Diamonds were held to a closely-fought draw at Barwell on Saturday afternoon.
The hosts had the opening chance of the contest when striker Sam Hollis span well on the edge of the box before his goalbound effort was blocked away by Alex Collard, but the Diamonds then had a superb opportunity to take the lead only moments later. The returning Zack Reynolds sped into the area before being brought down, and the referee showed no hesitation in pointing to the penalty spot. Ben Farrell stepped up, but his precise effort clipped the crossbar and went over. Hollis had a good chance for Barwell when he found himself in space on the right of the area, but he fired a low effort harmlessly wide of the far post. Jack Bowen had a flash of an opening for the visitors when the ball bounced up for him in the box, though his half-volley went comfortably wide. Barwell were shading possession and utilising the ball slightly better, and one dangerous break saw a man through on goal only for Reynolds to speed back superbly to make what could have been a goal-saving challenge to see out the danger. Diamonds then threatened when Bowen drifted a header over, and San Johnson jinked into space before slashing an effort well wide, but it remained goalless at half-time.
Rushden began the second half with greater urgency and intensity and, after Bowen had a goal ruled out for offside, they took the lead. A ball in from the left by Declan Rogers was cleverly headed back by Bowen, and it ran for Ben Diamond to clinically dispatch a 25 yard strike past the keeper and into the back of the net. Sam Brown then shot narrowly wide of the far post, and the hosts responded by making a double substitution. One of these, Jahvan Davidson-Miller, made an instant impact as he levelled the game. Captain Brady Hickey slotted a nice through ball into his path, and the substitute kept his cool to confidently slot past Ben Heath into the corner of the net. The scorer picked up an injury as a result of the effort, and had to be replaced. Tom Lorraine was introduced, and Diamonds came close to a winner when a clearance cannonned off Bowen and ran for Rogers with the keeper out of his goal, but the midfielder’s goalward shot was hacked clear close to the line. However, the hosts were looking for a winner also, and they almost got one when a low ball from the right looked like it would be an easy tap-in for a man at the far post. However, Reynolds again got back in the nick of time to stop a certain goal. Nathan Hicks and Ben Acquaye also came on, and a superb run forward by Reynolds saw him feed Collard who in turn found Hicks on the left of the area. He cut inside and shot towards the near post, but the keeper confidently saved the effort. Both sides had some set-piece opportunities, with Diamonds having a number of long throws into the area, but these were largely well defended as both sides were forced to settle for a share of the spoils in the end.
Manager Andy Peaks made just the solitary change from the starting XI that had beaten Needham Market at Hayden Road last time out. There was a welcome return to the side for Zack Reynolds after his recent spell out through injury so Nathan Hicks, who deputised at right-back in Reynolds’ absence in the last game, took a place amongst the substitutes. It was a strong-looking bench that also contained Jack Ashton, Joe Curtis, Ben Acquaye and Tom Lorraine.
The two sides stepped out onto the Kirkby Road playing surface on a cloudy but quite mild afternoon in Leicestershire. The hosts entered the contest 18th in the table having only won three home league games all season, and they had not won any of their last six on their own turf. Conversely, Diamonds came into the match in fifth place and had only lost three of their last 20 league games. However, they had lost their last two consecutive away matches, and so an intriguing clash was in store. It was made even more anticipated due to the last game played here between the two sides in October 2015 when it finished 2-2 in the FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round. That game had featured a never-to-be-forgotten 95th minute equaliser from Liam Dolman to force a replay back at The Dog & Duck, one that drew a record attendance but resulted in a Barwell victory ultimately. After the pre-match formalities had been completed, referee Andrew Genders blew to begin the contest.
After a quiet opening five minutes, the first chance arose for the hosts. Striker Sam Hollis did well to turn just inside the area before space opened up for him to shoot towards the far post, but Alex Collard did excellently to slide in and block the goalbound effort away from danger. Moments later, Diamonds had a brilliant chance to take the lead themselves. Jack Bowen collected the ball down the right, and he cleverly backheeled a pass into the path of the galloping Reynolds. The full-back got into the area, skipped inside one challenge and then drew a clumsy challenge from a covering defender. Reynolds went down, and the referee didn’t hesitate to blow his whistle and signal a penalty. Regular spot-kick taker Ben Farrell placed the ball down and took his customary short run-up, but the effort towards the top-right corner flicked off the crossbar and out for a goal-kick.
