AFC Rushden & Diamonds were beaten 2-1 by an in form Arlesey Town side in Bedfordshire on Tuesday night.
Diamonds had started brightly with Eliot Sandy seeing a header coming back of the post and Claudiu Hoban missing an almost open goal from a difficult bouncing ball in the first 10 minutes. They took the lead on 18 as Andy Hall fed Eliot Sandy with back to goal on the edge of the box where for the big striker turned his man with a deft touch and fired first time into the bottom corner. Arlesey earned a penalty on 31 as Connor Kennedy tripped Saul Williams just inside the box. Christian Tavernier struck hard a low to the left corner but Matt Finlay made a brilliant full length save to keep his side ahead at half-time.
Diamonds had two excellent chance in the first minutes of the second half through Brad Harris stabbing at goal from a loose corner and James Jepson firing a rasping half-volley from 20 yards that keeper Nick Thompson held low down. But it was a quick break from the home side that earned them a second penalty on 48 as Tony Williams was tripped again right on the edge of the box. Jevani Brown found the net this time although Matt Finlay came close to another save.
The home side took a deserved lead on 65 as Tavernier broke from half-way and fed Tony Williams to slide the ball past Matt Finlay. They had more chances to kill the game as Diamonds struggled to muster a meaningful reaction in what became an increasingly disappointing second half but they did have chances through an Andy Hall free-kick that was just tipped over, a close range effort from Liam Dolman that was cleared off the line, and an Eliot Sandy volley from the edge of the box that was deflected over.
Manager Andy Peaks made one enforced change to the side that achieved a first win in 6 games at Leighton Town on Saturday with Brad Harris coming into centre midfield in place of injured Tom Manship. Alex Vitue returned to the bench in place of Harris alongside Shawn Richards, Jon Stevenson who had impressed in the second half at Leighton, Dan Quigley and Lewis Leslie.
The pattern for the first half of this re-arranged game was set in the first few minutes with end to end play producing two good chances in the first 5 minutes. Tony Williams turned on the edge of the box after a neat move for Arlesey on 3 minutes and hit a hard low effort from 18 yards that Matt Finlay brilliantly saved at full stretch.
Just a minute later Tom Lorraine made a surging run down the right his whipped cross finding Eliot Sandy who guided his header past keeper Thompson but saw it crash back off the post.
Diamonds were bright and purposeful in possession as they looked to build on the win at Leighton Town on Saturday and really should have taken the lead on 8 minutes. Tom Lorraine again surged down the right flank turned and fired in a cross that was deflected past diving keeper Thompson into the path of Claudiu Hoban who had a virtually open goal but was unable to get his volleyed effort on target.
Arlesey bounced back with an effort from Lewis Wilson that Matt Finlay watched just clear the bar, and a free-kick that bounced through the box from the left that forced Finlay to tip over at full stretch.
Claudiu Hoban then hit a firm volley just over before the first goal came to the visitors on 18. Andy Hall won the ball in midfield, fed Eliot Sandy with back to goal on the edge of the box only for the big striker to turn his man with a deft touch and fire first time into the bottom corner for his second goal in Diamonds colours.
Diamonds immediately pressed forward in a spell that came close to winning them the game. Eliot Sandy rose to meet a Claudiu Hoban cross at the far post but just guided his header wide. And Tom Lorraine combined again with Sandy to get deep into the box in a dangerous position before an excellent block by Nathan Olukani.
Arlesey were still breaking quickly though to pressure the Diamonds back four and from another swift break Saul Williams was tripped just inside the area by Connor Kennedy and awarded with a penalty. Christian Tavernier hit a hard low effort towards the left hand bottom corner but Matt Finlay got across brilliantly again to turn it away.
Jack Ashton then got onto a deep free-kick in trademark fashion only to see his header go just wide, and Tony Williams put a header just wide for Arlesey at the near post from a dangerous cross in a breathless finish to the half.
Half-time: Arlesey Town 0 – AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1
Diamonds looked to have started the second half really well creating two good chances in the opening 2 minutes. Not for the first time a corner created mayhem in the Arlesey defence eventually falling to Brad Harris whose close range header was blocked on the line. Just a minute later the ball fell to James Jepson 25 yards out and his first time half-volley was visciously hit but straight at Arlesey keeper Thompson.
