Basford United 2-1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds

Diamonds suffered late heartbreak as Basford United scored in the 90th minute to complete a comeback victory on a sweltering afternoon at Greenwich Avenue.

The hosts had the better of the opening exchanges, with strong striker Greg Smith having a diving header deflected narrowly wide before Dean Snekder made the first of several crucial saves to deny Anthony Dwyer who was through on goal. Snedker then saved from Smith, Adam Chapman had a goalbound strike blocked behind and Evangelos-Nikalaos Empochontsif survived big claims for handball inside the area. Basford had another close-range strike palmed away, but Diamonds improved as the half went on as Miguel Ngwa had a bouncing strike held, another strike slashed off-target and a Paddy Casey rising effort over the bar. They could have led just before half-time when debutant Conor Tee was released in behind the defence, but his fierce attempt was palmed away.

Rushden forged ahead inside four minutes of the second period when Casey scored his first goal for the club after a cool low strike into the far corner. Empochontsif came close with a looping header as Diamonds looked confident on the ball and settled, but that changed when Snedker made two more good saves before Empochontsif was penalised for a foul inside the box, despite several claims that the defender took the ball. Dwyer confidently dispatched the penalty, and both sides proceeded to come close as Connor Furlong had a shot kicked away and Snedker palmed away a curling strike. He was powerless moments before full-time though when Basford turned over possession and broke down the right which led to a low cross being poked home by substitute Tyreace Palmer.

First half

Manager Burgess made two changes to the side that had opened the 2021/22 Southern League campaign with a goalless draw at home to Needham Market last Saturday. Matt Lars Fossen’s international clearance had been granted during the week, and he made his debut at the heart of defence. Conor Tee had also signed on Friday, and he started in the number 10 role behind Jack Connor in a 4-2-3-1 system.

League newcomers Basford had transferred across from the Northern Premier League Premier Division where they had finished third-from-bottom but had escaped relegation courtesy of their points-per-game record. They had been defeated 3-1 at Royston last time out, but they started on the front foot in this contest and came close a few times in the opening ten minutes. Anthony Dwyer’s cross towards the near post found strike partner Greg Smith whose diving header was deflected wide. A home corner then was dangerous before being cleared, and moments later Dwyer was played through on goal only for Snedker to make himself big and pull off an important save.

Tee did well to win a corner for Diamonds to relieve some of the pressure, but Basford were soon back on the attack as Empochontsif made a strong block to stop Dwyer’s strike and Snedker then made a sightly unorthodox save to chest away Smith’s flicked header at the near post. Soon afterwards a home ball was poked in from the left that ran for Adam Chapman to strike from close-range, but an important sliding block deflected it behind for a corner. From that set-piece Empochontsif appeared to handle the ball as it dropped from the sky, but referee Ashley Royston remained unmoved against the loud penalty appeals.

Shortly before the first scheduled drinks break, the visitors were able to break forwards through Miguel Ngwa after he was found by Nathan Hicks. The tricky winger cut inside from the left and struck towards goal, though keeper Kieran Preston was able to easily hold the bouncing effort.

There was a worrying moment on the half-hour mark when full-back Courtney Lashley did brilliantly to win a corner on the left but, in doing so, he collided into the advertising hoardings. After receiving some treatment on his shoulder, he was unable to continue and was replaced by Ryan Hughes in a like-for-like change.

Diamonds were almost punished ten minutes before half-time when a loose pass in defence was capitalised upon, but Snedker again saved his side by parrying the resulting strike. The rebound ran for Richard Thornhill only for his shot to fly well over the bar.

Rushden then began to get more of a foothold in the rest of the half, as they first won a free-kick in a promising position only for Ngwa’s delivery to be easily headed away. He then jinked inside and out after accelerating down the left, but he snatched at his eventual effort and it went wide of the near post.

