Concord Rangers 1-3 AFC Rushden & Diamonds

AFC Rushden & Diamonds recorded what has to be the most famous victory in their short history by defeating National League South side Concord Rangers at the Aspect Arena to advance to the Emirates FA Cup 3rd Qualifying Round.  

The visitors, two leagues below their opponents, completely blew away the Beachboys in the opening twenty minutes. Richard Bunting latched onto a Nic Evangelinos through ball to calmly slot the Diamonds ahead in the sixth minute, and that lead was doubled in the 12th minute  when Ross Oulton volleyed in a pinpoint first-time cross for Tom Lorraine to stoop and head home at the far post. If the travelling Rushden fans weren’t already in a state of dreamland and delirium at that stage then they certainly were when Jack Ashton thumped a header home from an Oulton inswinging corner to put them 3-0 up inside 19 minutes. Concord briefly threatened when striker Joao Carlos saw a cross-shot saved by Matt Finlay, but Diamonds still dictated proceedings and caused visible trouble and bother for the hosts’ defence. The Beachboys were awarded a way back into the contest though after 39 minutes when Oulton was adjudged to have fouled Carlos as he drove into the box; a penalty was therefore signalled and striker Steve Cawley slotted it past Finlay to restore parity. Rushden comfortably saw out the rest of the half though as they went into the half-time break 3-1 ahead.

Concord naturally showed much more vigour and purpose in the second period, with Cawley hitting the side-netting within 30 seconds of the restart. Shariff had the chance to kill the game in the 50th minute however when he latched onto a chipped ball through, but after drawing the keeper his low shot struck the far post and was eventually cleared to safety. The Beachboys markedly used that as a kickstart to begin a concerted period of pressure, with full-back Mark Onyemah seeing a shot brilliantly turned behind by Finlay, and then a corner moments later somehow saw substitute Steve King completely miss the target when unmarked in front of goal. Harvey Hodd then saw a shot parried up and behind, and the Diamonds stopper made another terrific stop as Jay Dowie broke clear and tried to fire past him. Shortly afterwards Carlos stole in behind Diamonds replacement Kyal McNulty but found the Rushden number 17 in the way, and Finlay was able to hold a Marvin Ekpiteta header from the resultant corner. Diamonds were still breaking and counter-attacking well though when they got the opportunity to, and Shariff almost found himself through on goal again only to overrun the ball. Finlay was called into action again in the 85th minute when Cawley was found by King and his left-footed shot was palmed clear superbly by the keeper’s outstretched left hand, and he then held onto a swerving Sam Collins shot with players closing in waiting for a parry or spill. Four minutes were added on at the end of the game as Rushden had two opportunities to extend their lead: firstly Nic Evangelinos danced into space and thundered a shot off the far post, and then Shariff broke clear before seeing an effort well parried away. In between and then after these chances Richard Bunting and Joao Carlos for the hosts received their second yellow cards respectively and were sent off, but that didn’t stop Diamonds closing out the match and the ultimately deserved victory.

Diamonds manager Andy Peaks named two changes to the starting XI that had dramatically drew with Gresley last Saturday, with Jack Ashton making a welcome return to the team at the expense of Kyal McNulty and Tom Lorraine preferred to Taylor Orosz up front. This meant that Brad Harris moved to right-back, Ashton partnered Liam Dolman in the centre of the Rushden defence and Lorraine lined up alongside Nabil Shariff in attack.

The two sides stepped out onto the Thames Road surface to a loud and atmospheric welcome from both sets of fans, and the contest had a real feel of an FA Cup tie about it with Concord being two leagues higher than the Diamonds but having had a difficult start to their campaign with no home win and no home goal from their six home matches thus far. Rushden on the other hand came into the fixture on the back of a five game unbeaten run in all competitions, and despite the Beachboys being the second highest ranked team they’d ever faced (after Dover Athletic), and despite the league gap between the two, there was a keen sense of optimism and confidence from the visiting ranks that they could achieve a result.

