A late goal from young Harry Henbury earned Diamonds an excellent draw against a strong Brackley Town side on Tuesday night.
Diamonds had started brightly but trailed to a rare defensive lapse when Lee Ndlovu was allowed an unmarked header in the centre of the goal on 6 minutes. Diamonds showed composure on the ball against excellent harrying and closing from the home side but struggled to create clear chances. Ben Ford hit a near post effort into the keepers hands, Nabil Sharif should maybe have done better after turning his man on the edge of the box to shoot from 15 yards, and maybe had more time than he thought when hitting an 18 yard effort well over.
Brackley grew into the game and finished the half strongly with Ndlovu a real handful, firing wide when clean through and missing a couple more free headers late in the half. Diamonds also survived a goalmouth scramble involving the post late on and went in 1 behind.
The second half was littered with substitutions by both sides but Diamonds started brightly again and got their equaliser on 52. Luke Fairlamb played in down the left outpaced his marker and fired hard and high past the home keeper in superb style. The game then became end to end with Armson and Brown missing good chances for the home side and Joel Gyasi jinking through the Brackley defence only to be denied by the keeper at the last moment.
Brackley took the lead again on 66 as Ndlovu notched his second bundling home from a couple of yards out after a 6 yard line cross wasn’t cleared. They should have gone on to close out the game with Glen Walker seeing his shot saved by Matt Finlay, and the keeper punching clear and gathering under pressure as the Diamonds defence were all out to keep them at bay.
But the game turned with a piece of brilliance from young Harry Henbury. The diminutive striker had been on just 30 seconds when he sprinted clear and coolly lobbed the home keeper to earn Diamonds the draw. It was a fantastic moment and he showed a couple of other bright touches in the closing stages to underline his potential as Diamonds probed for a late winner.
Manager Andy Peaks retained a strong starting line-up with just three changes made. Ben Heath started in goal, Ross Oulton in centre midfield and Joel Gyasi out wide. Ben Farrell dropped to right-back allowing Sam Brown to play centre-half.
Diamonds started brightly with Chris Dillon and Nabil Shariff linking well and both with good hold up play to bring in wide players Joel Gyasi and Luke Fairlamb. Brackley were closing down and harrying Diamonds at a level of intensity they won’t have been used to, but to their credit Diamonds showed good composure on the ball to retain possession.
Chances were limited though and they soon trailed to a rare defensive lapse when Lee Ndlovu was allowed an unmarked header in the centre of the goal on 6 minutes.
They responded well though with home keeper Danny Lewis forced into a hurried punch that bounced kindly back into his arms, and Liam Dolman stung his fingers moments later with a fierce free-kick that he just tipper over. Consecutive corners then caused further home concern with Ben Ford turning the second into the keeper’s arms from a close angle.
Brackley were starting to dominate possession though as the half hour approached and were unlucky not to turn in from close range at the end of a bit of a scramble which included the post.
Lee Ndlovu was a real handful all night and he broke clear on 23 but dragged his effort wide of the left hand post. Minutes after Richard Bunting had to be replaced by Joe Curtis to join a midfield having to work very hard.
Lee Ndlovu had another free header chance, James Armson couldn’t convert at the end of a snaking run, and Ben Heath was forced into some excellent handling to deny dangerous Brackley moves.
Nabil Shariff had a couple a rare half chances after first turning his man and hitting an 18 yard effort too close to the home keeper, and then just before half time seeing a curled effort rise well over the bar when he possibly had more time than he thought.
Half-time: Brackley Town 1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds 0
Diamonds started the second half brightly as they had the first and after Nabil Shariff had nearly held off a challenge in the box to get into a good position they pulled level with a superb goal. The battling midfield won the ball back just inside the Brackley half and some quick passing saw the ball played out to Luke Fairlamb. He collected and outpaced his marker into the box and fired hard and high past the home keeper to level the scores.
The game then had a real end to end feel with Armson and Brown missing good chances from close range either side of a Joel Gyasi jinking run ended by the home keeper diving at his feet.
The substitutions then commenced in earnest and during that period Brackley took the lead again. A right wing break stretched the Diamonds back four and a 6 yard line cross evaded everyone except Lee Ndlovu who bundled the ball home.
Matt Finlay had replaced Ben Heath at half-time but then Daryl Smith and Adam Pyke replaced Joel Gyasi and Ben Farrell. Lewis Leslie then replaced Ross Oulton and Blaze Punter replaced Ben Ford.
After the goal Brackley had a spell of running through the re-shaped Diamonds defence at will and really should have clinched the game as Glen Walker failed to convert a cut-back, seeing Matt Finlay save well and the keeper was forced to punch clear and gather under pressure as the Diamonds defence were all out to keep Brackley at bay.
As Diamonds were starting to get more comfortable in the game manager Andy Peaks made one more substitution…and what an impact it had. Harry Henbury replaced Chris Dillon on 80 minutes and just 30 seconds later he sprinted clear onto a bouncing through ball and coolly lobbed the leaping home keeper seeing the retreating defender only able to force the ball into the roof of the net as he tried desperately to clear.
It was a fantastic moment celebrated with team mates and travelling fans and earned the away side a creditable draw. There was still time for Henbury to show a couple of other bright touches in the closing stages linking well with Nabil Shariff as Diamonds finished in confident mood.
Final-time: Brackley Town 2 AFC Rushden & Diamonds 2
Diamonds were made to work extremely hard by a strong Brackley Town side getting ready for their season opener next weekend. They lead twice and probably should have won with further goal chances in the period when they lead, but Diamonds battled hard and some progressive play saw two equalisers to earn an excellent draw. It was a really good workout against an intensity they probably won’t see in Southern league action. Harry Henbury’s first Diamonds goal was tremendous bonus and shows the strength in depth Andy Peaks is developing in his re-shaped squad.
Diamonds are next up as the away side at Hayden Road on Saturday against Rushden & Higham United for the Chris Ruff Memorial Cup.
Match Report by Paul Judd
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
1. Danny Lewis
2. Matt Lowe
3. Alex Gudger
4. Jack Byrne
5. Connor Franklyn
6. Gareth Dean (C)
7. Glenn Walker
8. James Armson
9. Lee Ndlovu
10. Andy Brown
11. Adam Walker
12. Steve Diggin (for Ndlovu 78)
14. Shane Byrne (for Lowe 53)
15. Greg Kaziboni (for Brown 72)
16. Jordan Williams
17. Jordan Lee
18. Cameron Gilchrist
19. Darrius Brown
20. Ellis Myles (for Byrne 53)
13. Ben Heath
2. Ben Farrell
3. Ben Ford
4. Sam Brown
5. Liam Dolman
6. Ross Oulton
7. Joel Gyasi
8. Richard Bunting (C)
9. Chris Dillon
10. Nabil Shariff
11. Luke Fairlamb
12. Joe Curtis (for Bunting 24)
14. Lewis Leslie (for Oulton 71)
15. Daryl Smith (for Gyasi 63)
16. Harry Henbury (for Dillon 80)
17. Matt Finlay (for Heath 45)
18. Blaze Punter (for Ford 75)
19. Adam Pyke (for Farrell 63)
Goals: Ndlovu (6, 66)
Goals: Fairlamb (52), Henbury (80)
Referee: Carl Henry
Assistants: Luke Scott, James Wetherall