Diamonds hit a crucial late equaliser to keep their promotion hopes still in their own hands at Beaconsfield on Saturday afternoon.
Rushden could have led inside the opening couple of minutes when a swift break down the right saw Joel Gyasi pull it back for Tom Lorraine, who in turn flicked it towards a couple of nearby Diamonds men, but a home defender just stepped in to clear the ball away in the nick of time. Gyasi was involved again when his cross ran for Luke Fairlamb, and he jinked to the byline before hitting a cross-shot over the bar, and shortly afterwards the two linked up again. This time Fairlamb was found by Spencer Weir-Daley, and the winger cut inside before clipping a precise ball to the back post for the unmarked Tom Lorraine and Gyasi. However, it just wouldn’t fall ideally for the latter and the ball bounced out of play for a goal-kick. In this spell the hosts had looked confident in possession and had threatened with quick attacks, and in the 19th minute one of these paid off. Bajram Pashaj sped down the left wing away from Callum Westwood before running into the area and drilling a low centre across goal. Sam Brown was unable to clear, and it fell perfectly for Callum Webb to sweep home from a few yards out. The visitors reacted well to the goal though, and began a period of pressure and momentum that sparked some opportunities. Firstly Weir-Daley and Gyasi linked up well as the former set the latter away with a lobbed through-ball, and the winger ran into the area before seeing his attempted cross crucially blocked by a covering defender. Shortly afterwards Fairlamb laid the ball back to Liam Dolman, and he hit a fizzing effort that looked goalbound until it inadvertently hit his teammate Joe Curtis and was deflected away to safety. Two minutes later another chipped ball through found the ever-dangerous Gyasi, and he allowed the ball to bounce up before sweetly connecting with a half-volley that beat the goalkeeper but hit the side-netting. Diamonds had their best chance to equalise a minute before half-time when a pinpoint Fairlamb cross from the left found Dolman, and he knocked the ball across the face of goal for the waiting Weir-Daley. However, despite the goal gaping, the striker could only hit his effort straight at the keeper. Just before the half-time whistle Beaconsfield missed a gilt-edged chance of their own when a deep free-kick was nodded across by Alexander Cathline, but Pashaj could only contrive to slam over the bar from close-range.
Diamonds kept up the pressure after the half-time interval, with Weir-Daley meeting a Brown cross only for his header to be easy for the keeper to claim. Beaconsfield then responded though by having a Wes Daly effort from range clear the bar, and then Webb seeing a dangerous cross well fielded by Ben Heath before Pashaj drove forward on the left only to see his shot blocked aftee cutting inside. The visitors continued to push for an all-important leveller, with Westwood driving a low cross in that could have gone anywhere but was ultimately cleared away by a home defender. A minute later Fairlamb’s cross from the left found Lorraine at the far post, but his looping header was well caught by the keeper. Lorraine was involved further when he pulled the ball back from the right byline looking for Gyasi and, though the ball ran away from the wide-man, the loose ball fell for Weir-Daley. He spun sharply to hit a low left-footed effort towards the near post, but the keeper did well to parry the ball behind for a corner. After Ryan Robbins came on for Ben Ford, signalling a change from four at the back to three, Beacsonsfield came mightily close to sealing the contest. They had shown their ability to break quickly earlier in the half, and they demonstrated it again as Jerome Ecclestone galloped forward before playing in substitute Lee Barney. There was strong calls for offside but the linesman judged him to have broken the offside trap, and so he ran into the area before playing it across for fellow sub Anthony Mendy. He looked odds-on to score from only a matter of yards out, but Heath somehow saved the effort with his face before collecting the rebound from Ecclestone. Despite this it still appeared, with every passing minute and every passing opportunity, that it just wasn’t to be Diamonds’ day and that they would suffer a huge setback in the promotion race, but still they pressed. Weir-Daley hit a rising shot that cleared the bar before Robbins had an attempt blocked and Curtis hit a goalbound effort that was headed away just short of the goal-line, but there was still one final twist in the tale. In the first minute of five added-on a long throw by Brown from the left was met by a flailing Beaconsfield hand, and the referee was perfectly positioned to award a penalty-kick. After a brief delay Robbins stepped up to hit a low effort to the Nick Hamann’s left, but the keeper guessed correctly and parried the effort. However, the ball ran back into the path of the striker, and he gleefully swept home the rebound into the unguarded net to gain a vital point, and to keep the Diamonds one point clear at the top of the table.
Manager Andy Peaks made three changes to the side that had begun the midweek draw at home to Uxbridge. He switched from a 3-5-2 formation to a 4-4-2, which meant a return to the starting XI for Ben Ford at left-back, and Ben Farrell was unavailable so Joe Curtis came into the side. The final alteration saw Joel Gyasi return at the expense of Ross Oulton who took his place amongst a strong-looking bench of Cameron Gilchrist, Blaize Punter, John Dean and Ryan Robbins.
