Diamonds were made to work hard for this 2-1 victory at Arlesey Town on Saturday with Ben Farrell’s 62nd minute penalty clinching the result after Joel Gyasi’s 40th minute effort had been cancelled out by Henry Musay for the home side on 51 minutes.
Callum Westwood came into the starting line-up for the suspended Luke Fairlamb with Ben Diamond and Ryan Robbins retaining the starting slots up front. Tom Lorraine was the striker to miss out dropping to the bench with Ben Ford, Cameron Gilchrist, Chief Boateng and Blaze Punter.
Top of the table Diamonds dominated early stages against bottom of the table Arlesey with Ben Diamond having and the best early chance with a run and shot that just went wide. The anticipated early goal didn’t come though and Arlesey grew into the game with good possession themselves but without a cutting edge to threaten the league leaders. Around the half-hour mark Diamonds regained the attacking momentum and totally dominated the remainder of the half. Ryan Robbins saw a shot deflected over, a series of free-kicks and corners piled on the pressure and Callum Westwood hit a screamer that the home keeper touched onto the bar. Finally the pressure tolled on 40 minutes as Joel Gyasi ran at his man again cut inside and fired into bottom corner. There was still time for a close Sam Brown header and a Ryan Robbins shot as Diamonds would feel hard done by to only lead 1-0 at half-time.
Diamonds were then penalised for a lacklustre start to the second half as an energetic Arlesey side snatched an equaliser on 51 minutes. A corner wasn’t cleared by the Diamonds defence and Henry Musay scrambled home from close range. Arlesey came close to taking a shock lead on 59 minutes as they broke 2 on 2 forcing Diamonds into some excellent scrambling defence. The pace and trickery of Joel Gyasi then lead to the vital re-taking of the lead by Diamonds on 62 minutes. He ran from distance twisted past his defenders into the box and was felled for a clear penalty. Ben Farrell stepped up and coolly fired into the top corner to restore Diamonds lead.
Arlesey stayed well in the game as Diamonds continued to struggle to maintain the fluency of recent away performances but the home side were unable to create the chances to put Diamonds under real pressure. Diamonds finished strongly though with a flurry of chances in the last 5 minutes. Joel Gyasi shotwide on 85 minutes, Ben Diamonds just failed to turn in Joe Westbrook’s excellent cross a minute later, Ben Farrell pounced on keeper error but shot wide, and Tom Lorraine was pulled down when clean through on 87.
A third goal didn’t come though and Diamonds were happy that the second half Ben Farrell penalty had clinched the 2-1 result. It saw Diamonds extend the unbeaten run to 16 without being at their best, next up a return to Hayden Road for the visit of Chalfont St Peter next Saturday.
Diamonds manager Andy Peaks made just the sole change to the starting XI that had been narrowly edged out by rivals Kettering Town in the NFA Hillier Cup on Tuesday night. Ben Diamond returned to the side at the expense of Tom Lorraine, who in turn took up a place amongst the substitutes, and Callum Westwood started a second straight game due to Luke Fairlamb’s suspension.
The two sides stepped out onto the Hitchin Road surface at polar opposites in the league table, with Arlesey bottom of the table with no home league win so far this season and Diamonds riding the crest of a wave at the top of the league and in the midst of a fifteen-game unbeaten league run. The game was still undoubtedly going to be a tough one though, and a keen sense of intrigue was felt as to how Diamonds would respond to their penalty shoot-out defeat only four days previously. After the players had shaken hands, the captains had been called and the coin-toss conducted, referee Muge blew his whistle to start the contest.
The visitors started on the front-foot and in the ascendancy, controlling possession in the early stages without creating much in the way of clear-cut opportunities. Joel Gyasi got to the byline in the 5th minute before his cross forced a corner, but the corner flashed into the side-netting without finding a Rushden man. Moments later Sam Brown rolled a pass into the path of Diamond, and after it looped up from his initial touch, he got the ball under control and turned smartly away from Ash Farooqui before driving forward. He reached the edge of the penalty area before firing a low right-footed shot at goal that flew just wide of the near post.