But it was another quick break from the constantly energetic Arlesey midfield that produced their second penalty of the game and set the pattern for the half on 48. Tavernier ran from deep past a couple of defenders and went to ground on the edge of the box when finally challenged. The referee appeared to initially consider a free-kick outside the box but once he reached the place of the challenge he pointed to the spot.
Jevani Brown stepped up and struck the ball into the bottom right corner with Matt Finlay coming close to making another great save.
Arlesey sensed Diamonds growing discomfort with their performance and the referee’s decisions and pressed home their second half advantage impressively. As the pressure mounted Matt Finlay was forced to tip away a dangerous corner and Joe Steele seized on another half cleared corner to fire a fizzing effort through the crowded box but just wide of the left hand post.
Tom Lorraine relieved the pressure with a glancing header just wide from an Andy Hall cross but the seemingly inevitable 2nd goal for Arlesey came from yet another swift break on 65. Diamonds lost possession in midfield as they were on the attack allowing Christian Tavernier to sprint from half-way to the edge of the Diamonds box where he slid in Tony Williams for a cool low finish.
They nearly added a third minutes later after Jevani Brown ran deep into the box at the end of a mazy run his low cross shot saved on the line by Matt Finlay.
Diamonds tried to regain control of the game but were frequently let down by a poor touch, a miscontrol, or on extra touch that allowed a tackle and interception. Arlesey were defending quickly and in packs denying Diamonds time on the ball and the away side frustrations with the officials grew.
A free kick was earned 25 yards from goal that allowed Andy Hall to fire an excellent dipping effort that keeper Thompson reacted late to but managed to tip over, and Liam Dolman came close to stabbing home twice as a corner was not properly cleared by the home side.
Arlesey were showing the form of a side from a higher division – they were relegated form Southern Premier last season – rather than the side that had struggled this season and been beaten 6-1 at the Dog & Duck. They should have killed the game on 78 as a great run and cross found Lewis Wilson clear in the box but he scuffed his effort from close range.
A double substitution with Shawn Richards and Lewis Leslie introduced and a change in formation tried to energise Diamonds efforts and it did produce two late efforts from a hard working Eliot Sandy. He had a volley from 18 yards deflected just over the bar on 83 and got his head to a long throw from Connor Kennedy to produce a full length save by Thompson on 86.
It wasn’t to be though and Arlesey held out for a well-deserved win thanks to an impressive second half turn around.
Final Score: Arlesey Town 2 – AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1
This was the proverbial game of two halves for Diamonds. They did enough to be out of site in the first half and despite a weaker second half performance had the chances to have earned something from the game bit it wasn’t to be. An impressively improved Arlesey side deserved their win and inflicted Diamonds 5th defeat in 7 games. Still in the play-off places Diamonds will most likely need to win their last three home games and take something from the crucial away game at new leaders Egham Town on the penultimate game of the season.
Next up for Diamonds are back to back home games against Hanwell Town on Saturday and Barton Rovers a week tonight.
Reporters Man of the Match: Eliot Sandy
Match Report by Paul Judd
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
1. Nick Thompson
2. Nathan Olukani
3. Luke Abraham
4 Jevani Brown
5. Joe Steele
6. Matt Hall
7. Saul Williams
8. Christian Tavernier
9. Tony Williams
10. Lewis Wilson
11. Dylan Gittens
12. S. Powell
14. S. Willett (for S.Williams 87)
15. S. Beesley (for Gittens 90 +4)
16. T. Rhiney
17. B. Plumpton
17. Matt Finlay
2. Connor Kennedy
3. Jason Lee
4. Jack Ashton
5. Liam Dolman
6. Brad Harris
7. Andy Hall
8. James Jepson
9. Eliot Sandy
10. Tom Lorraine
11. Claudiu Hoban
12. Shawn Richards (for Hoban 79)
13. Alex Vitue
14. Jon Stevenson (for Lorraine 61)
15. Dan Quigley
16. Lewis Leslie (for Harris 79)
Goals: Brown Pen (48), T.Williams (65)
Goals: Sandy (18)
Yellow Cards: Jepson (68),
Referee: Mark Wardell
Assistants: Martyn Gospel and Sam Anderson
Updated player profiles with appearance and goalscoring details are now available.