In a sun-drenched Steel Park, the Diamonds certainly brought a great game to their Northamptonshire rivals who are also in Step 4 of the football pyramid. However, the hosts were certainly a good match for the visiting side, who were sporting the new gun metal and neon yellow third kit. Blaze Punter’s glancing header for Rushden & Diamonds, and Steve Leslie’s deflected free-kick for Corby proved to be the only goals of the game and came either side of the interval. Despite a draw being the result that neither side wanted to end their respective pre-season campaigns with, it was a very fair result after 90 minutes of football.
Only three players who started in the Winslow United victory on Tuesday night were called into the XI for the Corby match, as Andy Peaks rang the changes for the final time prior to the new season. Ben Heath kept his place between the sticks, Ben Farrell in the midfield, and Nabil Shariff in attack. Chris Dillon, who had scored 5 goals in the last 2 pre-season games, replaced Tom Lorraine in the number 9 shirt, as Joel Gyasi and Luke Fairlamb took their places on the wings. The entire back four was given a rotation, with fullbacks Gilchrist and Brown replacing Westwood and Ford, as Femiola and Punter swapped at centre-half with Pryke and Dolman. Fernado Bell-Toxtle was also given the nod to create havoc in the centre of the park. Finlay, Ford, Curtis, Leslie, Henbury and Lorraine took their places on the bench.
The visiting side started the brighter, forcing a few crosses into the area, putting pressure on the home side. But the Diamonds couldn’t make these early opportunities count, and almost paid for it after 5 minutes as a sliced clearance led to a Corby corner that captain Kernm Miller powerfully headed back to the near post, forcing a wrong-footed Heath to make a fantastic reaction save.
Miller almost scored again a couple of minutes after, but his shot was deflected by a Diamonds foot, with the resulting corner glanced wide by Sam Mulready. These close-shaves seemed to shift the Diamonds up a gear, as Fairlamb’s over-hit cross found Gyasi who blazed over the bar.
Despite Corby still looking a threat going forwards, the Diamonds looked like they were finding their rhythm, despite new Steelman Oli Brown-Hill trying his best to disrupt the flow of his former club with some forceful challenges. The visitors peppered the Corby box around the 20 minute mark, penning the Steelman into their own area.
By this point, Joel Gyasi was proving more than a handful down the left wing as he showed-off his skills, even one that was made famous by the original ‘Wizard of Dribble’, Sir Stanley Matthews.
With Fairlamb shooting over after brilliant possession-football down the left wing; and another cross being just to high for Dinnol, it was fair to say that a goal was coming. And after 30 minutes, Blaze Punter lept high to meet Fairlamb’s right-sided free-kick and glance the ball over the herd of players behind him into Paul Bastock’s bottom right-hand corner from 9-yards out. Corby were left looking at each other for answers as the Diamonds celebrated taking the lead.
After McGovern unsuccessfully shot from 18-yards for the Steelmen, as Gyasi continued to tease the home side’s defence, Corby’s frustration boiled over. Captain Kernm Miller forcefully body-checked Gyasi, resulting in the game’s first, and last, booking.
After 41 minutes, Chris Dinnol was gifted an opportunity to double the Diamonds advantage. Fairlamb, rotating wings with Gyasi, found Dinnol with acres of space in front of the Corby goal. But after having almost too much time on the ball, Dinnol’s tame shot was palmed away by Bastock to the relief of Corby fans and the visible despair of the Rushden no. 9.
It was almost rectified before half-time however, as Gyasi danced passed 3 defenders down the left and forced Bastock to parry his cutback away. The ball eventually found its way to Fairlamb, who unleashed a thunderous 25-yard strike that crashed against the crossbar, resulting in gasps from the fans. Another Diamonds was volley was sent goalwards in stoppage time, but Corby held on to a 1-goal deficit heading into the interval.
Half-time: Corby Town 0-1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds.
With the bar still shaking after Fairlamb’s ferocious shot, referee Robbie Dadley blew to begin the second half, with Finlay replacing Heath being Andy Peak’s only substitution. The first shot on target came after 53 minutes, with Ben Farrell collecting from Shariff and driving the ball towards Bastock’s near post with a clean first-time shot, but the experienced Corby goalkeeper was on hand to turn the ball away for corner.
The ball nestled in the Corby net again a minute afterwards as the resulting corner was headed down and thumped through the posts, but the referee pulled play back for a foul on Bastock in a crowded penalty area.
Corby’s Phil Trainer had a shot blocked by a solid Diamonds defence before Peaks made two changes. Curtis and Leslie replaced Femiola and Bell-Toxtle and went straight into the midfield, with Ben Farrell slotting into right-back and Gilchrist into central defence.
After pressing for an equaliser, Corby found a break through on the 65th minute. Steven Leslie curled a left-footed free-kick from the right into the area, but in an attempt to clear the ball, Farrell accidentally turned the ball past the wrong-footed Finlay, who could do nothing about his team-mates goal-bound clearance. Leslie was given credit for the goal over the tannoy.
The game’s tempo suddenly rose with both sides pressing for a winner. But it was Corby, galvanised by the equaliser, who looked the most likely, as Jordan Crawford advanced with the ball down the left and, ignoring the overlap from Steve Kinniburgh, cut onto his right foot and let fly from distance, forcing an impressive one-handed save from Matt Finlay.
With 20 minutes remaining, Shariff burst through the Corby defence and shot straight at the advancing Bastock as he tried to shake off a holding defender. Before Dinnol could chip a follow-up shot goalwards, the referee pulled the game back for a free-kick on Shariff, much to the frustration of the Diamonds faithful. Leslie’s resulting free-kick was parried wide by Bastock.
Lorraine replaced Shariff as Crawford tried his luck again for the hosts from long range, but his left-footed effort was sliced high and wide of the target.
Henbury replaced Gyasi and Ford came on for Brown in Peaks’ final rolls of the dice, as Corby came close again. Left-back Kinniburgh played Mulready through down the left but his attempt at a right-footed curler was tame and collected by Finlay along the floor on the 83rd minute.
In the final 5 minutes, Corby dominated the chances. Firstly, the home-side wasted a corner opportunity, before Kinniburgh picked out substitute Shay Brennan who awkwardy controlled with his back to goal and fired straight at Finlay. Kinniburgh was on the ball again 2 minutes from time, but whilst caught between two minds, his cross-come-shot came to no prevail.
The Diamonds surged forward once more in stoppage time, but Leslie was caught offside. Once play had resumed, the referee concluded pre-season for both teams.
Final score: Corby Town 1-1 AFC Rushden & Diamonds
The game certainly had the feel that league football is soon upon us once again, with tough tackles being thrown in and both sides pushing hard for a victory. It’s fair to say that the Diamonds need to be a little more clinical in front of goal when they begin their new season in the EVO-STIK Southern League next weekend against Hanwell
Match Report by Matt Bates
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
1. Paul Bastock
2. Connor Kennedy
3. Steve Kinniburgh
4. Phil Trainer
5. Kernm Miller (capt)
6. Jason Lee
7. Jordan Crawford
8. Steven Leslie
9. Jack McGovern
10. Sam Mulready
11. Oli Brown-Hill
13. Ben Heath
2. Cam Gilchrist
3. Sam Brown (capt)
4. Blaze Punter
5. David Femiola
6. Ben Farrell
7. Joel Gyasi
8. Fernado Bell-Toxtle
9. Chris Dillon
10. Nabil Shariff
11. Luke Fairlamb
Goals: Leslie (65)
Goals: Punter (30)