Before the match got underway there was a poignant and well-observed minutes silence held for Shaw Lane AFC defender Dan Wilkinson who tragically passed away on Monday evening. Referee Jack Packman then blew his whistle to kick the game off, and Diamonds especially knew it was key to get a quick start and to build some early pressure. They were able to achieve this with two attacking moments in the opening four minutes, as first Sam Brown launched an archetypal long throw into the area but it was well cleared by the home defence, and then a Lorraine flick almost ran through for Shariff before the Rushden number 7 was fed the ball back in an offside position, with the flag being raised moments before it was placed in the back of the net. In between a swift move by Concord ended in the ball being passed across to Jay Dowie who stepped forward into space, and his left-footed effort was partially charged down for Finlay to easily run to his left and collect the ball.

And the Diamonds were to forge into the lead moments later. There appeared to be little dagger when the home defence had the ball in their possession, but one slack pass enabled Nabil Shariff to seize possession and feed Nic Evangelinos. He quickly and intelligently slid the ball through for captain Richard Bunting to stride forward a couple of steps and then slot a left-footed effort from 15 yards into the middle of the net, which provoked noisy celebrations from a large section of the travelling support situated behind the goal. That neatly-placed finish came in the sixth minute, and two minutes later Ross Oulton chipped a neatly weighted pass into the path of the racing Robbie Parsons on the right wing. He took the ball expertly in his path, but as he approached the penalty area he snatched at his shot and the ball flew harmlessly high and wide of the target.

The visitors were building a quick tempo and rhythm in these early exchanges and also weren’t allowing their higher-league opponents to settle on the ball as they pressed and harried high up the pitch, and so they continued to dominate possession, territory and chances of note. In the 12th minute they earnt a corner on the left side, and Oulton delivered it into the middle for Nic Evangelinos to collect via a flick-on, though his goalbound attempt was well blocked away for a second set corner. Oulton took it from the right this time, and despite the delivery not beating the first man, the clearance fell to Parsons who in turn was able to swiftly return the ball out to the wing. The ball bounced up for Oulton to accurately and invitingly volley a first-time ball across the face of goal, and although it was missed at the near post, it wasn’t missed at the far post as Tom Lorraine powered a header beyond the helpless McNamara to double the Diamonds’ advantage.

The Beachboys appeared to be shell-shocked at the rapid and high-tempo start that Rushden had made to the game, and that showed no sign of letting up as they continued to take the game to their hosts. There was a brief moment of danger in the 14th minute when Concord striker Joao Carlos jinked into the left side of the box and hit a cross-shot towards the far post which Finlay comfortably held, and another one when a Finlay clearance was charged down by the home striker but fortunately for the visitors away from harm, though this home threat was highly sporadic as Diamonds continued to pose problems for, and ask numerous questions of, the home defence. A neat link-up down the left flank released Brown in behind the Concord full-back, and his pinpoint delivery towards the back post seemed odds-on to find Shariff to nod home an easy finish, but Audrius Laucys did very well to get a head to the ball ahead of the Diamonds attacker and put the ball out for a corner kick. The resultant delivery dropped for Evangelinos well positioned on the edge of the area, and his bobbled half-volley found Lorraine who tried to steer home past McNamara but the offside flag had been raised again.

Rushden earnt their next corner in the 19th minute, and this time it produced their third goal. Strong, direct running from Evangelinos saw him sprint down the left wing and attempt to drive a cross into the box, but the ball was deflected behind by home full-back Rob Girdlestone. Oulton again moved across to take the inswinging delivery, and his whipped cross was perfect for the rising Jack Ashton to slam a header to the right of the stationary McNamara and into the back of the net. Chaotic and delirious scenes again ensued especially from those Diamonds fans behind the goal, and it was no less than the away side deserved for their fast and enterprising start to the game.

Being 3-0 ahead away at a team two leagues higher was an unbelievable start for the Northern Premier First Division South side, and one that undoubtedly wouldn’t have even entered into the dreams of even the most optimistic Diamonds fan before the kick-off. Concord’s defensive struggles were highlighted moments after Ashton’s goal when a needless corner was given away, though the subsequent kick didn’t have enough depth on it and the hosts were able to clear it away upfield easily.

The next set-piece however, in the 28th minute, caused much more alarm amongst the home defence. A free-kick was earnt by the visitors on their left flank, and Oulton’s delivery curled deliciously to the back post where McNamara came to punch clear but ended up in no-mans land. Any Diamonds touch would surely have resulted in another goal, but both Dolman and Lorraine narrowly failed to make contact with the ball as it flew behind for a goal-kick and the Beachboys escaped without further damage to the scoreline.