The game was quite scrappy with both sides looking to build possession and gain a foothold in the contest, and a lot of the early play took place in the middle-third of the pitch as a result. There was a moment of worry for Diamonds when Westwood took a knock and required treatment, but shortly afterwards he returned to the field of play and was able to continue. A minute after that Rushden created their second goalscoring chance. Diamond capitalised on a home defensive slip to turn into space and run across the face of the area before being tackled by Cade Stephens-Abbey. However the loose ball fell to Ryan Robbins, but his goalbound shot was deflected up and over the crossbar by home defender Henry Musay. The resultant corner came to nothing, and the score remained deadlocked after half of the opening period.
Robbins was involved again moments afterwards when he strongly ran down the left before being fouled just outside the box. Gyasi stepped up to curl a dangerous ball into the area, but it was well defended and headed away for a corner by an Arlesey defender. This sparked a run of three corner-kicks in succession, and the final one found Brown only for the Rushden man to head over the bar. Diamonds were starting to look a little more dangerous as the game ticked past the half-hour mark, and were beginning to build attacks that were working the home backline. In the 38th minute they were inches away from taking the lead. Westwood moved forward on the right and, after using a run on his outside as a decoy, stepped further forward before hitting a screamer that flew towards the goal. Home keeper Lewis Elsom stretched with his left arm and got the faintest, and ultimately important, touch on the ball to flick it onto the crossbar before it cannoned back out into play.
However, the away side didn’t have to wait long to get the first goal of the contest. Brown played a neat ball from just past the halfway line into the path of Joel Gyasi just outside the area on the left, and he in turn cut inside to run along the edge of the area, and past a couple of defensive challenges, before firing an accurate shot past Elsom’s despairing dive and into the corner of the net. It was the winger’s ninth goal of the campaign, and gave Diamonds the all-important breakthrough shortly before the half-time break. The wide-man was involved again in the 44th minute when Diamonds won a free-kick on the left wing, and he curled the set-piece into the area. It found a completely free and leaping Brown at the far post and, though he made a good connection, the header went straight to Elsom. There was chance for one final opportunity of the half, and this also fell to the visitors. Robbins and Diamond showed neat link-up play to give the former a chance to shoot at goal, but his effort was well saved low down by a diving Elsom.
Moments later referee Muge signalled the end of the half, one in which Diamonds had largely controlled without being at their free-flowing best and one in which they held an important advantage at the interval.
Half Time: Arlesey Town 0-1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
Before the players emerged from the changing rooms ready for the second half the attendance was confirmed as 254, and then shortly following that both teams did make their way back out onto the pitch. After a quick count of both players the referee got the game back underway.
The early stages of the half, like in the opening period, were slightly scrappy and very well-fought, with both sides looking to gain an advantage and a foothold upon which to build. The first chance of the period fell to Rushden, with Robbins finding some space in the middle of the pitch to run forward and hit an effort towards goal. However, it was deflected and the pace was consequently taken out of the shot, and so Elsom was easily able to collect. A minute later, and almost out of nowhere, Arlesey grabbed an equaliser. They won a corner on the right, and though it was initially easily cleared at the near post by Diamond, it fell for a home defender to loft a cross back into the area. Arlesey captain Joe Steele and Rushden captain Liam Dolman challenged for the header, and it fell kindly for Steele to hook an effort goalwards. It found Henry Musay yards out from goal, and he simply placed a shot into the corner of the net from point-blank range.
It was undoubtedly a setback for Diamonds, and home tails were evidently up as they seeked to get another goal and turn the game completely on its head. Shortly before the hour mark they countered forward quickly, and the away defence had to stand strong to the clear the danger for a corner. The resultant set-piece ultimately came to nothing, and only three minutes later Diamonds suddenly responded. Ben Farrell picked up the ball in midfield before running forward and slipping a precise pass in behind the home full-back for Gyasi to run onto. The winger powered into the area before being dragged down by Bill Plumpton, and the referee showed no hesitation in sounding the whistle and pointing to the penalty-spot. After his successful spot-kick in the last away league outing at Moneyfields, Ben Farrell stepped up to take the kick. He hit his effort towards the top left-hand corner and, despite Elsom guessing the right way, the ball flew past the keeper and into the net to re-establish Diamonds’ lead.
