Diamonds lost their first away league game of 2020 as they were edged out by fellow play-off hopefuls Coalville Town on Saturday afternoon.
The vast majority of the match was even and with very little to separate the sides. The hosts threatened early on when Billy Kee fired wide from distance, and full-back Kalern Thomas hit a stinging shot from outside the area that clipped the post on its way into the side-netting. Diamonds responded when Zack Reynolds got down the right and played in a cross that found Nabil Shariff, but his flicked effort was superbly tipped behind by the keeper. They had a number of set-piece and long-throw opportunities, but these were were all well defended as the half finished level.
Coalville began the second half well and had a goalbound effort from close-range brilliantly blocked by Liam Dolman, but Rushden came closest when Jesse Akubuine hit a 30 yard strike that was excellently tipped over. The only goal of the game came just before the hour mark when a home free-kick was headed across goal, and Brown’s attempted clearance came back off the bar before it dropped for Kairo Mitchell to flick home into the empty net. Rushden didn’t let their heads drop though, and they won a penalty kick less than ten minutes later after Tom Lorraine was brought down. However, Shariff’s kick was weak and was easily saved. Debutant Fabio Lopes had an effort blocked but, despite a couple of substitutions, they weren’t able to get back into the game. Akubuine was shown a red card after two yellow cards in the space of a couple of minutes, and Coalville were able to comfortably see out the rest of the match.
Manager Peaks made two changes to the starting XI that had defeated rock-bottom Redditch in their last match three weeks ago. Ben Farrell was unavailable, meaning Matt Slinn came into the centre of midfield, and Oxford United loanee Fabio Lopes began on the left as Ben Acquaye sat out the final game of his three match suspension.
Despite Rushden not having been in action for a number of weeks due to postponements, they still came into the contest in the midst of a play-off push alongside the hosts Coalville. Diamonds were seventh in the table having lost only one of their last six away league matches, and the hosts were one place and one point off their opponents although they had lost three of their last four at home. It was therefore an important clash, one that was keenly anticipated as referee Liam Corbett blew his whistle to begin the game.
The match began evenly, with neither side able to have a consistent amount of possession or pressure to gain foothold in the match. Coalville, nicknamed The Ravens, were the first to threaten as ex-Accrington striker Billy Kee shot just over following neat link-up play with fellow forward Kairo Mitchell. Diamonds responded with a series of passing exchanges and territory that first led to a Sam Brown long throw being caught by the keeper, and then a Lopes cross was well cleared away by the home defence.
The first chance of note for either team fell to the hosts in the 14th minute. Full-back Kalern Thomas was found just inside the attacking half on the right, and he had time and space to step forward before unleashing a strike towards goal. It beat Ben Heath, but hit the apex of crossbar and post before going into the side-netting.
Moments later, Rushed fashioned an even better opportunity. Tom Lorraine was found down the right, and he played it back to supporting full-back Zack Reynolds who managed to squeeze a cross towards the near post. Nathan Hicks cleverly stepped over the delivery, and it ran for Nabil Shariff who hit an instinctive effort towards goal. Despite it appearing that he was going the wrong way, Saul Deeney showed tremendous reflexes to get down to his left and tip the ball behind.
The rest of the half was closely fought without too much action of note, a pattern to be expected in a game of importance. Diamonds had several set-piece opportunities, namely long-throws and free-kicks, but these were all dealt with easily by the organised Ravens defence. The hosts themselves had a couple of passages of neat approach play, one which led to a last-ditch block from close range, but both sides were guilty of lacking a final pass that would penetrate the opposition’s defence.
Shortly after home defender Stuart Pierpoint had been booked for a handball and subsequent dissent, referee Corbett blew the half-time whistle to signal the end of 45 close and well-fought minutes.
Half time: Coalville Town 0-0 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
The hosts began the second period well, and created a couple of chances. Firstly, Pierpoint had a shot well blocked after good play by Kian Taylor, and then they won a free-kick around 35 yards out that was curled into the middle. Diamonds’ attempt at an offside trap failed, and they were fortunate that Kee’s chest-down and resultant shot was blocked away by a recovery challenge.