As the game moved onto the half-hour mark Rushden still weren’t allowing their opposing numbers much time and space anywhere across the pitch, and two whole-hearted slide challenges from Oulton and Harris in the space of 30 seconds epitomised their hard-working nature and sheer determination to not allow Concord any chance of getting back into the contest. The hosts did threaten in the 33rd minute when Carlos did well to stand up a cross towards the far post, but advancing full-back Mark Onyemah was leaning back as he tried to head goalwards and so the subsequent effort was looped up and easily collected by Finlay.

They then made a substitution moments later as Steve King took to the field to replace Jack Lampe, and this resulted in a tactical reshuffle for the hosts as they went to three in defence. This appeared to have no calming or steadying effect on the Concord defence though when a flighted Oulton corner seemed to represent an easy punch for the goalkeeper, but McNamara rather flapped at it and the punch was wholly unconvincing as it sliced away to the right side of the box.

The Beachboys, though their attacking threat had been sporadic thus far, had given Diamonds brief moments of danger, and they gave the visitors another one when striker Steve Cawley latched onto a through ball in behind Ashton but the defender got back brilliantly and blocked the resulting flashed shot behind for a corner. The delivery flashed right across the box dangerously, and after keeping the ball in their own attacking third for a minute or so more the ball was worked to Carlos on the left. He purposefully drove into the left side of the box and was about to cross in when Oulton, who had gamely tracked his run all the way, slid in to try and attempt to win the ball. Though it could be argued that he got a piece of the ball the decision was based on what angle it was seen from, and from the referee’s viewpoint a foul had been committed. A penalty was therefore awarded, and Steve Cawley stepped up to place the ball past Finlay to his right side as the Diamonds stopper dived the other way to his left.

Suddenly Concord had a foothold back in the game, and with there still being six minutes of normal time plus any additional minutes before the half-time whistle it was paramount that the Diamonds held onto their two-goal advantage up until then at the least. They almost went one better though in notching a fourth goal as Shariff produced an adroit flick to set Parsons away on the left, and his cross was just a little too long for Lorraine and it ran out for a goal-kick.

After the setback of the goal the visitors were dealt another blow in the 43rd minute when Oulton challenged for a ball on the Concord left and stayed down afterwards. Despite some attempted treatment it was evident that he would be able to continue, and so Kyal McNulty came on to replace the midfield man who had been highly industrious and influential up to that point. The substitute went straight to right-back, with Harris moving into midfield to partner Bunting.

Four minutes of time added-on were then signalled by the fourth official, and one final opportunity of the half came the way of the away side. A free-kick into the area was poorly punched up into the air by McNamara, and the Diamonds were able to keep the danger alive by working the ball to Shariff on the left, but after cleverly cresting space for himself he could only a shot over the bar from a difficult angle. Moments later referee Packman signalled the end of a hugely entertaining and frenetic half, with Rushden deservedly holding the advantage as the players made their way to the changing rooms.

Half Time: Concord Rangers 1-3 AFC Rushden & Diamonds

Both teams re-emerged for the second half with many fans wondering how Concord would respond to their circumspect first-half showing, how their goal before half-time would affect the pattern of play in the second half and how the Diamonds would set up and perform with a two goal lead in their favour.

The hosts were sharp out of the blocks immediately from the kick-off, and a swift move down the left saw the ball pulled back across the box only for Brown to make a crucial interception. The interception dropped kindly for Cawley, and his driven shot found the near side-netting rather than the back of the net. Cawley was involved again when a cross from the left initially looked like it may reach the Concord number 10, but Ashton again did very well to shut out the danger as he shepherded the ball away for a goal-kick.

The pattern of the second 45 minutes was set in these early stages of the half, with the Beachboys trying to force the issue and commit men forward whilst the Diamonds looked to soak up the increased pressure and strike swiftly on the counter-attack. This almost worked a treat in the 50th minute when Harris, as he would do often in the half, did brilliantly to win the ball back in the middle of the pitch and then chip a through-ball into the space behind the home defence for Shariff to latch onto. This he did, and he moved away from the last defender to find himself clean through on goal and with only McNamara to beat. He hit a rolling shot towards the far corner as he reached the area, and although it seemed for all-the-world that the effort would nestle in the bottom corner, it instead hit the post and bounced to safety for the home side.