On a cloudy afternoon in Buckinghamshire the two teams took to the Holloways Park playing surface, and there was a keen sense of expectation and intrigue surrounding the fixture. Diamonds came into the match top of the table but on the back of a three game winless run, and the hosts sat 4th in the table prior to kick-off only three points behind the leaders, and with a game in hand. They had only lost one of their last eleven home league games before this game, but Rushden had won thirteen of their eighteen previous away league matches this season so a crucial match was in store. After the pre-match handshakes and the coin-toss had been conducted, referee Tom Danaher got the contest underway.
The visitors made a bright and positive start, and could have taken the lead as early as the second minute. Gyasi sped away from a couple of challenges and down the right wing before approaching the penalty area and playing the ball across for Tom Lorraine. The striker in turn tried to flick it with an impudent backheel towards a couple of nearby and arriving teammates, but fortunately for the hosts a defender read the situation well and kicked the ball away to safety. Beaconsfield responded with a chance of their own moments later, but Callum Webb’s shot from range was always rising and it flew well over the crossbar.
It was an entertaining start to the game, with both sides looking threatening with pacey and direct attacks. It was also very keenly-fought in the opening exchanges, and would be throughout the contest, with midfield skirmishes aplenty as both teams looking to gain an early advantage. A minute after good interplay between strikers Lorraine and Spencer Weir-Daley was just nullified by good defending, a Gyasi cross from the right ran through for Fairlamb to collect on the left. After bringing the ball under control he faced up the defender before driving to the byline, but his cross-shot flew behind the goal.
The game was pretty even, with Beaconsfield working the ball nicely when in possession without threatening much up to this point and Diamonds showing danger especially down the flanks and by finding space in between the home defence and midfield. In the 18th minute the league-leaders had a good chance to take the lead. Weir-Daley fed a pass out to Fairlamb on the left, and he ran forward before cutting inside and clipping a cross to the far post. Both Lorraine and Gyasi were free, but the ball didn’t bounce ideally for the latter and it ran away from him out for a goal-kick.
They were made to regret that miss a minute later when the hosts took the lead. Diamonds lost possession in the middle of the pitch, and Bajram Pashaj escaped away from Callum Westwood down the left wing. He ran into the area towards Liam Dolman before flashing a low cross across the face of goal, and with Sam Brown unable to properly clear the ball it ran for Callum Webb to slam home from point-blank range at the far post.
The first goal in any game is always important, especially in one of such high stakes, but whilst it was undoubtedly a setback for Diamonds, they didn’t let it affect their performance. The match settled into a relatively quiet period, with the only action of note seeing Weir-Daley almost reach a long kick forward by Ben Heath before it ran through to the home keeper Nick Hamann, and in riposte Aaron Minhas drew a good save from Heath, though the flag had already been raised for offside against the home striker. The time ticked past the half-hour mark when Diamonds began a period of pressure that saw them have the majority of the ball and territory, and that sparked a number of opportunities. Firstly Fairlamb embarked on a jinking run that was eventually stopped by a defender at the expense of a corner, and Gyasi curled the delivery in to the back post for the run of Brown, but he was unable to direct an effort on target. Moments later Gyasi latched onto a lobbed through-ball from Weir-Daley before running into the area and attempting to play the ball across goal for an onrushing teammate. Home full-back Jerome Ecclestone partially blocked the pass, and he was fortunate that it deflected straight into the grateful arms of Hamann to avert the danger.
Two minutes later another attack created down the wings saw Fairlamb try to generate some space for a cross but, faced with a couple of red shirted home players ahead of him, he decided to step back inside and play a pass across to the unmarked Dolman around 30 yards out. The defender set himself before crashing an exocet towards goal, and it looked goalbound until it smacked Curtis and bounced away to safety. Most of Diamonds’ attacking play in the first half went through the ever-dangerous Gyasi, and the winger was inches away from equalising five minutes before the interval. Like shortly before it was Weir-Daley who was the supplier as he looped another ball over the home defence for Gyasi to run onto, and it sat up perfectly for him to crash a half-volley towards goal. It flew through the air past the stationary Hamann, but it hit the side-netting rather than the back of the net.
Shortly after a quick break forward saw Lorraine run into the area before seeing his pull-back cleared away, and then on the stroke of half-time they created their best chance yet to equalise. Fairlamb found some space on the left to cross in, and the deep delivery was perfect for the timed run of Dolman at the back post. He knocked it back across goal for Weir-Daley less than six yards out and with practically the whole goal to aim at, but he somehow hit his instinctive effort straight at Hamann and the chance was gone.