Just before half-time Casey shot over after tiptoeing forward into space, and a minute later they had arguably the best chance of the first 45 minutes. A neat exchange down the right between Connor Furlong and Tee led a precise through ball that fed the latter in on goal. He drew the keeper and fired it goalwards, but Preston batted it away from danger.

Half time: Basford United FC 0-0 AFC Rushden & Diamonds

Second half

Diamonds made the perfect start to the second period as they took the lead. Empochontsif drilled a tremendous diagonal pass out to the right side and Furlong who got to the byline and checked back inside before his cross was deflected towards the near post. It was brought down by Paddy Casey who took one touch before dispatching a low strike past Preston and into the far corner of the net for the defender’s first goal for the club.

They kept up the pressure and, only moments later, a corner from the right reached Empochontsif whose header across looked dangerous only for it to be cleared away close to goal. Basford responded and after a couple of good defensive headers away, Snedker had to rush out of goal to nick the ball away from Smith. Two minutes later, the keeper made a superb fingertip save to deny a long-ranger from Joshua Barnes.

Midway through the half, there was a huge moment of controversy. Snedker made another save, this time from a deflected strike, and Empochontsif seemed to win the loose ball in a 50-50 tackle with a home man on the rebound. However the referee quickly pointed to the spot despite plenty of Diamonds protests, and Anthony Dwyer stepped up to slot it past Snedker to level matters.

Basford’s confidence and momentum naturally went up, and a period of pressure saw some last-ditch defending including a vital Empochontsif interception after a pullback from the right. Jenson Cooper replaced Jack Connor in Rushden’s first change, and Thornhill then curled a free-kick wide from a promising position.

Diamonds came close to taking the lead late on when Furlong accelerated forward before cutting in from the right and seeing a low effort kicked away by Preston. Play swept up the other end and Snedker was forced to make a diving save to his right to beat away a curling strike.

Tyrese Surtherland was also introduced from the bench, and he was quickly into the action to win a free-kick around 30 yards out. Tee assumed responsibility but slipped on the 3G surface as he made contact with the ball, and so it span comfortably wide of the far post.

As the time ticked into the 90th minute, Diamonds won another free-kick but this time in their own half. The kick was launched long, but possession was swiftly turned over as the hosts sprang onto the attack. A neat ball down the right was then played across the box, and substitute Tyreace Palmer reached it just ahead of Snedker to poke it past the keeper and into the roof of the net.

There wasn’t much time for Rushden to react and, aside from a couple of Furlong crosses that were dealt with, they were unable to find an equaliser as they were consigned to a defeat in their first away game of the season.

Full time: Basford United FC 2-1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds

Diamonds will understandably be devastated to concede late on when it appeared they would claim a point, but Basford largely had the better of proceedings and created a number of opportunities only to be denied by some excellent Snedker stops. The visitors ended the first half well and started the second period on the front foot, but they sometimes struggled to keep hold of the ball and build consistent pressure. There was undoubtedly several positives to take from the match though, and Diamonds created some good opportunities that could have led to more on another day.

It’s a quick turnaround for their next game when they return to Hayden Road on Tuesday (16 August, 7.45pm kick-off) to entertain Hitchin Town.

Diamonds Man of the Match: Paddy Casey

Attendance: 261

Match report by Ollie Mortimer

Diamonds: Snedker, Casey, Lashley (Hughes 32), Fossen, Furlong, Akubuine, Connor (Cooper 74), Hicks (C), Tee, Empochontsif, Ngwa (Sutherland 87) (subs not used: Agemoh-Davies, Corden)

Diamonds goal: Casey (49)

Basford: Kieran Preston, Owen Betts, Mitchell Tait, Riece Bertram, Brad McGowan, Adam Chapman (Ben Starkie 58), Declan Dunn, Matthew Thornhill (C), Greg Smith (Tyreace Palmer 69), Anthony Dwyer (Courey Grantham 88), Joshua Barnes (subs not used: Harvey Grice, Gianni Musson)

Basford goals: Dwyer (pen 67) Palmer (90)

Basford yellows: Betts (57)