Bedford Town 6-1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds

Diamonds were consigned to a heavy defeat at Bedford on Boxing Day.

The hosts forged ahead after only five minutes when Charley Sanders headed home at the back post following two saves. However, Rushden levelled shortly afterwards through a header of their own when Ryan Hughes met Conor Tee’s free-kick to restore parity. Bedford won a penalty only for Dean Snedker to deny Sanders’ effort and follow-up attempts, but they did retake the lead on the stroke of half-time when a cross was inadvertently put into his own net by Courtney Lashley.

The advantage was extended early in the second period when Connor Tomlinson ran onto a long ball forward to calmly lob over Snedker, and they added another on the hour mark when Sanders latched onto a short back-pass before rounding the Rushden keeper and back-heeling home. Both Edward Gyamfi and Tomlinson later converted left-wing crosses to add further gloss to the scoreline and to punish the confidence-shy visitors on a chastening afternoon.

First half

Diamonds lined up in a 4-2-3-1 / 4-3-3 system as Hamilton Bunga returned to captain the side, Mitchell White made his first start in midfield and Chris Manangu began up-front closely supported by Miguel Ngwa. Loanee Kartell Dawkins’ planned trial at Sheffield Wednesday had been postponed, and so he was available to also start.

New manager Chris Nunn was overseeing his first game in charge, and his Rushden side entered the contest bottom of the standings having lost their previous six games. Bedford, nicknamed the Eagles, had won promotion from the Southern League Division One Central last season and sat 16th in the table. They had only lost one of their last four after previously being winless in five.

After a crucial early block from Ryan Hughes to stop a goalbound effort, the hosts soon took the lead. Dean Snedker made two good diving saves, but the attack continued and a cross from the right found the rising Charley Sanders at the far post to glance a header home.

It was the worst possible start but, after Conor Tee fizzed an effort harmlessly wide, Rushden drew level. A deep free-kick from just ahead of the halfway line found Ryan Hughes, and his drifting header looped over home keeper Max Evans and into the back of the net.

The entertaining start continued as, only three minutes later, Hughes was involved down the other end. A low pass into the box saw Edward Gyamfi attempt to turn away from the visiting centre-half, and referee Joshua Crofts adjudged Hughes to have fouled the home midfielder. The resulting penalty saw Sanders hit it to Snedker’s right, but the Diamonds stopper dived correctly to parry clear. He then somehow stopped the rebound before the danger was scrambled away.

The visitors began to gain a foothold in proceedings, though they struggled to create many clear-cut opportunities. On the other hand Bedford continued to threaten especially down the flanks, as Sanders had an arrowed attempt saved before ex-Rushden man Sam Warburton struck off-target from range.

Just when it appeared that Diamonds would go into the half-time interval level, the hosts struck. An inswinging cross from the left looked like it would find Sanders, but it seemed to drift over the striker’s head and hit the innocuous Courtney Lashley before rolling into the far corner for an own-goal.

Half time: Bedford Town 2-1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds

Second half

Evangelos Empochontsif replaced Bunga for the second period and, like in the first half, Bedford started quickly only for Sanders to be denied by an important Lashley block.

However, the Eagles did soon extend their advantage. A long ball over the top of the away defence found Connor Tomlinson running in behind, and he easily lobbed it over the advancing Snedker from just outside the area.

After they missed a sitter from close-range, Bedford had a fourth on the hour mark. A poor back-pass was seized upon by Charley Sanders, and he tapped it around Snedker before running around the keeper and impudently back-heeling it into the unguarded net.

Five minutes later, they scored again as a neat move resulted in a low cross from the left being steered home first-time by Edward Gyamfi.

In an attempt to stop any further home goals, Charlie Black came on for Ngwa as Diamonds went to a back-five. White hit an effort well over from distance before Peter Abimbola had a deflected shot easily held. In between home substitute Craig Mackail-Smith had two excellent opportunities, the first a header from a right-wing cross before then racing through on goal, but he was wide of the mark on both occasions.

There was still time for Bedford to cap the resounding victory in stoppage-time when another cross from the left was coolly converted by Connor Tomlinson.

Full time: Bedford Town 6-1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds

Diamonds are next in action on Monday 2 January, 3pm kick-off, as they entertain St Ives Town in their first game of 2023.

Attendance: 862

Match report by Ollie Mortimer

Diamonds: Snedker, Agemoh-Davies, Lashley, Dawkins, Bunga (C) (Empochontsif HT), Hughes, Abimbola, White, Manangu (Cooper 58), Tee, Ngwa (Black 69) (subs not used: Corden, Connor)

Diamonds goal: Hughes (14)

Diamonds yellows: Manangu (21)

Bedford: Max Evans, Drew Richardson (Craig Mackail-Smith 83), Sam Warburton, Sam Dreyer, Kai Phelan, Jack Keeble, Connor Tomlinson, Callum Donnelly (C), Charley Sanders (Rene Howe 65), Joe Butterworth (Hugh Alban Jones 65), Edward Gyamfi (subs not used: George Thorne, Afolabi Soyemi-Olalade)

Bedford goals: Sanders (5, 60) Lashley OG (45), Tomlinson (52, 90+3), Gyamfi (65)

Bedford yellows: Donnelly (19), Sanders (38)