It was a superb opportunity to break the deadlock early in the contest, but Rushden had to regroup from the setback and go again. Barwell responded by winning a free-kick just ahead of the halfway line, and the ball was delivered deep into the area only for defender Henry Eze to float a header over the top of Ben Heath’s goal. They created a much clearer chance in the 17th minute when Brady Hickey, who had scored the winning goal in the FA Cup replay between the sides in late 2015, played a precise volleyed pass into the path of Hollis in behind the Diamonds defence. He ran into the right side of the area and faced up Heath, but he wastefully fired well wide of the far post.
Reynolds was proving a danger everytime he accelerated down the right, and he was the chief source of the visitors’ danger for most of the opening period. One moment saw him get into a crossing position and float it towards the area, though Liam Castle in the home goal was able to come out and collect after an initial juggle. A minute later Farrell did well to win possession in his own half before he played it to Declan Rogers. He in turn played it around Eze into the path of Bowen who had chance to shoot, but his half-volley ultimately went wide of the near post.
The hosts were having the better of the ball and utilising it more effectively, but neither side were able to force the other goalkeeper into a lot of work. Just before the half-hour mark Danny Durkin got around Dolman and played a threatening cross into the area, but the away defence did well to deal with it. Further strong defending was required shortly afterwards when a counter-attack saw Nigel Julien play a lofted though-ball over the top of the high defensive line, and Durkin was able to run in behind. He reached the left of the area and was about to pull the trigger, but Reynolds had sped back and made a crucial tackle to stop the attack and to stop a potential goal.
It had been an even and nip-and-tuck affair up to now, and it continued to be until half-time. A minute after Reynolds’ goal-saving challenge play swung down the other end, and Rushden won a throw-in on the right. Brown’s long pitch into the near post was flicked on by Collard, and it looped up for Bowen to head towards goal. However, the effort drifted over the bar and onto the roof of the net. Moments later Sam Johnson was able to get onto the ball for one of the first times in the game, and he cleverly jinked into space before slicing an effort high and wide of the target.
The final few minutes of the half passed without any real action of note, and so Genders blew the half-time whistle with the scoreline firmly deadlocked.
Half Time: Barwell FC 0-0 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
Both sets of players made their way onto the pitch from the changing rooms, with most thoughts during the interval focusing on if the game would open up, and who would be able to score the all-important first goal of the contest. The referee quickly checked that everything was present and correct, and he then signalled to get the game back underway.
It appeared that Diamonds had shifted from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2 for the second half, with Rogers moving out to the left wing and Diamond proving a closer support to Bowen up front. After Bowen had a goal correctly ruled out for offside, this paid dividends in the 50th minute when the visitors took the lead. Rogers was fed down the left and was able to get forward before he crossed towards Bowen just inside the area. Defender Sam Preston slipped slightly which allowed the ball to reach Bowen, and he showed good awareness to cushion a header back into the path of Ben Diamond. The Diamonds number 10 was in a central position inside the D, and he fired a first-time half-volley towards goal and past the despairing dive of Castle into the back of the net. It was the striker’s 11th goal of the season, and his last away strike had seen Diamonds win 1-0 at Halesowen at the end of February.
However, there was still a lot of time and plenty of work to be done. Rushden kept up the pressure and, only a few minutes later, they built another attack through Diamond on the left. He slipped a pass inside to the supporting Brown, and the full-back showed quick feet to jink away from Jamie Towers and to shoot towards the far post. It looked goalbound for a moment, but it ended up going wide of the upright.
The hosts responded by making a double substitution as Jai Rowe and Jahvan Davidson-Miller replaced Towers and Durkin. Less than five minutes after these changes, Barwell found a leveller. Julien and Hickey exchanged passes in a neat one-two just ahead of the halfway line, and the latter slipped a neat pass through the middle of the Diamonds defence for Jahvan Davidson-Miller to latch onto. The substitute found himself through on Heath, and he showed confidence and composure to slot a law effort into the corner of the net. The Barwell attacker had scored the goal in the corresponding fixture at Hayden Road in October, and he had brought the scores level here. However, he went down as a result of the follow-through of him finding the net and, after some initial treatment, he had to be hobble off to be replaced by Alex Tomkinson.
The hosts now had their tails up as a result of the goal, and they threatened again two minutes after the goal only for Brown to halt the attack with a well-timed tackle. Diamonds then made a substitution of their own as Lorraine took the place of Johnson who appeared to pick up a knock in the first half.
An exciting final twenty minutes lie in wait, with Barwell looking dangerous on the counter-attack and Diamonds looking to press for an all-important winner in their play-off push. Reynolds was booked for a challenge close to the halfway line, and the hosts then won a free-kick halfway inside their attacking half that Tomkinson curled towards the far post. It found a home man free to head towards goal, but the header drifted wide of the upright with Heath covering the effort. Hollis was then booked for the hosts for fouling Collard.