If that strike had of found the net then the game may have been over as a contest, but Concord used it as a springboard to start a long and concerted period of pressure. In the 52nd minute Onyemah and Cawley linked up brilliantly via a one-two, and the former sprinted into the area, drew Finlay and then flashed an effort at goal, but the Rushden keeper remarkably and instinctively tipped the ball behind for a corner on the left. That then led to a right-wing corner, and the driven delivery flew past a few bodies to find King all alone at the back post with the goal at his mercy. Fortunately for the visitors however, he hadn’t expected the kick to reach him and he ended up stubbing the ball away from goal rather than into it.

Play swing back up the other end and Shariff did well to earn a free-kick from Marvin Ekpiteta as he attempted to turn the tall defender on the edge of the box. Dolman moved forward to take the kick, but it was slightly tame and easily blocked by the defensive wall. Appeals for handball were waved away, and Bunting was booked for remonstrating too much with the referee. More protestations could have been forthcoming a couple of minutes later when Brown stayed on the ground after an aerial duel, but play was allowed to go on and Harvey Hodd jinked into the area before seeing his rising shot tipped up and over the bar by Finlay.

The time ticked onto the 60 minute mark as the Beachboys won a free-kick around 30 yards out from goal, but Cawley wildly smashed the ball over the target and allowed Diamonds a moment of respite. They were naturally beginning to drop slightly deeper, and Concord as a direct consequence were pushing more and showing much more intent and energy than in the opening period. They earnt a throw-in around 10 yards in from the corner flag on the right, and it was pitched into the area where King flicked it goalwards but ultimately wide of the far post.

The Rushden travelling contingent, who had been in fine voice throughout the afternoon, raised the decibel and singing level as they tried to roar their heroes on through waves of pressure. Finlay was called into his second excellent save of the half in the 67th minute when Cawley intelligently flicked the ball past the Diamonds defence and through for Dowie, but the keeper was out very quickly to throw himself in front of the shot and block it away to safety. Cawley was becoming more and more of a threat as he picked up intelligent pockets of space between the visiting defence and midfield, and one example saw him advance on the back four before driving a shot at goal. Dolman bravely blocked the effort though, and it span kindly for Finlay to collect.

Dowie was also influencing the game more as the minutes ticked down, though an effort from him in the 71st minute flew harmlessly wide. Rushden were understandably beginning to tire after their constant high-pressing and endeavour throughout the tie, but they were still finding the off opportunity to break away up the pitch. Parsons led one of these counter-attacks after strong hold-up play from Shariff on the halfway line, and as he galloped forward down the right channel he switched the play across to the opposite side for Evangelinos in space. However, after controlling the pass his intended ball through to Shariff was too heavy and the keeper was able to pick up.

Possession was swiftly back in the Diamonds half, and the hosts threatened again as Carlos was played in behind McNulty. Finlay was able to save the near-post effort despite the narrow angle for the home striker, and the resulting inswinging corner found a leaping Ekpiteta to force a header towards goal that Finlay jumped and held onto. A cross from the left flank then found Cawley to flick on, but again King was caught off-guard and the ball hit him before rolling out for a goal-kick.

As the match moved into the final 15 minutes Diamonds began to find more gaps in the Concord midfield and defence to try and exploit. Parsons drew a foul from a home defender on the right side, and the deep cross found Dolman who, due to close marking, could only loop a header up and towards the six-yard box meaning McNamara could come out and confidently collect the ball. Shariff, similar to his earlier effort that hit the post, then broke onto a long ball over the home defence, but this time his touch was slightly too heavy and the keeper was able to come out to block the ball away and halt Shariff’s run, with nearly defenders able to complete the clearance.

Jon Stevenson was introduced into the action for his first appearance of the season as he trotted on to replace Parsons. Lorraine moved out to the right wing as a result and Stevenson went up front to operate just in behind the tireless Shariff. Shortly after Concord created another good opportunity as King sweetly flicked a ball forward into the path of the free Cawley on the left side of the box, and his snapshot towards the far corner was tremendously saved by Finlay’s outstretched left hand before the ball was cleared for a corner kick. Diamonds then made another alteration to give themselves some fresh legs and energy late on in the match, as the fit-again Lewis Leslie replaced Lorraine.