The visitors were almost made to pay for the missed opportunities in the first minute of added-on time at the end of the half. Beaconsfield won a free-kick just ahead of the halfway line, and captain Wes Daly lifted a delivery towards the left side of the area. Tall striker Alexander Cathline rose to head back across goal, and it found the run of Pashaj close to goal. However, the winger slammed his volley over the bar, and Diamonds had had a huge let-off.
Moments later the referee blew his whistle to signal the end of the half, one in which Diamonds had responded well to going behind and arguably deserved to be level, but with them ultimately trailing by the one goal.
Half Time: Beaconsfield Town 1-0 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
Both sets of players returned to the field of play ready for the second period, with most thoughts during the half-time break centring around who would score the all-important next goal, if Diamonds would be able to continue the pressure that they showed in the later stages of the first half, and how the hosts would approach the next forty-five minutes. After a swift count of both players, referee Danaher blew to begin the half.
Rushden were quick to settle again, and created the first opportunity of the half in the 50th minute. Brown drilled in a cross from the left towards the back post, but although Weir-Daley won the header the effort was weak and easy for Hamann to collect. Beaconsfield countered immediately though, and had two chances to score in as many minutes. Firstly a loose ball fell for Daly around 25-30 yards out from goal, but his shot cleared the bar and the terrace behind the goal. Then Webb ran down the right before flashing a low, dangerous cross into the middle that Heath did really well to collect ahead of an incoming striker, but no sooner had he delivered the ball upfield then the hosts were attacking again. Pashaj embarked on a superb driving run that saw him nutmeg Dolman and run into the area, but as he cut inside he lost his balance slightly and his resulting shot was blocked, with Diamonds finally smuggling the danger away.
The tempo of the opening half had been fairly quick, but it increased in the second half and as the time ticked on. Play swung up the other end and a cross in from the left was only cleared away as far as Westwood on the right. He stepped forward before driving a low cross across goal, and it could have fallen to anyone. Fortunately for the hosts though it went to a red-shirt and resulted in a clearance away. A minute later Fairlamb, who would go on to win the man of the match award, delivered a deep cross from the left, and it reached the rising Lorraine only for his floating header to be collected by Hamann ahead of the onrushing Weir-Daley.
A quiet period of ten or so minutes then ensued, with the only action punctuating it being one moment of controversy where Cathline went down injured, rolled off the pitch for treatment and back on which frustrated a number of Diamonds players and fans alike. The striker then received treatment but came back on without the referee’s permission initially, an act that resulted in a yellow card for the striker. After goalscorer Webb was replaced by Lee Barney, Cathline himself then made his way off to be replaced by Anthony Mendy.
Diamonds were still pushing for a leveller without creating a host of clear-cut opportunities, with Fairlamb and Gyasi down their respective flanks looking dangerous everytime they received the ball. However Beaconsfield looked a danger on the counter-attack with their swift and direct attacking runs, and so the game still remained very much in the balance. The next opportunity fell to the visitors in the 69th minute when Lorraine chased a long ball down the right and just reached it ahead of the byline to pull it back towards Gyasi. The winger and a covering defender battled for the ball and it ricocheted to Weir-Daley who span swiftly before hitting a low left-footed shot that Hamann did well to parry down to his left out for a corner. The resultant set-piece came to nothing though, and still the Diamonds trailed.
Moments later Peaks made his first roll-of-the-dice by introducing Robbins at the expense of Ford, which led to the visitors switching to a 3-4-3 formation in their search for a goal. They continued to push but the hosts’ backline, most notably centre-half Reece Yorke, were defending stoically and winning every long ball forward and cross into the area. One long kick by Heath did cause a momentary lapse in concentration from the home defence when Ecclestone hooked the ball away just as Hamann had come to collect but, although the keeper was stranded out of his goal, the loose ball fell to another home player who was able to clear away.
The match entered the final ten minutes of regulation time, and Beaconsfield could and should have sealed the game in the 81st minute. Ecclestone sped over the halfway line from right-back and slipped a neat through-ball to Barney who, despite strong appeals for offside from the away backline, was deemed onside by the linesman. He ran forward into the area and squared it across for Mendy only a few yards out from goal, and it seemed inevitable that he would find the net to condemn the Diamonds to defeat. However, his effort was somehow kept out by Heath as it struck his face and, though he may not have known much about it, he had crucially kept the visitors’ hopes alive. Rushden used that escape to respond and still do everything they could to find a goal. Weir-Daley found some room to pick up a loose ball and move forward before hitting an effort from 25 yards, but the shot was always rising and comfortably cleared the bar.
