-time strike that beat Sargeant all ends up but that whistled millimetres wide of the post.
Peaks made his second change as the hardworking Macleod was replaced by Tom Lorraine. The home side still seemed content to protect what they now had, but they did threaten five minutes from time when Miller found space just outside the area. However, his subsequent shot flew well over the bar.
A minute later, Hicks had a great chance to strike at goal following a neat pass that found him running into space in the area. However, he tried to impudently flick it behind him to the supporting Lorraine, and the ball ran away from the substitute to be cleared away.
However, it didn’t matter as Diamonds then struck in their next attack. Shariff found space in between the home defence and midfield to run forward, and he waited before finding Acquaye in space on the left. He fired a low ball in towards the near post, and Tom Lorraine timed his run perfectly to meet it and clinically flick home an effort into the far corner. It was similar to his last goal at Banbury in the FA Trophy, and it capped a carbon-copy comeback to spark jubilant scenes behind the goal.
Time still remained but, despite a few more minutes of normal time and five minutes of additional time, Alvechurch rarely looked like equalising. Perry hit an effort over from range after Hicks had a shot saved, but that was the only action as the referee blew the full-time whistle.
Full time: Alvechurch FC 1-2 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
This marked an impressive and dramatic comeback from Diamonds as they notched their first away league win in eight games. Despite falling behind early on, missing a penalty and being denied by some good saves, they continued to plug away and were rewarded by one opportunistic strike and one clinical finish. The nature of the win, the spirit shown, and the performance for large parts, will give them confidence for upcoming fixtures.
Although Alvechurch didn’t offer a huge amount going forward, they will rue the two missed opportunities at the end of the first half that could well have changed the outcome of the result. They defended stoutly for the vast majority of the contest, but were unable to stem the pressure and hold out for some much-needed points.
Diamonds’ next fixture sees them return to Hayden Road on Tuesday night (19th November, 7.45pm kick-off) to take on Brackley Town in the NFA Hillier Senior Cup quarter final, which will be a re-run of last season’s final.
Diamonds Man of the Match: Jesse Akubuine
Match report by Ollie Mortimer
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
1. Matthew Sargeant
2. Lindon Dovey
3. Zac Foster
4. Jordan Goddard
5. Kyle Morrison
6. Jamie Willets (C)
7. Javia Roberts
8. Mitchell Botfield
10. Kieron Miller
11. Stanley Asomugha
14. Kyle Perry
9. Finley Thorndike (for Roberts 79)
12. Aaron Gilpin (for Asomugha 79)
13. Neil Reeves
15. Fortune Maphosa
16. Ryan Wollacot
13. Ben Heath
2. Zack Reynolds
3. Sam Brown
4. Jack Ashton
5. Liam Dolman (C)
6. Nat Gosnal-Tyler
7. Ben Acquaye
8. Jesse Akubuine
9. Nabil Shariff
10. Jordan Macleod
11. Nathan Hicks
12. Matthew Slinn (for Gosnal-Tyler 68)
14. Patrick Casey
15. Ryan Dove (for Shariff 90+3)
16. Tom Lorraine (for Macleod 81)
17. Ben Farrell
Goals: Miller (7)
Goals: Shariff (78), Lorraine (87)
Yellow cards: Goddard (15), Dovey (32), Foster (57), Morrison (63)
Yellow cards: Ashton (17), Hicks (70), Shariff (88)