The away side had defended remarkably well and bravely in the face of direct and pacy attacks from the Beachboys in the second period, but whenever they were breached Finlay was on hand to preserve the two-goal superiority. This was shown again in the 88th minute when home skipper Sam Collins cracked a swerving shot goalwards from the right that moved in the air to the left as it rocketed towards goal. Finlay, however, was more than up to the task and dived to his right to not only save the shot, but also to impressively hold onto it.

Rushden continued to work tirelessly all over the pitch as the fourth official signalled four minutes of stoppage time at the end of the regulation 90, and whilst denying their opponents any further chances of note they themselves could have added to their lead twice. Firstly Evangelinos picked up a loose ball outside the box, cleverly jinked into some space on the right and then thundered a shot across goal that beat McNamara but smacked off the junction of crossbar and post before Shariff was fed on the rebound only to see his turn-and-shot blocked away. Then the striker ran onto a long ball and initially tried to run past the covering Onyemah but then slowed the play down and help up the ball. With no supporting options nearby he decided to go solo as he ran forward again into the area before unleashing a shot at goal that McNamara did well to parry to his right.

Moments before the full-time whistle there was a red card issued to a player from both sides. Bunting, who had seemingly covered every blade of grass up to that point, received a second yellow card for a mistimed sliding challenge in the centre circle, and then Carlos also got his marching orders after a second caution for clumsily fouling McNulty. Though this slightly spoilt the ending of what had been a physical but mainly fair encounter, it did nothing to deter or sour the Diamonds fans, players and coaching staff’s celebrations upon hearing Packman’s whistle to signal the end of the game, and to confirm Diamonds’ progression to the FA Cup 3rd Qualifying Round.

Full Time: Concord Rangers 1-3 AFC Rushden & Diamonds

This result will go down in the history books not only as Diamonds’ first ever victory over a step two non-league side, but also for the fans, players and staff involved as one of the best team performances and results seen in the five-year history of the senior club thus far. To a man the players were outstanding especially in terms of their determination, application and togetherness, but superlatives and words cannot really describe how unreal the first 19 minutes of this game were and how special this day was for everyone involved with AFC Rushden & Diamonds. Credit must go to Concord who kept going right to the final few seconds and who could have forced a replay if not for the outstanding goalkeeping of Matt Finlay in the second half, but it is Rushden who progress to the next qualifying round as they move one game away from equalling last year’s FA Cup run. They will play Hendon FC away on the weekend of October 1st in a rematch of when the London-based club knocked Diamonds out of the competition in 2014, but before then there are three matches to be played; the first of these being the trip to Burton Latimer to take on Kettering Town in the NFA Hillier Senior Cup on Tuesday evening (19:45 kick-off) in a repeat of last season’s final.

 Diamonds Man of the Match: Matt Finlay

Attendance: 192

Match Report by Ollie Mortimer

Concord Rangers

AFC Rushden & Diamonds

1. Ben McNamara

2. Rob Girdlestone

3. Mark Onyemah

4. Jay Dowie

5. Jack Lampe

6. Marvin Ekpiteta

7. Harvey Hodd

8. Audrius Laucys

9. Joao Carlos

10. Steve Cawley

11. Sam Collins (C)



12. Harry Morgan (for Dowie 81)

13. George Marsh

14. Steve King (for Lampe 35)

15. Alex Akrofi

16. Adam Topley

17. Sam Carter

18. Finley Dopson

17. Matt Finlay

2. Brad Harris

3. Sam Brown

4. Jack Ashton

5. Liam Dolman

6. Richard Bunting (C)

7. Nabil Shariff

8. Robbie Parsons

9. Tom Lorraine

10. Ross Oulton

11. Nic Evangelinos



12. Lewis Leslie (for Lorraine 87)

13. Joseph Haynes

14. Jon Stevenson (for Parsons 83)

15. Chris Wreh

16. Aidan Bradshaw

18. Taylor Orosz

19. Kyal McNulty (for Oulton 44)


Yellow Cards: Collins (45+3), Carlos (83, 90+3)

Yellow Cards: Bunting (55, 90+2)

Red Cards: Carlos (90+3)

Red Cards: Bunting (90+2)

Goals: Cawley (pen 39)

Goals: Bunting (6), Lorraine (13), Ashton (19)

Referee: Jack Packman

Assistants: Ryan Head, Jack Fogg



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