A minute later Ross Oulton was introduced for Westwood, and this signalled a further increase in Diamonds’ pressure. Five minutes from time Fairlamb kept the ball in by the left byline to hook a cross into the area, and Dolman challenged for the ball only for it to be partially cleared. It fell to Robbins in space, but his shot was blocked away, and the loose ball cannoned out to Curtis who hit a half-volley towards the top corner. It looked goalbound but, before it could reach the goal and potentially find the net, it was headed away by Ecclestone and out for a corner. Gyasi’s subsequent inswinging delivery found Lorraine, but he couldn’t divert his effort on target and Beaconsfield survived again.
That was the striker’s final action as Peaks made his final substitution in introducing John Dean for him, a sign of Diamonds effectively going for broke and piling as many men forward as possible. Still they strived, searched and pushed for a vital equalising goal but, as the minutes ticked away and as five minutes of additional time was signalled, it seemed that their attempts would be fruitless and that they would lose. However, there remained one final chance. A long ball forward by Brown went over Robbins and a challenging defender, and ran for Weir-Daley. He attempted to find room but, faced with a few red-shirts around him, laid the ball off to Robbins. He was put under pressure straight away, but he wriggled into the left side of the box before seeing a shot blocked behind for a corner. The resulting delivery saw a sea of players rise to meet the cross, but Webb got up the highest to divert the ball away. However, he had used his hand to do so, not his head. Calls for a penalty from away players and fans alike rang out, and Danaher was in the perfect position to see the incident and point straight to the spot for a penalty. With regular penalty-taker Farrell not playing, and with Dolman having missed a penalty in the reverse fixture against Beaconsfield earlier in the season, Ryan Robbins took responsibility. After a brief delay in which Daly was booked, the striker ran up to hit the kick towards the bottom right corner of the goal. However, Hamann guessed correctly as he got down to parry the strike, and it looked like Diamonds’ big chance had gone. But it hadn’t. The loose ball ran perfectly back into the path of Robbins, and he calmly tucked the rebound under the keeper and into the back of the net. Deep celebrations naturally took place at the sheer importance and potentially season-defining nature of the strike, and the league-leaders had their title and promotion hopes back in their own hands again.
After a couple of further minutes of stoppage-time, which passed with little action of note, the referee sounded his whistle to bring the engrossing contest to an end.
Full Time: Beaconsfield Town 1-1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
In many ways, given the lateness and dramatic nature of their equaliser, this felt like a victory for the Diamonds. They merited the point after reacting well to going behind and creating a number of opportunities, though credit must go to Beaconsfield for always proving a threat and especially for the way they defended for much of the contest in almost seeing out the game for a victory. Diamonds remain three points clear of Beaconsfield who still have a game in hand, although Hayes & Yeading won to move only a point behind the leaders having played two games more than Rushden. Thoughts go back to the 2014/2015 United Counties League Premier Division title-winning campaign when Diamonds scored a late, late equaliser against promotion rivals Wisbech Town in late March to keep their promotion destiny in their own hands. Though there is still a lot of work for Diamonds to do to secure promotion this season, the ending to this game will be looked back upon as one of the crucial and most important turning-points if they are to do so. They are technically winless in four league games now, but the confidence they will take from the last-gasp goal should stand them in good stead for the rest of the season. They are back in action again on Monday (April 2nd) as they entertain Bedford Town at Hayden Road, weather-permitting, with a 3pm kick-off.
Diamonds Man of the Match: Luke Fairlamb
Match Report by Ollie Mortimer
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
1. Nick Hamann
2. Jerome Ecclestone
3. Scott Cousins
4. Reece Yorke
5. Luke Neville
6. Wes Daly (C)
7. Callum Webb
8. Jordan Ajanlekoko
9. Alexander Cathline
10. Aaron Minhas
11. Bajram Pashaj
12. James Taylor
14. Nathan Webb (for Minhas 78)
15. Andre Costa
16. Anthony Mendy (for Cathline 64)
17. Lee Barney (for Pashaj 61)
13. Ben Heath
2. Callum Westwood
3. Ben Ford
4. Jack Westbrook
5. Liam Dolman (C)
6. Sam Brown
7. Joel Gyasi
8. Joe Curtis
9. Tom Lorraine
10. Spencer Weir-Daley
11. Luke Fairlamb
12. Ross Oulton (for Westwood 83)
14. Cameron Gilchrist
15. John Dean (for Lorraine 88)
16. Ryan Robbins (for Ford 73)
18. Blaize Punter
Goals: Webb (19)
Goals: Robbins (90+3)
Yellow Cards: Cathline (62), Daly (90+3)
Yellow Cards: None
Referee: Tom Danaher
Assistants: Ryan Rix, Nicholas Fuller
Updated player profiles with appearance and goalscoring details are now available.
Match Gallery courtesy of Stephanie Webb Photography Copyright Stephanie Webb Photography ©2018