Diamonds claimed their third piece of silverware of this year’s pre-season with an entertaining 5-4 win for the U21 side against Buckingham Town in the annual James Victory Cup match in Fenny Stratford last night.
A very young Diamonds side were bolstered by first team squad players Mark Hewitt and Rashid Koriya playing in a back three, Joe Merrill in centre midfield, and Tom Lorraine up front. They were captained on the night by James Harrison who fans will remember from our inaugural U18 season. He is with the U21 squad until he heads for University next month.
Diamonds started brightly and although balance of play was fairly even they were consistently getting in behind a fairly static looking Buckingham Town back four who struggled to handle the runs of Lorraine and Harrison and the passing from midfield of Joe Merrill, Joe Ackford and Luke Garner.
And they duly took the lead on 12 minutes with a simple ball over the top which found James Harrison in space behind the Buckingham back four. He lifted a high bouncing ball over the onrushing keeper and nodded in to the empty net.
Luke Garner then showed real energy and physical presence to hold off a strong challenge over about 20 yards before firing in a firm effort that Buckingham keeper struggled to hold.
In the middle period of the half Buckingham upped the intensity of the play…stung maybe by being outplayed by such a young team…and started to win possession in the Diamonds half and break forward with purpose. Captain Joel McCormick was prominent for them and feeding Drew Mitten who got in behind the Diamonds defence on a couple of occasions but was unable to control and finish.
The equalizer did eventually came though on 29 minutes with Buckingham winning the ball in the middle of the park and moving it quickly to Mitch Brent who held off a challenge from Chris Knapp as he burst into the right side of the box and fired home past Diamonds debutant keeper Ben Heath.
Diamonds continued to find gaps in the Buckingham defence though and after a couple of very similar balls over the top for Lorraine which produced a firm shot just wide, and Harrison with a lob over the keeper just clearing the crossbar, they finally took the lead again on 43 minutes. It was James Harrison who bagged his second of the game running onto a through ball in the left hand channel and coolly lobbing Jasienewelies in the Buckingham goal.
Half time – Buckingham Town 1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds U21s 2
Buckingham started the second half strongly and had a couple of decent chances through Joel McCormick who had a shot blocked by Heath when he found space in the box, and Mitch Brent also finding space deep inside the box before Rashid Koriya came across to block his goal bound effort.
It was Diamonds though who extended their lead on 62 minutes after a dangerous free kick from Joe Merrill was deflected off the wall and was well saved by keeper Jasienewelies . He then tipped the resulting in swinging corner over the bar, but was helpless to save a firm header from Tom Lorraine from the second corner which thumped past him to take Diamonds to a 3-1 lead.
It lasted just 30 seconds though as a sweeping move caught the diamonds defence napping on 63 minutes and winger Cleeve slid the ball along the 6 yard line for the impressive McCormick to tap home.
Tom Lorraine was continuing to trouble Buckingham with good close control and good movement along their back line and was rewarded with a second goal on 74 minutes. Second half substitute Dylan Wilson slid a great ball through to him and although he approached the ball with his trademark languid style he thrashed the ball home from the edge of the box off the left hand post to restore Diamonds 2 goal lead.
He immediately left the field to good applause from the Diamonds contingent missing his chance of a hat-trick, but his strike partner Harrison missed an even better chance for his. He was tripped as he burst into the box onto another good through ball on 77 minutes but blasted the penalty well over.
The drama continued in the last 15 minutes with a real cup-tie feel as Buckingham dominated and they came close to pulling a goal back when Ben Rigby nearly got on the end of an excellent free kick, and McCormack had a point blank effort saved by Heath.
They finally pulled a goal back on 80 minutes through Drew Mitten who was found in space on the right hand side of the box and quickly flicked the ball past Heath with the outside of his right foot. And after mounting pressure they found the equalizer on 83 minutes and the 8th goal of the game with a fantastic cross field ball collected by Akin Ilyumei who controlled well, drove into the box and again flicked the ball past Heath with the outside of his right foot.
As we were wondering if we were heading for another penalty shoot-out Diamonds claimed a last minute winner. A second generous looking free kick was given just outside the Buckingham box and Rashid Koriya had a firm low effort strangely pushed onto the bar by the keeper. The rebound found second half substitute Reece Pickering with his back to goal but he superbly hooked over his shoulder into the far corner to give Diamonds a 5-4 lead.
Despite more late pressure Buckingham including a dangerous looking free-kick blocked by the wall Diamonds hung on to lift the James Victory Cup for the second successive season.
Full-Time: Buckingham Town 4 AFC Rushden & Diamonds U21 5
A good competitive game for the mainly young Diamonds players will have pleased manager Andy Kean who saw plenty of learning points for his emerging side. Joe Merrill enjoyed another 90 minutes on his return from injury and Tom Lorraine, Rashid Koriya and Mark Hewitt got useful game time against hard working opposition. And Diamonds fans will have enjoyed a strong performance with good end product from temporarily returning James Harrison. This U21 side will definitely be worth watching this season.
Match Report by Paul Judd
Diamonds Man of the Match: James Harrison
Attendance: Approx 60
AFC Rushden & Diamonds U21
1. Pokas Jasienwelies
2. Daniel Lydiatt
3. Sol Kazongo
4. Dave King
5. Ben Rigby
6. James Kettlet
7. Mitch Brent
8. Callum Tychowski
9. Drew Mitten
10. Joel McCormack
11. Andy Cleeve
12. Akin Ilyumei (Cleeve 67)
14. Diego Vazquez
15. Tom Sloane
16. Maxwell Dunwick (Tychowski 71)
17. Sam Tamokloe (Kazongo 15)
13. Ben Heath
2. Harry Langley
3. Chris Knapp
4. Alex Harker
5. Mark Hewitt
6. Rashid Koriya
7. Joe Ashton
8. Joe Merrill
9. James Harrison
10. Tom Lorraine
11. Luke Garner
12. Tom Leaning (Langley 22)
14. Danny Atkins (Knapp 45)
15. James Pearson (Harrison 90)
16. Tom Reeve (Lorraine 75)
18. Reece Gilbert (Harper 66)
20. Dylan Wilson (Garner 45)
21. Reece Pickering (Leaning 82)
Goals: Brent (29), McCormick (63), Mitten (80), Ilyumei (83)
Goals: Harrison (12 & 43), Lorraine (62 & 74), Pickering (89)
Yellow Cards: None
Yellow Card: None