The game then settled into a quiet period with no clear-cut chances for either side, something which suited Rushden with them being the ones in the lead. In the 69th minute Tom Lorraine was summoned to replace Robbins, and then soon afterwards the hosts made a change also in an attempt to get back into the contest. However, any threat that the home side did pose was well marshalled and nullified by the Diamonds defence, and they were able to manage the game effectively as the time ticked away. The match moved into the final ten minutes, and then the final five minutes, without any real action of note, but a chance was created by the visitors in the 85th minute. A short corner was worked between Diamond and Gyasi, but after the latter found room for a shot, the effort went just wide of goal. Moments later a ball over the halfway line from Dolman found Lorraine, and he in turn found the overlapping Westwood sprinting down the right. The wing-back took a touch before flashing a cross into the box, but Diamond couldn’t make a true connection and his header flashed wide of the post.
Rushden were still looking to well and truly put the game beyond doubt, and it appeared that Lorraine would have a chance to do so in the 86th minute when he was almost found clean-through on goal only for him to be hauled down in his tracks. Joe Curtis dinked the subsequent free-kick into the area, and it eventually dropped for the impressive Diamond, but he ultimately couldn’t get his final effort on target.
The time ticked into stoppage-time with Diamonds not suffering any moment of panic or alarm despite Arlesey’s hard-work and application, and soon afterwards the referee signalled for the end of the game to confirm Rushden’s sixteenth consecutive unbeaten league match, their ninth straight away league success and to maintain their three-point lead at the top of the table.
Full Time: Arlesey Town 1-2 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
Though they were not at their free-flowing and dominant best, Diamonds did enough to come through a potential banana-skin. Credit must go to the hosts for the way they battled and made life difficult for the visitors, but ultimately Rushden found a way to gain the all-important three points. They reacted well to Arlesey’s equaliser by quickly re-establishing the lead again, and they then saw out the game effectively and efficiently without any scares. This is particularly of credit to the Diamonds backline who now have the best defensive record in terms of least goals conceded in the top eight divisions of English football. Joel Gyasi, with one goal and one assist, and Ben Diamond in particular were dangerous throughout, but praise goes to the whole team for the way they battled out a victory whilst not playing as well as they are capable of. Ultimately Diamonds stay top of the Southern League Division One East, and they are one game and one win closer to their promotion dreams. They return to league action on Saturday (February 17th) at Hayden Road when they will face play-off chasing Chalfont St Peter in a 3pm kick-off.
Diamonds Man of the Match: Joel Gyasi
Match Report by Ollie Mortimer (Initial Match Summary by Paul Judd)
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
1. Lewis Elsom
2. Bill Plumpton
3. Cade Stephens-Abbey
4. Ash Farooqui
5. Joe Steele (C)
6. Henry Musay
7. Taz Andrews
8. Rafe Goodman
9. Taylor Rhiney
10. Wes Iroegbu
11. Arti Krasniqi
12. Ryan Lamond
14. Charlie Scott
15. Tony Williams
16. Sam Tamakloe (for Stephens-Abbey 79)
17. Dion Gibbs
13. Ben Heath
2. Callum Westwood
3. Sam Brown
4. Jack Westbrook
5. Liam Dolman (C)
6. Jack Ashton
7. Joel Gyasi
8. Ben Farrell
9. Ben Diamond
10. Ryan Robbins
11. Joe Curtis
12. Cameron Gilchrist
14. Chief Boateng
15. Blaize Punter
16. Ben Ford
18. Tom Lorraine (for Robbins 69)
Goals: Musay (51)
Goals: Gyasi (40), Farrell (pen 62)
Referee: G. Muge
Assistants: T. Ratherham, R. Trinder