Diamonds responded immediately, and they won a corner on the right. Though Slinn’s delivery was initially cleared, the loose ball was worked out to Lopes on the left before it ran for Jesse Akubuine. The midfielder took the ball in his stride and fizzed an effort towards the top corner from outside the area, but Deeney leapt up to fingertip the effort over the bar.
However, minutes after Kee was booked for a foul on Heath, Coalville took the lead. A deep free-kick by Jake Bennett found defender Scott McManus at the far post, and he leapt highest to head the ball across the area. Brown and Heath got in a tangle, and the ball looped up onto the bar before it dropped for Kairo Mitchell to easily tap home from inside the six yard box.
The first goal in such a tight contest was always going to be vital, but Rushden kept their heads up and tried to get back into the match immediately. After a corner by Slinn had to be punched away by Deeney, they won a penalty in their next move. Lopes’ pinpoint diagonal ball from the halfway line reached Lorraine just inside the area, and an advancing Deeney brought down the Diamonds striker. The referee quickly signalled for a penalty and, with regular taker Farrell not being in the team, Shariff took responsibility for the kick. However, the penalty was weak and Deeney was easily able to make the save down to his left.
A huge opportunity had gone begging, and they wouldn’t have a better one before the end of the game. They had a spell of pressure before and after the penalty miss but, aside from a Lopes effort that was well blocked, they were unable to force Deeney into action. Ryan Dove came on for Shariff in an attempt to fashion an equaliser, and he showed some neat touches and link-up play without having a chance at goal.
Rushden’s cause was made even tougher when they were reduced to ten men. Two minutes after a first booking for a foul, Akubuine pulled back an opposing man to stop a potential counter-attack, and the referee showed no hesitation in showing a second yellow and then a red card to the midfielder.
Coalville threatened to seal victory when, firstly, Dolman made a goal-saving sliding block to deny an effort from close in, and then Stephen Towers thrashed an attempt over the bar after finding space. Diamonds gave a debut to Oxford loanee Leon Chamber-Parillon moments before the end of the regulation 90 minutes but, despite four additional minutes, they were unable to find an equaliser as the full-time whistle was blown to consign them to defeat.
Full time: Coalville Town 1-0 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
This was a close and very even game throughout, one that neither side really deserved to lose. Coalville took their chance when it arose, and they defended strongly throughout to seal the victory. Diamonds will rue the penalty miss and the two excellent saves by Deeney which very well may have changed the end result, but they still remain well in the race for the play-offs despite the setback. Their next match sees them take on another play-off hopeful, Rushall Olympic, at Hayden Road next Saturday 29 February, 3pm kick-off.
Diamonds Man of the Match: Sam Brown
Match report by Ollie Mortimer
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
1. Saul Deeney
2. Stuart Pierpoint
3. Scott McManus
4. Stephen Towers (C)
5. Kalern Thomas
6. Joe Doyle-Charles
7. Kian Taylor
8. Jake Bennett
9. Billy Kee
10. Kairo Mitchell
11. Luke Shaw
12. Adam McGurk
14. Tim Berridge
15. Thomas McGlinchey
16. Ellis Storey (for Shaw 90+2)
17. Leandro Browne
13. Ben Heath
2. Zack Reynolds
3. Sam Brown
4. Jack Ashton
5. Liam Dolman (C)
6. Jesse Akubuine
7. Fabio Lopes
8. Matt Slinn
9. Tom Lorraine
10. Nabil Shariff
11. Nathan Hicks
12. Patrick Casey
14. Leon Chambers-Parillon (for Hicks 87)
15. Ryan Dove (for Shariff 77)
16. Fabio Sole
17. Luke Munro
Goals: Mitchell (59)
Yellow cards: Pierpoint (44), Kee (57)
Yellow cards: Akubuine (80, 82), Lorraine (90+1)
Red cards: None
Red cards: Akubuine (82)
Referee: Liam Corbett
Assistants: Jonathan Price, Ryan Price