Play was swinging from end to end, and the match was looking like it really could go either way. One moment Hickey was striking over the bar for the hosts, and then Diamonds were down the other end as Farrell played a cross into the area from the right. It bounced awkwardly up off a defender and seemingly up onto his arm, but the referee waved away the loud appeals. Barwell were swift to break away, and space opened up in midfield for Julien to move forward. He then fed a pass to his right to the arriving Jake Whitmore, and he looked up before whipping a low cross towards the back post. It looked certain that Tomkinson would tap home into the empty net, but Reynolds made another goal-saving interception before the Barwell man was penalised for fouling the Diamonds full-back.
From the resultant free-kick, Rushden came close to a winner. Heath’s long ball was inadvertently flicked on by Eze, and Bowen and Preston fought to reach the ball as it ran towards the area. Castle came out to try and clear away, but his kick cannoned off Preston and out towards the left of the area. Rogers was able to get onto it with the keeper and a couple of defenders desperately trying to pelt back, and his shot towards goal was blocked by Preston just before the line and the defender cleared it away.
Diamonds then came close again a minute before the end of the regulatory 90 minutes. Reynolds embarked on a terrific slalom run that took him past three players in midfield and Eze in defence. The ball bounced slightly away to Collard who cleverly volleyed it out to Hicks, who had come on alongside Acquaye moments before, on the left. He had four options in Reynolds, Collard, Bowen and Lorraine at the far post, and he himself was in plenty of space. He took a touch to steady himself, and then whipped a low shot towards the near post that Castle did well to hold onto without spilling.
Barwell had had a number of set-pieces which had proven dangerous, and had required Diamonds to defend strongly to clear them away. Conversely Diamonds won a few throw-in chances that Brown dispatched into the area each time, but the home defence did well to deal with them all. Five minutes of stoppage-time were signalled, but these were played without any chances or signs of a winner. The hosts did win a corner on the right, but the near-post delivery was volleyed away by Collard. As soon as he had done, the referee blew the whistle for full-time.
Full Time: Barwell FC 1-1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
This was a fair result in the end, with both sides creating a similar amount of chances and both looking dangerous late on in chasing a win. The first half, aside from Farrell’s missed penalty, was close and only featured a handful of chances, but the second period was a lot more lively and saw both Barwell and Diamonds threaten more regularly. The visitors will be disappointed that they weren’t able to hold onto their lead for longer, and for the way that Davidson-Miller was able to get through the heart of the defence to net the equaliser, but they could have won it through Rogers’ or Hicks’ opportunities. The missed penalty ultimately may have proved a turning point, and if that had have gone in then it may well have proven to be a different game altogether. However, Farrell has helped secure points at St Neots and at home to Biggleswade with successful spot-kicks earlier in the season, and if his attempt was a few centimetres lower here it would have been the perfect penalty. Rushden are still well in the play-off picture with six league games remaining, and their next match sees them return to Hayden Road to take on in-form Royston Town on Saturday 30 March, 3pn kick-off.
Diamonds Man of the Match: Zack Reynolds
Match Report by Ollie Mortimer
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
1. Liam Castle
2. Elliot Percival
3. Eliot Putman
4. Henry Eze
5. Sam Preston
6. Jamie Towers
7. Nigel Julien
8. Jake Whitmore
9. Sam Hollis
10. Brady Hickey (C)
11. Danny Durkin
12. Eddy Nisevic
14. Dominic Brown-Hill
15. Jai Rowe (for Towers 57)
16. Alex Tomkinson (for Davidson-Miller 65)
17. Jahvan Davidson-Miller (for Durkin 57)
13. Ben Heath
2. Zack Reynolds
3. Sam Brown
4. Jack Westbrook
5. Liam Dolman (C)
6. Alex Collard
7. Sam Johnson
8. Ben Farrell
9. Jack Bowen
10. Ben Diamond
11. Nathan Hicks
12. Joe Curtis
14. Ben Acquaye (for Rogers 87)
15. Tom Lorraine (for Johnson 67)
16. Jack Ashton
17. Nathan Hicks (for Farrell 87)
Goals: Davidson-Miller (60)
Goals: Diamond (50)
Yellow cards: Hollis (76)
Yellow cards: Reynolds (74)
Referee: Andrew Genders
Assistants: Kurt Bartlett, Callum Boocock